The Right Way(s) to Make Compost!

The Right Way(s) to Make Compost!

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Black gold! Coveted by gardeners for its richness and nutrient-dense goodness that makes plants seem to jump out of the ground with growth! Featuring many benefits such as moisture holding, insulation and improves soil texture and many other offerings as sought-after garden soil amendment!

While there are many methods of composting, bin styles and methods, there isn’t one better than another. However, some are a bit faster than others. 

Large or small, any way you find to collect and mix your compost material works!

  • Improve your soil's structure
  • Increase natural soil microbes
  • Attract earthworms and beneficial insects
  • Regulate temperature and moisture
  • Slow-release, organic nutrients
  • Top-dressing/mulch
  • Slows evaporation

Composting makes sense for anyone looking for a free, environmentally-friendly way to boost nutrients in your garden!

Best of all, it’s free!

The Main Components of Compost

There’s a good reason gardeners get excited when they see this dark crumbly soil addition! Your plants seem to jump out of the ground when you include this in your soil every year!

Leaves, grass clippings, sticks, twigs and other yard waste, plus kitchen scraps - These organic ingredients decompose and break down into rich, beneficial compost! This can take months in passive settings, however, by adding the right amounts of these ingredients, you can speed up the process! 

Organic dried/brown matter, organic green matter, plus heat, moisture, oxygen and bacteria when combined with time - become rich, fantastic compost! Depending on how passive or aggressively you attend to your compost heap, you can enjoy new compost in a matter of months to once or twice a year.

Green material:  green tea leaves

High in nitrogen, these additions break down fast and generate heat. 

  • Rotted manure, seaweed, and tea leaves.
  • Tea leaves & coffee grounds
  • Garden waste
  • Organic matter
  • Fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps
  • Green leaves & excess grass clippings

Brown material:

Naturally occurring plant-based material made of carbon is used as fuel for compost.

  • Dried leaves
  • Some Paper (not shiny colored magazine paper or greasy/oily)
  • Shredded twigs, branches & stems
  • nut shellsCorn stalks/cobs
  • Peanut and nut shells
  • Wood ash
  • Eggshells
  • Pine needles
  • Straw or hay
  • Sawdust

Tips and Tricks

  • Is the pile not warming up? Add more moisture!
  • Stinky, smelly compost? Too much moisture - uncover, add brown matter & turn often
  • Decomposing slowly? Add green matter!

What Not to Include in Compost and Why

  • Shiny colored magazine paper - chemicals
  • Oil and grease-soaked paper - vermin & slow down the composting process
  • Bread or grain food scraps - vermin
  • Weed seeds & roots - sometimes can germinate after composting
  • Meat and animal scraps - animals, insects & vermin
  • Plants treated with herbicides or pesticides - can still be active after composting
  • Diseased, fungal or viral material - pathogens may reinfect plants
  • Pet or animal urine and fecal matter

Avoiding the highly colorful inks and chemicals in glossy magazines is advisable, especially if you are using this compost in your edibles, vegetables and herb gardens.

Don’t use a material that was diseased, or had fungal and viral pathogens because (in cold composting) tends to survive the composting process and potentially reinfect your plants. 

Exclude weeds, especially perennial weeds, as their seeds and roots/bulbs may also persist for years in the ground and easily survive cold composting.

Bread and grain and some food items can also break down, but the main reason they’re often excluded is that mice and other vermin are attracted to them. They’re also the other reason for a good lid on your bin when able. Especially if you are throwing many kitchen scraps into your compost. Some areas of the country will find raccoons, bears and opossums raiding their compost piles!

Again for cold composting - don’t include animal fats, bones and meat scraps in your compost to avoid attracting animals and unwanted insects to your pile/yard. 

While substances such as meat scraps and pet excrement can, and will, eventually break down. It's not a good practice to include these animal-based materials in your compost heap, as they may contain disease-causing pathogens and parasites.

Composting Methods

Depending on how much time, space, money, energy, and/or how many available ingredients you have at your disposal, there are several ways you can turn those scraps into black gold! 

compost methods

Even if you live in an apartment or have a very small yard, that small bin on the back deck in the sun with a few earthworms in it is enough to compost your own scraps and houseplant trimmings into supplemental food for houseplants and container gardens! (I’ve even seen countertop compost bins for the gardener that’s also a tech geek!) 

For large-scale properties and homesteaders, the need to break down yard waste fast and free is essential to keep from becoming overwhelmed with garden waste and trimmings!

Whether you have a compost bin, a compost pile or a large-scale setup for creating lots of compost on your own, there are several methods available to you to create this essential garden amendment.

