How to Make Your Own Compost

Pile of homemade compost being raked behind chicken wire fence

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 - 10 hrs
  • Total Time: 8 wks, 4 days - 17 wks, 1 day
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly
  • Estimated Cost: $25-200

Any gardener can benefit from adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil to help plants thrive. One of the most popular and beneficial substances to add is compost. Compost can be purchased at any garden supply center, but it is very easy (and less expensive) to make your own. Whether your garden is indoors or out, compost will help all your plants grow better.

What is Composting?

The act of composting is putting organic materials in a pile or container along with water. The pile is eventually colonized with beneficial bacteria and is turned periodically to keep things well mixed. The bacterial action creates high heat and breaks down the raw organic materials into a dark, rich, soil-like product. There will be no discernible original components visible after the compost is formed, and the finished mixture will have a fresh, earthy odor.

When to Compost

A compost pile can be started at any time of the year. Just remember that making compost is an ongoing hobby. It's not something you do in a week or two and then forget for a year. Keep an out-of-the-way pile of this "black gold" going, and you'll always have a place to recycle much of your household waste and turn it into something useful.

How Much Compost Will You Need?

If you have a small indoor garden, you can simply create less compost. If you are growing your herbs outdoors, you can never have enough of this black gold. A nice idea for indoor composting is to buy a plastic tub that will fit under your kitchen sink and begin composting with earthworms. This is called vermiculture, and it is the perfect way to create compost for all your indoor herbs.

For larger amounts, you may want to contain your compost in an outdoor bin. These can be made of any material you have access to. You can use wooden pallets. Simply wire three pallets together and have the fourth side open for turning. These pallet bins are easy to move in the fall and contain enough room to easily stir the contents. There are many other styles of compost bins to choose from. You can spend hundreds of dollars buying a fancy version that is essentially a barrel with crank that makes it easy to keep the contents mixed. The choice is yours.

Now, on to the ingredients needed for a healthy compost pile, which consist of three classes of ingredients: green material, brown material, and sufficient moisture.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Compost bin or pen
  • Shovel

Materials

  • Organic material such as food scraps

Instructions

  1. Add "Green Material"

    Green material is high in nitrogen. It includes kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds, peelings, fruit cores, and eggshells.

    Basically, any kitchen waste that is not greasy or meat can be composted. Grass clippings, leaves, and weeds are also considered green materials, as is manure from barnyard animals (but not from cats or dogs.)

  2. Add "Brown Material"

    Brown material is high in carbon. Paper, cornstalks, sawdust, small branches and twigs, and straw all fall into this category.

    The ratio of nitrogen to carbon should ideally be 50/50 in your compost pile so for every bit of brown material you add, be sure to balance it with green material.

    Tip

    If you add paper, such as newspaper, to your compost pile, be sure to shred it first so that oxygen can get at a significant amount of the surface. If you don't take this step, you risk a chunk of paper turning moldy and ruining your compost.

  3. Add the Right Amount of Moisture

    Water is the final key ingredient in a thriving compost pile. Without moisture, your pile will take months to do anything, and if dry enough, will not break down at all.

    If your pile is too wet on the other hand, it will smell and become slimy as the ratio of bad bacteria outweighs the good.

    You want the pile to remain damp but not dripping wet. If you do not get enough rainfall to suffice, dump a bucket of water over it once a week to keep things moving.

    You will know that your compost pile is right if it becomes hot in the middle. This is important to sterilize the compost and kill the weed seeds or bad bacteria that may be there. The heat is your proof that the ratio is working for your compost pile.

  4. Turn Your Compost Pile

    Whether you are using a compost bin or a simple pile, you will need to turn your materials about once a week.

    This doesn't have to be anything major; simply shovel the outer portion of the pile toward the inside and continue moving in this way around the pile until you have rearranged it so that fresh compost is now exposed. This way, all the beneficial organisms can have a chance to work on all of the pile's ingredients.

    If you have a bin with a crank, simple give it a few good turns every week.

    If your pile heats up, gets moisture and gets turned regularly, you should have dark, wonderful compost in about one to two months.

Separate bowls with green and brown material ingredients to make compost

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Compost pile being turned with garden shovel behind chicken wire fence

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald

Now What?

Use this fertile addition to any herbs you have, both indoors and out. Add it in large quantities in the spring to the soil you are going to use for planting. Use it throughout the season to top off any soil that has become tamped down due to water runoff or settling.

In the fall, break down your garden and put any parts of it that are not diseased back into a new compost pile to work all winter and you will have new compost to use the following spring.

Also, give yourself a pat on the back. Not only have you reduced the amount of waste being sent to the landfill, but you've created one of the most powerful fertilizers available virtually for free!

Homemade compost added around herbs in garden

The Spruce / Meg MacDonald