Will It Compost?

Let's find out, shall we?

Related To:

So you’ve decided to start composting. No big deal, right? Wrong. While it doesn’t have to be a difficult task, there are definitely a few things to consider when it comes to your personal compost pile. For example, are you going to buy a bin or build your own? Are you well versed in how to keep pests away and worms welcome? How often are you supposed to turn the pile anyway? 

482615861

482615861

Kitchen fruit and vegetable waste ready for recycling. AdobeRGB colorspace.

Photo by: lucentius

lucentius

All of these things and more will impact the utility of your compost and ultimately the health of your plants. But, of course, the most important thing to consider when investing in the well-being of your garden is what exactly are you (and aren’t you) supposed to add to your compost pile? For that, I’m here to help. 

Will It Compost? 01:38

Did you get all that? Not too difficult, right? But for the finest, healthiest fertilizer around, you'll want to follow these tips. 

Let’s start with your green materials. These are the materials like fresh grass clippings and kitchen scraps that are rich in nitrogen and can speed up the breakdown process. Coffee grounds, tea leaves, fresh plant clippings and even horse or cow manure would fall into this category. 

154955633

154955633

Pouring food scraps into a compost pile.

Photo by: Janine Lamontagne

Janine Lamontagne

Now, let's move on to brown materials. Brown materials, such as newspaper and dead leaves, are rich in carbon. Got a stinky compost pile? You probably need to add more brown material. Eggshells, bread scraps, paper towels, cardboard, sawdust, hair and potting soil are all brown materials. For the ideal pile of compost, you should aim for a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 30:1. From there, keep the pile moist, make sure it gets plenty of sun and don’t forget to turn it.

But before you run off to start your pile, let’s go over a few compost no-nos. While experts disagree on a few possible additions (dryer lint, yay or nay?), these common items should never be included for a thriving compost pile.

Compost Castoffs

  • colored or glossy paper
  • coal or charcoal
  • meat
  • bones
  • pet feces or litter
  • sand
  • grease, fat or oil
  • dairy products
  • weeds with seeds
  • pressure-treated lumber
  • plastic
  • stickers

Follow these tips, and soon (about six months to a year) you’ll have your very own nutrient-rich compost to brag about. And you’ll probably be as happy as the man you see below.

531419454

531419454

So rich, so lush.

Photo by: Ridofranz

Ridofranz

So rich, so lush.

Build Your Own Bin

See All Photos

Composting at Home

Composting breaks down organic materials like grass clippings, dead leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, manure and many food scraps into a rich fertilizer that can benefit any garden while reducing the amount of materials thrown away in the average home by as much as 30 percent.  Compost bins can be as small as a gallon, or house enormous piles and sometimes cost hundreds of dollars. Composting is a great way to live green and the practice can be extended by using recycled materials to build your compost bin with little to no investment.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Materials

A pallet is a simple wooden construction (4' x 4') that is used in shipping to stack goods to be moved by forklift. Pallets are inexpensive to produce and are often thrown away once stores have received their deliveries. Check with a manager at your local box or hardware store and they are usually happy to give them away free of charge. Four uniform pallets and a spool of baling wire or a packet of zip ties are all it takes to make a compost bin that is easy to manage, perfectly-sized for most homes and will get you started with minimal expense.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Inspect Pallets for Damage

Pallets aren’t carefully crafted and can also take a beating as they are pushed around by forklift. Before getting started, inspect pallets for loose boards, splintered wood or protruding nails. Use a hammer to tap nails back into place or pull those that are bent to restore the sturdiness of damaged pallets and ensure no exposed nails will pose a hazard during the construction or use of your compost bin.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Scrub Pallet

Wipe pallets down with soapy water and scrub with a brush, if necessary, to remove any spills that may stain clothes or contaminate compost.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Baling Wire

Baling wire is a thin, flexible wire used for baling hay, but is a cheap material that is perhaps second only to duct tape in versatility for simple repairs around the house. Strong enough to hold our compost bin together, but flexible enough to bend to shape without tools, it’s a good choice for this project, although sisal rope, zip ties or even coat hangers can be used in its stead.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Select Location

Find a level, out of the way location to place your compost bin. Seek partial shade, but avoid trees with roots that may invade this rich soil. The bin should rest on bare ground for drainage purposes.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Attach Left Side

Place a pallet upright to serve as the rear wall of the compost bin and rest a second pallet perpendicular, with the corners butted together. Cut a piece of baling wire about 6 feet long and lash the top corners together, wrapping the wire around twice below the cross brace and twisting to tighten.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Secure Left Side

Use a second length of wire to lash the bottom corners in place. Sides should now be able to stand without tipping.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Attach Right Side

Repeat the attachment process with the right side of the compost bin.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Complete Structure

Once the sides are secure, adjust as needed to square the corners of the bin.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Add Door Hinge

Place the final pallet across the front of the bin to complete the box and again use baling wire to lash the “door” to a side at the top and bottom, this time more loosely to allow for movement. This corner is the hinge at which the door will pivot. The hinge may be established on either side, depending on which way you’d like the door to swing.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Secure Door

Wrap a final piece of baling wire at the top corner opposite the hinge. The door side should be wrapped below the cross brace, but wrap about the brace on the side so the wire may be easily released

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Using Compost Bin

Your compost bin is ready for action. Feed the bin with relatively equal parts “green” materials like grass clippings, vegetable scraps or manure  and “”brown” materials like dead leaves or small branches. The open bin will usually get enough water from rainfall, but may need to be moistened occasionally if conditions are dry. Open the door as needed to add organic material or water to the compost bin or to occasionally stir with a rake or shovel. Otherwise, keep it closed to discourage pets or wildlife from entering.

Photo By: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Looking to learn even more about composting?

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Make a Garden Compost

Save money and the environment with these simple steps for creating a natural fertilizer.

10 Herbs That Gardening Newbies Should Start Growing

Jazz up your food and gain a green thumb.

Shade Gardening Secrets

Learn how to choose shade-tolerant plants for your garden.

Wildflower Gardening

Love wildflowers? Create a meadow using these tips as a guide.

Keyhole Gardening Tips

Try this inexpensive, green solution to growing food in drought-prone terrain.

14 Simple Gardening Tips and Tricks

From using leftover coffee beans to preventing dirt from getting underneath fingernails, master gardener Paul James shares his top 14 tips and shortcuts to make spring gardening a breeze.

Fall Gardening Checklist

Essential chores to get your garden, lawn and tools ready for cooler weather.

Spring Gardening Planner

Do these tasks during spring and caring for your garden will be easier, quicker and more satisfying.

Organic Gardening Demystified

Compost tea, insecticidal soap and flamers help you go "green" in the yard.

Meet the Team

Get to know the talented writers and editors of HGTV's show and design blog. 

Go Behind the Blog

From the Archives

Take a look back at our past posts, from entertaining and design trends to up-and-coming HGTV shows.  

Read All Our Past Posts