Passive Composting

Passive composting is the busy gardener's method and doesn't take much of your time at all. One passive method is that pile in the back corner of your property that you keep mounding scraps onto and allowing nature to take its course. Another is to simply walk into an area of your yard or garden and dig a hole, drop a handful of kitchen scraps in and cover it back up to decay underground. Affixing the turf back into place and watering it in.

Also known as cold composting, passive styles won’t generate enough of the heat needed to kill weed seeds, pest eggs, and spores. So only use clean ingredients that do not contain weed seeds or rotten and moldy components in this composting method. 

Active Composting

Active composting is another cold composting method that does require a bit more attention and effort, plus a bit of a timely schedule. Measuring precise amounts of each brown/green component and turning the pile regularly to introduce the necessary air to feed the decomposition process. You also need to carefully measure moisture content so it doesn’t dry out (stopping decomposition) or get too soggy (killing your beneficial microbes and removing oxygen from the process).

A property-maintained compost pile generates enough heat to continue breaking down compost even through a mild winter! Regular turning, moisture monitoring, and supplemental feeding of the pile are needed for a continuous composting process. But it’s also much faster!

Kind of like a sourdough starter, your compost heap needs some food/fuel to keep the process going. Feeding your compost means adding additional ingredients as needed to the heap as it breaks down and as you use your compost. 

Berkeley Composting Method

A fast-tracked method of composting, this intensive style of composting is able to break down matter into compost in just 18 days! Called hot composting, this style creates a very fine textured compost by way of heat, sun and moisture, and employs a black or dark material/container to absorb additional heat and to increase the compost ‘cooking’. It significantly increases the time the breakdown process takes. Hot composting effectively destroys disease, pathogens, fungi, weed seeds, perennial weed roots and bulbs.

This process does take much of your attention and a thermometer if you are new at composting.

  • Maintaining the temperature of the compost around 131-149 °F (55-65 °C)
  • Maintain a 25 to 1 carbon to nitrogen mixture
  • Recommended pile size of 3 feet by 3 feet and or higher
  • Shred the material as finely as possible
  • Mixed and turned frequently

Combine ingredients well and let the pile rest for a few days, then turn it every other day for the next two weeks. Wrap in black plastic or dark material, or a dark bin/container to further absorb more heat. Store your container/pile in the sun. Add moisture as needed to keep the pile from drying out.

The higher green material in this method breaks down fast, heating up the pile and breaking the brown matter down fast in the process!

The fine-textured compost that the Berkeley method creates looks almost like supremely rich, dark soil! While cold composting creates a more coarse mulch-like material that’s equally dark and rich. However, cold composting breaks down so much that the end result is a fraction of the size it started as. Great if you have loads of material to get rid of! While hot composting retains a larger amount of the bulk that you start with - giving you more of this great amendment. 

garden tools

What You'll Need to Get Started

Go as low-tech or high-tech as you like! 

Equipment & Tools

  • Garden hoe or rake or pitchfork
  • Tarp/Black plastic or a cover (mostly to keep moisture in and animals out)
  • Optional Lawnmower or a chipper/shredder (to chop up the material smaller if able)
  • Drill or way to punch holes in the container (if using)


  • Compost bin with holes and a cover (optional) or a 3x3 foot location for a pile
  • No room? Try a Compost Sak
  • Compost starter (optional)
  • Brown and Green material and other approved ingredients to compost.
  • Water

Types of Compost Bins

I have a rotating compost bin with a handle I can turn and mix my compost. I also have a large black plastic heavy-duty trash can with a lid and holes drilled into the bottom and sides. To turn the compost inside - I simply flop it on its side and roll it around. The combination of these two bins provides my veggie garden with several buckets of lush compost twice a year. 

There are in-ground styles, rolling bins, tumblers, and 50 gal or larger trash cans with a lid, that you can purchase.

Other bin styles are made of pallets or wood with divisions, creating a two or three-sectioned bay-style set of collection areas that you can move from one to the other to turn the compost. Or a sturdy stake holding a round loop of chicken wire or fencing to hold your pile in one place.

Indoor or patio/porch styles are countertop and worm-bins, food ‘digesters’ under the counter or some plastic storage bins you can stack. It’s all about repurposing and imagination. Really, any kind you can think of that holds and allows you to distribute your mix.

Create a Small DIY Compost Bin:  compost bin

Large or small, you can start composting today!

  • Repurpose or buy a plastic storage bin/trash can - dark in color is preferable
  • Drill or punch holes in the base and sides for air and water movement
  • Create or locate a level base where drippings won’t stain the pavement
  • Add a layer of soil, then layers of green and brown matter, scraps or other materials
  • Mix together as you water the contents well (not soggy)

Compost Starters & Accelerants

Compost starters and accelerants include nitrogen fertilizer (for when you are lacking enough green material, comfrey, borage, nettle or yarrow plants because of the nutrients these plants pull from deep in the soil and then add to your compost.

