How To Compost: All You Need To Know To Get Started

Let’s talk compost. Why? Well here in So Cal it’s time to start thinking about spring gardening, and an important part of gardening for me is composting; it is so good for your garden, plants, and trees! I know, I know…when you hear the word compost you might automatically think bad smelling decaying piles of nastiness. And for people who don’t know how to compost, that might be the case. But if you compost correctly, you will never smell it.

Before we get into how to compost, let’s talk about compost in general.

If you have ever considered composting, now's the time to try it! This explains everything you need to know on how to compost, as well as links to additional information.

What Is Compost?

Simply put, composting is nature’s way of recycling. Compost is decayed organic materials that can be used as a plant fertilizer. Things like egg shells, banana peels, food scraps from veggies, cardboard egg cartons, some paper products (like junk mail and newspaper), the lint from your clothes dryer, hair, and more can all be made into compost. By following some simple rules, you can create your own compost at home and return nutrients back into the soil in your garden and yard.

What Does Compost Look Like?

If you have ever considered composting, now's the time to try it! This explains everything you need to know on how to compost, as well as links to additional information.

photo credit: normanack via photopin cc

People always ask me what the compost looks like once it’s ready to go back into the ground. It looks like soil – it’s a dark brown color, crumbly (like fertilizer you might buy at the gardening center) and smells like a forest floor…it smells earthy and natural, not at all stinky. It actually smells good.

Compost Pile, Bin, or Tumbler?

You have a couple of different options when it comes to how to compost. You can either start a compost pile or you can buy a compost tumbler or bin.

Start A Compost Pile
You can start a compost pile in your backyard if you have room. If you live in the suburbs and the houses are built closely together with small yards (like ours) or have small kids or animals that get into everything, starting a compost pile might not be an option. has a great article on how to start a compost pile.

Buy A Compost Bin or Tumbler

If you have ever considered composting, now's the time to try it! This explains everything you need to know on how to compost, as well as links to additional information. This is the route I went when I bought my first composter.

Compost bins are enclosed on the sides and top, and open on the bottom so they sit directly on the ground. I had a spot in my backyard that is on the side of the house and that is where we set up the Garden Gourmet. It was inexpensive to purchase, easy to set up, and large enough to make a ton of compost.

Little did I know when I bought it, compost bins make it difficult to turn the compost (you have to use a shovel or rake and really get in there), so it can take several months to produce compost. I ended up taking my compost bin apart after a year or so just because it was such a pain.

If you have ever considered composting, now's the time to try it! This explains everything you need to know on how to compost, as well as links to additional information.A tumbler, on the other hand, costs more than a bin, but is much more user friendly. You simply turn the tumbler a few days a week and the composting process is much quicker. The Envirocycle Mini is the tumbler that I have and use now. It sits on the patio and the kids enjoy putting scraps into it and turning it. Bonus: you also get compost tea out of it!

How To Compost

Now that you have your pile started or your bin or tumbler set up where you want it, you can start composting. You need a combination of things to make compost.

1. Stuff High In Nitrogen: Things like live weeds (before they develop seeds), leaves, and grass cuttings, chicken, rabbit or pigeon manure, fruit and veggie scraps; coffee grounds and tea leaves and tea bags (I remove the staple), and plants.

2. Stuff High In Carbon: Think of this as the “fiber”. Dead leaves, plants and weeds, old flowers, hay, newspaper, paper.

3. Air: The air circulating through all of the decaying materials will help your compost not smell.

4. Water: Your compost bin or pile should always be damp like a wrung-out sponge. You can add water directly to your compost, but keep in mind that the “stuff high in nitrogen” will also add moisture to the compost.

And now it’s time to start making some compost! What can you compost? I mentioned some things earlier, but there are many, many more things you can add in. TLC has a list of 75 Things You Can Compost, But Thought You Couldn’t that is worth checking out. And word to the wise: if you are going to compost egg shells, they take forever to break down. I suggest breaking them into tiny pieces before adding them to your compost.

I have this cute little ceramic compost pail in my kitchen that I put all of our food scraps in throughout the day. I dump the pail into the compost bin once a day. But you don’t need a fancy pail – if you are dumping your scraps once a day you could just put them in a covered container, or just dump them as you go. It’s up to you.

There are also things you can NEVER compost! These are things that will make your compost stink and also ultimately can also end up making the fertilizer toxic. Meat products (including fat, grease, oil and bones), feces except those mentioned earlier…urine is okay, believe it or not, used cat liter, colored paper, weeds with seeds (or else weeds will grow again where you use the compost) and limes (the acid is horrible for the delicate balance required to make compost). And if something is toxic or is not biodegradable, don’t try to compost it!

But don’t just start dumping stuff into your bin or pile! You’ll need to create a balance of the right stuff. For more tips on how to layer your scraps, check out this post by Organic Gardening.

It takes some time, but sooner or later you’ll have beautiful compost that you can scoop out of your bin, tumbler, or pile and spread around your garden.

So there you have it! Now you know how to compost and just how easy it is. If you love to garden you should definitely consider trying it – it’s nature’s natural way of recycling!

Do you also love to garden? I have some tips on gardening with kids in the garden, how to regrow onions and plant onion sets, as well as tips on how to regrow celery, garlic, green onions, and red onions. You can check out my board all about gardening on Pinterest, too!


  1. I do not garden, but I love to read about it. It makes me believe I could do it. Years ago I started a dirt pile that I thought would make lovely compost. I dumped old perennials, pumpkins, any dirt we used in planters, leaves, etc. I never turned it, but we always have some interesting things growing in there every year! Andrea recently posted..Three KidsMy Profile
  2. I took a composting with red worms class a few years ago...I like your method so much better. Poppy recently posted..Surviving the Beer MileMy Profile
  3. I have created my own beautiful vegetable garden that is flourishing like anything!! I prepare my organic compost using my kitchen waste and cow-dung, just mix it thoroughly and further add it to the soil and see the results in few weeks only. Trust me it costs me nothing and only thing which I pay to the garden is my time and energy.