I’ve been wanting to start composting for a long time now, but it has always seemed so difficult to me. After reading tons of stuff online and in gardening books on how to compost, I was left with more questions than answers. Would I ever figure out how to get “the perfect nitrogen to carbon ratio”? Did it really have to be so complicated?

Finally, I’ve come to an understanding of composting that is simple enough for even me to wrap my head around. Here’s all you need to know to get your compost pile going:

Location: Find a place close to your garden to start your compost pile. I’d suggest a place you can reach with your garden hose, since you’ll be needing to water your pile if you live in an extremely dry climate. Having your compost close to your garden is also a convenient way to access that black gold when you need it.

Structure: There are several different structures you can use to contain your compost, ranging from expensive manufactured barrels, to a simple homemade box, to simply throwing everything into a pile on the ground. Do a little researching and decide which kind would be right for you.

Whatever your structure is, if it’s on the ground it needs to be straight on the dirt. This will allow worms to enter the pile, along with other beneficial organisms that you will need to help with the decomposition.

Ingredients: This is the part that always caused my procrastination, but honestly the following method is super simple to follow!

You need two basic groups of materials: Greens and Browns.

Greens: Kitchen scraps*, fresh lawn clippings (from untreated grass), garden waste, small shrub trimmings, and livestock manure.

*Kitchen scraps you can compost are: uncooked fruits and veggies, coffee grounds, tea bags, nut shells, and egg shells.

Browns: Wood chips, small sticks, bark, leaves, newspaper (not the glossy, colored sheets), untreated cardboard, sawdust, straw, pine needles, and corn stalks.

Method: Here it is, don’t worry so much about obtaining a perfect C:N ratio. If you use the ingredients listed above, it’s going to decompose and become good compost. Just try not to pile up mostly Green or Brown to the exclusion of the other. Keep it pretty balanced.

  • Start your compost pile with layers. The first layer should be small sticks or mulch, something Brown that will allow air to circulate around the bottom of the pile.
  • Cover your sticks with a thin layer of soil. You need the microorganisms in it as a starter to begin the breaking down process.
  • Next add some greens. Not too thick though, just a couple of inches worth. If it’s too thick it will only get slimy and gross and will not circulate the air well.

I made that last mistake right off the bat. My dad had just mowed his huge yard and I asked if I could have the grass clippings for my compost. My husband loaded up two pick-up truckloads full for me. My thinking was, the more the better! Turns out, piling up two truckloads of grass clippings into a huge heap and stomping it down into the bin was a bad idea. That mess wasn’t going to decompose into compost any time soon! As a matter of fact, it quickly turned into a nasty pile of sludge. I had to shovel all of that wet grass out and start fresh with the ‘brown’ and ‘green’ layers.

  • Top it off with another thin layer of soil. Repeat these layers. Once you have your first four layers, simply continue in this order: Brown, Soil, Green, Soil.
  • If you live in an extremely dry climate, and your compost is NEVER moist, you’ll need to water your pile every now and then. Don’t soak it or it will get gross. But if it sits completely dry for a long period of time, it won’t break down very quickly.

Turn the pile over every so often to help speed up the decomposition process. You can use a pitch fork to kinda mix up the contents of your compost, or you can totally flip everything over into another pile, so that the bottom layers are now on top.

I’ve just started my compost pile, so it isn’t even close to being usable yet, but I am excited at the idea of having some great stuff to spread on my garden next spring! And finally I am confident enough to try.

Here are a couple of resources that I found extremely helpful:

Mother Earth News: Compost Made Easy

YouTube: How To Make Compost

Hopefully this has helped you to have a better understanding of how to compost, without all of the technical chemistry of it!

If you’ve been composting for a while and have any tips to add to this, I’d be grateful for any advice you can share! Happy Composting!