Composting 101: All About Composting for Beginners

Compost is frequently referred to as Gardener's Gold, and with good reason, as good compost can be worth it's weight in vegetables and then some.


Compost comes in three basic forms: manure, compost, and mulch. We're going to focus on compost here.

Compost is dead plant material, and composting is the process of letting that material break down naturally into soil. As it breaks down, that releases nutrition into the soil, boosting the soil's ability to better grow plants. Good composting helps speed up that process.

Heat, nutrient mix, oxygen, and moisture are important factors that contribute to composting success. Heat results from the bacteria and microbes breaking down the plant matter. Nutrient mix defines how active those microbes can be, while oxygen level determines how many microbes will be active. The moisture content, of course, affects all of those things.

Additionally, most composters look for carbon to nitrogen ration of 25:1 or so. Carbon and nitrogen levels can be determined with a little bit of research, depending on what you're using: grass clippings, for instance, are roughly even, whereas shredded newspaper is mostly carbon and coffee grounds or manure are mostly nitrogen.



Bins or piles are the most popular ways of composting, and both require the same basic principle: Add materials to the heap, stir occasionally for distribution, and let the compost work.

Stirring helps add oxygen as well, and helps move processed material out of the center and fresh material in. It can be hot work - the middle of the pile may be 135-150 F!


Hot processes can be preferable if you're trying to have all your compost ready at one time. Hot processing also has the advantage that it can yield good compost in as little time as 2-3 weeks, but does require much more planning.


Layer composting is where most beginners start: You add scraps and cuttings to the top of the bin and as it slowly breaks down, you get dirt out of the bottom of the bin on a somewhat continuous basis. While layer composting requires the least work, and is most beginner-friendly, it really only returns enough compost for small-scale gardens, rather than family-sized or larger plots.


While anything organic can be composted, some things are not a good idea. Waste from carnivores or omnivores, for instance, is not a good idea for health reasons. Neither should meat or meat-based fats be composted. Additionally, very thick or very heavy vegetable matter, such as office paper, cardboard, or wood chips usually don't make very good compost unless you plan on allowing a great deal of time - even years - for your compost to break down.

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Composting 101: All About Composting for Beginners Composting 101: All About Composting for Beginners Reviewed by matt on 18:17:00 Rating: 5
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