Adding some of your old compost, which is already primed full of those beneficial microbes, can be placed in the middle of a heap to kick off the process. Also adding well-rotted manure, and urine help breaks down hot composted mixes fast too.

Head to the fishing store and get some night crawlers or red wigglers to help munch down the leaves in your compost quickly too! (Avoid Crazy Worms which are becoming an invasive problem in many parts of the country!)

Location Location Location

Sun adds heat and helps cook and decompose plant matter quickly. Choose an out-of-the-way space in the sun that’s around 3 x 3 feet in size. While some consider a compost bin unsightly and regarded as smelly, most gardeners keep their compost pile where it is less visible. If well maintained, you will not have to worry about any smell! (Check with your HOA.)

Compost in A Few Easy Steps!

  1. Alternate brown and green layers to create the pile in the size you have available. If you are lacking green material you can mix in some nitrogen fertilizer or compostdr earth compost starter starter between brown layers can have the same effect. 
  2. Water well until it is damp but not soggy, which will cause odor and slow down the process. 
  3. Cover or wrap the pile in dark material if you don’t have a bin. Using a tarp or lid also prevents nutrients from washing away and prevents it from getting too wet.
  4. Turn every few days or weeks, depending on your chosen method

Turning Your Compost

Turning your compost every few days involves bringing bottom layers to the top and mixing the surface/new material into the center and bottom. This turning helps introduce air, mix microbes and beneficial bacteria to all parts of the pile, as well as mix all the different layers together to mix and mingle and do their thing!

Using a garden rake or pitchfork, turn the pile every couple of weeks or a few days (depending on which method you are using) to make sure it stays uniformly mixed, mix in new material, and distribute oxygen.

Keep it Going!

As the decomposition progress breaks things down and you'll see your pile decrease in size over time, so you’ll need to occasionally add new material to keep the process going - called ‘Feeding’ your compost. Plus, you'll eventually want to use your compost! 

Usually, garden maintenance allows most gardeners ample material to continue to add more brown and green layers. Adding layers and turning, watering when it's dry, and adding again, occasionally pulling out the ‘good stuff’ that’s accumulated at the bottom for your landscaping needs. This helps keep your compost going.

If you have lots of material, you may end up having a pile larger than you can manage. If you have the room, simply start a new pile next to the first, or speed up the cooking process. Or, just let it do its thing for a few months until it's broken down to a more manageable size. If you don’t have enough material, downsize until you have more material (the neighbors might be useful here!), remembering to keep turning occasionally.

How to Use Your Compost

The decomposing/composting process naturally generates heat that kills many weed seeds, fungus spores, and other undesirable elements that should no longer be viable. End results leave

 you with rich, dark, crumbly humusy soil that has a fresh earthy odor.

Once you have enough compost to use and you are left with rich, earthy soil-like humus, get a sifter or strainer made from a metal screen to sift out larger chunks. Keep your harvested

 compost clean and dry if you don’t use it immediately.

Spread a 1-3 inch Layer of Well-Decayed Compost Over

  • The lawn as a top dressing (1-2 inches)
  • Around shrubs and trees with mulch (1 inch then cover in arborist mulch chips)
  • Incorporate 1-3 inches into veggie gardens to boost nutrients & moisture holding
  • Scratch in 1-3 inches around the perennial beds to boost nutrients & moisture
  • Mixed into containers, hanging baskets, window boxes, and planters
  • Mulch for your Roses in late fall

Compost can be any time! Add before planting to amend garden beds, work into your containers and planters when planting them in the spring, or top dress before applying mulch. Or broadcast over the soil and let the rain and weather slow-release the nutrients into the soil.

You can never add too much compost to your soil! Unlike an organic and synthetic fertilizer, you can plant directly into this enriched amendment in your garden without worrying you will burn roots or harm your plants and animals. 

Compost alone does not eliminate the need for other types of fertilizer for most plants and your lawn, but adding compost to your routine reduces your need for other natural and synthetic fertilizers.

Start Any Time!

You can start a nice steaming compost heap at any time! Even for gardeners in colder climates, a compost heap can continue to generate enough heat to break down materials well into the winter. Or you can store organic materials outdoors in covered containers to add to the compost heap when warm weather returns to start things off in the spring.

What a fantastic way to maintain self-sufficiency, dispose of garden waste efficiently, enrich your landscape and live an organic, healthy lifestyle!

Now is always a good time to start composting! This can be as low-tech or as involved a process as you like! Until you can get started composting, check out these premade bagged compost mixtures that can be delivered to your door from Nature Hills!

Happy Planting!

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