Composting 101: Turn Trash into Garden Treasure

It's easier than you think.
Compost Bin

Compost Bin

Composting can be very simple once you get started, and can also be very inexpensive…plus, you’ll reap the rewards of a lighter trash bin and free “food” for your garden.

Photo by: Shutterstock/Evan Lorne

Shutterstock/Evan Lorne

When you think about it, composting should be the simplest thing in the world: by letting nature take its course in breaking down food waste (rather than tossing it in the trash), you wind up with healthier soil and a healthier planet.

But for the newbie, getting started composting can be intimidating. Do you need fancy equipment? Is it expensive? What can go into the compost bin?

No worries: composting can be very simple once you get started, and can also be very inexpensive…plus, you’ll reap the rewards of a lighter trash bin and free “food” for your garden.

Here’s what to think about before you get started:

Heap, bin or tumbler?

Where you decide to keep your compost is a personal preference:

  • Some gardeners just start a pile or dig a hole in an out-of-the-way corner of the garden and call it good.
  • You can DIY a compost bin from chicken wire, a trash can or other materials.
  • There are also many compost bins and tumblers available commercially.

Conventional or worms?

  • Conventional compost piles or bins are simple to set up and can be very inexpensive or even free, but they need regular aerating. Compost tumblers make the job of “turning” the compost much easier, but can be expensive and take up considerable space.
  • Some gardeners like to compost with worms, which requires a specific type of bin and a more elaborate setup. The worms do most of the actual work of composting (they turn your scraps into “casts,” a fancy name for worm poop), but you will still have to spend time maintaining their environment and checking their progress. Worm composting is efficient, doesn’t require much space, and a worm bin won’t stink if it’s properly maintained, making it a good choice for gardeners with limited space.

What will you feed your compost bin?

This depends on what method you’re using:

  • Worms do best with vegetable and fruit scraps, tea bags and coffee grounds as their main diet staples. They also like cardboard, and need gritty “food,” such as rock dust or eggshells, to help them digest. Don’t put many high-acid foods like citrus peel in a worm compost bin.
  • Traditional compost bins or piles can accept leaves and stalks, veggie and fruit waste, grass clippings, weeds, straw, shredded paper, cardboard and manure from grazing animals.

With both worm and conventional compost, avoid:

  • manure from meat-eating animals (like dogs and cats)
  • clippings that contain herbicides
  • meat, dairy or greasy/fatty foods

Your next step? Get started!

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