How to make Compost – a Step by Step Guide

How to make Compost – a Step by Step Guide

A step-by-step guide on how to make compost in your own garden.

How to make compost - our three bay compost bin set up
A three bay compost bin set up

Do you have a compost bin at home? If not, give it a go, with this guide to how to make compost

Composting fruit and vegetable scraps and organic materials at home can hugely reduce the waste that ends up in landfill.

Making compost from food scraps can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from going into your rubbish bin. When organic matter ends up in landfill, it goes through anaerobic decomposition (due to the lack of oxygen) and generates methane, which is a greenhouse gas.

Composting at home in an open bin system avoids the production of greenhouse gases that happens at landfills.

Composting also provides you with free fertiliser that you can add to your garden to improve the growth of new fruit and vegetables, or flowers, trees and bushes.

Here is a guide to starting a compost bin at home

1. Choose a type of compost bin

I would recommend a contained or fenced in compost bin, rather than an open heap.

We built our bins from wood, as we needed a few of them to deal with the amount of compostable material we generate on our lifestyle block. If you are starting off, I would suggest you buy a readymade bin from a garden centre or DIY store.

Containing your compost pile is especially important if you have a dog, as they can become seriously ill or even die from eating food that is breaking down as compost. Decomposing organic matter can contain a fungus that produces neurotoxins, which can make animals very sick very quickly. These toxins can also be found in decomposing food in rubbish bins too, so it’s important to contain these too. Click to this link from a vet about toxins in compost.

2. Choose a place for the compost bin

The best place to put a compost bin is where you will be able to easily access it from the house. If it isn’t very convenient, you will be less likely to use it.

Put your bin on bare earth, so that the worms and other organisms can move up into the vegetable matter from the ground.  Find a place that is flat and in sunshine, not too shaded by trees or buildings.

3. Add alternate layers of different types of natural materials

Put some coarse material, like twigs, in the bottom of the compost bin, to allow for some drainage. Add leaves to cover this layer.

Then add a good mix of ‘Green’ material and ‘Brown’ material – see lists below.

You don’t have to be too strict about layering it perfectly, I just add a bit of both types of material, and my compost bins work well.

How to make Compost – what to add to the compost bin

BrownsGreensNot for a compost bin – could use a Bokashi bin for some of these
NewspaperVegetable peels and leftoversDairy products
PaperFruit peels and leftoversMeat, fish or bones
CardboardCoffee groundsFat or oil
StrawTea leaves / bagsInvasive weeds or diseased plants
Dried leavesEgg shellsDog and cat waste
Dead houseplantsFlowersNon-organics – plastic, metal, glass, toxic material
Sawdust (small amount of untreated wood only)Green leaves
Dryer  / vacummn cleaner lintGarden waste
Coffee filtersGrass clippings

A bokashi bin can deal with meat, dairy and cooked foods. For information about starting a bokashi bin, check this link https://compostcollective.org.nz/bokashi/

4. Add waste from your kitchen or garden as it builds up

Keep a container in your kitchen for compostable food waste and scraps. I keep mine in a drawer by the sink, so that it is handy to access it when you are preparing food. Empty it regularly, depending on how much vegetable waste you create in your cooking, it may need emptying every couple of days.

5. Continue adding to the compost bin

Keep adding more compostable materials from the kitchen and garden.

The contents of the bin will settle and shrink down, as the organic material decomposes.

6. To speed up the process, mix or turn the compost regularly

If you want the compost ready more quickly, you can do the following:

  • Mix new material in with the lower layers.
  • Mix or turn over the pile weekly, with a gardening fork – this helps speed up the process.
  • Check the moisture levels – it should be slightly damp to the touch.

I don’t turn over the contents of our bins very often. This is because we have three bins, so we have a lot of capacity and don’t need to speed it up.

7. Use the compost in the garden

The compost should be ready within four to six months. It will be dark brown, and smell like earth / soil.

Dig out the finished compost, and leave any bits that are not decomposed enough in the bin. It will continue to decompose with time and as new materials are added to it.

You can add the composted material to your garden beds. It is good for adding nutrients when growing vegetables, flowers, shrubs, bushes and trees.

If you don’t want to use the compost, you can leave it to keep breaking down.

How to make compost graphic
How to make compost – 7 easy steps

Tips for a successful compost bin

Accelerate your compost

You can add activators / accelerators to speed up the composting process. These can be materials from your backyard – grass clippings, comfrey leaves, or well rotted chicken manure.  There are also commercial activators available at garden centres and DIY stores.

Chopping or shredding compostable organic matter speeds up the composting process, as it provides a bigger surface area for the organisms to go to work on.

Does the compost bin smell unpleasant?

The bin could smell due to food scraps like meat ending up in there. These aren’t suitable for the bin, but can go into a bokashi bin, or small amounts can go in a worm farm.

When adding new matter to the bin, cover it with dry leaves or grass clippings. This will also help reduce bad smells.

Are there lots of flies around your compost?

Fruit flies can be attracted to fruit and vegetable scraps in the compost bin. Cover these with grass clippings. You can also add calcium or lime to discourage flies.

Don’t add pet poo (some animal manures are fine though)

Compost bins are a good place to put manure from horse stables and chicken coops. But don’t add cat or dog poo, as it contains harmful pathogens.

And although there are composting toilets for human waste, don’t add these to your garden compost bin. It’s a different process to the type of composting described here.

Tumbler composters – an alternative to a standard compost bin

Compost tumbler in the How to make compost guide
Source: https://www.bunnings.co.nz/

What is a compost tumbler?

A compost tumbler is a compost bin or drum that you rotate to mix the contents inside. Some tumblers are mounted on an frame and have a handle, to make turning them easy.

How does a tumbler work?

When you turn the drum of a tumbler compost bin, the waste is jumbled around, adding air pockets to the decomposing material inside. These air pockets provide oxygen for the microorganisms to do their work.

Are compost tumblers faster than regular compost bins?

Compost tumblers can create an ideal environment for organic matter to decompose and turn into compost. They do often work faster than standard compost bins – this may be because their design means they are easy to turn, and the matter is rotate around more easily and more often.

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