How to Compost: 7 Easy Steps

Discover the Simplicity of Composting

Composting is probably the easiest thing that most people have never done. But once you start filling up a compost bin, you'll discover how simple it is to compost, and how many benefits it has. Here's how to start composting now.

  • 01 of 07

    Choose a Place

    Food Waste Composting. Chris Price / Getty Images

    First, you'll need to find a spot where you can start your compost pile or place your compost bin. Ideally, it will be a patch of dirt or grass near a water faucet or hose, close to a doorway to minimize the steps you'll take when emptying out your kitchen waste, and in a spot that's somewhat shady. If you're just starting a compost pile instead of using a compost bin, aesthetics might be an issue (especially if you have neighbors nearby).

  • 02 of 07

    Pick a Compost Bin - Or Not

    Composting sphere.

    The Container Garden on the Corner 

    There are some advantages to using a compost bin instead of just keeping a big pile of compost waste in your yard. A compost bin looks a lot more tidy, especially in suburban or urban areas, where looks count more than they do down on the farm. Also, you'll get faster results inside a compost bin, where warmth and moisture can be contained and controlled. And if you get a tumbling compost bin, you'll find that it's easier to turn your compost mixture -- especially if you get a lot of compost -- than using a pitchfork or spade in a compost pile.

    The best compost bins have a way to capture compost tea, the dark, nutrient-rich liquid that's formed inside a compost pile. But if you want to make a simple, cheap start, just cut some holes in the sides and bottom of a plastic garbage bin.

  • 03 of 07

    Get a Kitchen Compost Pail

    Kitchen compost pail. Daniel Allan / Getty Images

    A kitchen compost pail doesn't need to be a fancy affair -- any pail or plastic container with a lid will do just fine. But there are some advantages to getting a good-quality pail: Many are rust-proof, have a lid that seals quickly and easily to keep out pests like fruit flies, and the better ones have a lid with air holes and a deodorizing filter (usually activated charcoal) to keep the scent of old fruits and vegetables inside the pail. But if you're just getting started on composting, try an old pitcher or Tupperware container to fill up with kitchen waste that can be composted.

  • 04 of 07

    Add to Your Compost Pile

    Compost waste.

    CC0 Public Domain//PXHere.com 

    Once your composting spot is ready to receive some stuff, just start tossing it in. Some experts advocate layering -- like a lasagna -- green waste and brown waste, but it's not really that critical to layer. Green waste is fresher and wetter compostable matter, like fruits and vegetables, weeds, grass clippings, egg shells and coffee grounds. Brown waste is drier and includes fall leaves, small sticks, paper towels and napkins, hair and fur, cardboard and newspaper. To kickstart your compost's microbial activity, toss in a shovelful of fresh, moist dirt from your yard or garden. If it looks or sounds a little too dry and crisp in your compost pile, add some water and/or more wet green waste. If it seems a little too wet and sloppy, add more dry brown waste.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Turning Compost

    Granton Vineyard Tasmania biodynamic composting
    Turning a compost pile for viticulture -- Granton Vineyard, Tasmania.

    Mark Smith/Wikimedia Commons (CC by 2.0

    Every couple of weeks, use a shovel or pitchfork to dig in and turn your compost pile. This helps to aerate the whole mix -- key to keeping it fresh-smelling -- and stimulates the soil microbes that are actively making your compost such excellent fertilizer. It also churns your newer waste on top down into the middle of the compost pile where microbial activity is the most robust.

  • 06 of 07

    Then, Do Nothing

    Bagging compost SOIL in Haiti -- Haiti - Social Business UDDTs in Haiti
    Beautiful rich, nutrient-dense compost soil -- The Sustainable Sanitation Alliance.

    SuSanA Secretariat/Wikimedia Commons (CC by 2.0)

    This can be the hardest part for some alpha types: Do nothing to your compost. Just keep dropping in waste, which will gradually settle as the compost becomes more compact. There should be some microbial activity happening inside your damp compost pile, making things warm and nutrient-rich.

  • 07 of 07

    Keep It Simple

    Community garden planting -- Hanscom AFB, MA.

    Linda Labonte Britt/U.S. Air Force 

    The six steps above should really do it all, but some people -- especially eager newcomers -- feel compelled to spend a small fortune on fancy compost bins, compost thermometers, expensive pitchforks, and other paraphernalia. They also fall victim to loving their compost to death -- turning it too often, overwatering it or some other frenzy. Compost takes time and quiet to develop, so just let it be. Then, when you're ready to use your compost to fertilize your garden or yard, your compost will be ready for you.