From banana peels and leftover salad to raked leaves and grass clippings, it’s easy to repurpose your own household waste—both indoors and out—into valuable, eco-friendly compost. Begin by learning the basics of compost creation and discover the ideal location for composting in your own outdoor spaces. Sprawling yard or not, it’s easy to transform your waste into nutritious material for our planet—your garden will reap the benefits, too.
Compost Done Right
In keeping with these nature-inspired and energy efficient articles, it’s the perfect time to talk about creating your own composting system. With compost, cleaner air, richer soil, and taller plants are only a few simple steps away. But to properly prep your new fertilizing system, first take this quick course on compost fundamentals.
What is compost?
Used as a soil conditioner and fertilizer, compost consists of the remnants of organic matter that are naturally decomposed by microorganisms. Organic matter like leaves, grass, chipped brush and “green” kitchen waste, like fruits and vegetables, are ideal for creating rich compost. And because such items typically make up 20-30% of a household’s total waste, composting prevents these materials from taking up precious space in your local landfill.
How does compost work?
Consider compost the secret weapon of every good gardener. When placed in your garden or plant container, compost returns organic material to the soil, therefore loosening heavy clay soils for better root penetration, improving the soil’s capacity to hold water and nutrients, and stimulating the growth of beneficial microorganisms. The result? Stronger and larger plants for you to enjoy. In addition to their beautiful blooms, healthy plants clean our air and conserve our soil.
How do I make compost?
When making compost, your job is to provide the optimum environment for the beneficial microorganisms to do their work. In ideal conditions, the decomposition process works very quickly—often in as little as two weeks. For full instructions on how to make your own nutrient-rich compost, learn Composting 101 in Outdoor Yard Work.
Where do I stow my compost?
Though compost can simply be strewn around your yard in piles, it is best to stow the material in a sturdy, well-ventilated bin that protects the compost against extreme temperatures and inclement weather. At your local hardware store or garden center, you can purchase a compost bin, but first consider using everyday materials and a bit of elbow grease to craft your own with ease.
•Concrete Blocks: Create four stacks of concrete blocks to create a supportive structure for your compost pile. For better aeration, stagger the block towers. You can even use acrylic paints to decorate the stones in a way that complements your home’s exterior and garden.
•Wire Mesh Bin: Using galvanized chicken wire or hardware cloth and a heavy-duty staple gun, create a simple circular bin. Because it doesn’t have posts, the bin is easy to lift and provides quick access to finished compost at the bottom of the pile.
•Garbage Can Bin: Take a heavy-duty plastic garbage can, 30 gallons or larger, and drill small holes around the entire can, top to bottom, approximately 3” apart. This project is perfect for repurposing old garbage cans that have developed holes or tears in their plastic.
•Wooden Posts: For a simple step-by-step guide to constructing a wooden, lidded compost bin, plus tons of other smart solutions, visit any big box store for creative ideas.
Tip: Be sure to place your bin in a sheltered area, like along the side of your garage, where it is well protected from direct sunlight and strong winds.
How do I use my composting bin?
Once you’ve selected your bin, create 3” to 4”-thick layers of your materials, alternating between carbon- and nitrogen-rich items, until the bin is full.
Rule of (green) thumb: Composting doesn’t need to be an exact science. Regardless of how it is organized, all organic matter breaks down eventually. If you have more brown materials than green, don’t fret—your compost will simply break down at a slower rate and you can always add in more green items as they collect.
Think Outside the Bin
If outdoor space is an issue, try foregoing the traditional compost bin and create your own nutrient-rich fertilizer with an everyday plastic garbage bag. Simply fill a garbage bag with dried leaves and twigs, then add two to three scoops of garden soil and a heaping handful of dry, granular fertilizer. Add water to slightly dampen the mixture, then seal the filled bag and place in a sunny location—consider your back patio or balcony, or outside where your garbage receptacles are stowed. Let the bag sit for several months, then open it and find an abundant supply of rich, ready-to-use compost.
A Community Effort
If your home lacks green space or you’d prefer to not keep a bin at home, you can still partake in the composting process through your neighborhood’s organizations. With local gardens and public recycling services available in most areas, even the most space-restricted urbanites can compost their organic waste.
Community gardens: Put your green thumb to work, learn to landscape like a pro and make wonderful friends along the way. When you become involved in a community garden club, you typically gain access to the group’s communal compost bin. Donate your waste to the bin and take the fertilized material as desired to enrich your potted plants at home.
Tip: Can’t find a garden in your area? Contact your local Cooperative Extension System office or government office to inquire about initiating a community garden project.
Farmers’ markets: In many cities, farmers’ markets provide drop-off bins for organic scraps, later used to produce compost. Simply contact the establishment to see if the service is available in your area.
Whether composting in your own outdoor spaces or pitching in at a local market, repurposing your organic waste into vitamin- and nutrient-rich fertilizer is a smart and simple practice that benefits both you and your environment.