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What is Compost and How to Make It at Home

Updated on August 30, 2012

I have read and heard many things in the past couple of years about the benefits of compost for the garden. Ever since I heard of composting, I've wanted to do it at my house. I never could talk my husband into making me a composting bin so he did the next best thing - he bought me one for my birthday. It's not everyone who would be delighted by such a gift - but I was! I couldn't wait to get started so I began reading up again on how to compost so I'd do it right.

What is compost and why is it beneficial?

What's so special or fun about composting? Well, for starters, it's downright cheap, beneficial for the environment since materials are reused and can help grow the most amazing flowers and vegetables.

What is composting? Composting involves gathering certain yard and kitchen wastes into a pile or container so that they can rot. The rotted materials form rich decomposed organic matter that can be used to fertilize or mulch the garden without spending a dime.

Compost is made of two materials. "Brown" ingredients are full of carbon and provide energy. They include: dried grass clippings, dead leaves, straw, dead weeds (not invasive ones), sawdust from untreated wood, wood ashes, dryer lint, shredded cardboard, corn stalks, shredded newspaper, peanut shells, peat moss, pine needles, etc.

"Green" material is high in nitrogen and provides protein for the microorganisms that dwell in the compost. Green materials consist of: vegetable and fruit peelings or rinds (not bananas, peaches or oranges), eggshells, coffee grounds, used tea bags, fresh grass clippings, hay, green leaves, green weeds (not invasive), livestock manure, clover, seaweed, etc.

It's important to keep a balance of brown and green material in your compost pile or bin. Too much green makes it smelly and mushy and too much brown slows down decomposition. Keeping the compost moist and turning the material frequently with a pitchfork or similar object will yield the best results - dark, earthy, rich-smelling compost.

What doesn't belong in the compost pile

Some things do not belong in the compost pile because they attract pests and rodents or worse and they smell terrible when rotting. Pet or human waste, coal ash, colored paper, diseased plants, inorganic material (plastic, metal), meat, bones, dairy, fish and chemicals should not be added to compost.

The Compost Bin

My compost bin is made of heavy-duty plastic with a tight-fitting lid and four ports at the bottom from which I can gather the finished product. It has many air holes on each of the sides and there is no bottom to it. We assembled it (so easy) and put it on the far side of the driveway in a gravel area that gets about 6 hours of sunlight a day. It's convenient to add to, close to the gardens and far enough away from the house not to be unsightly.

While I love my pre-made bin, it would be very simple to take a plastic garbage can and drill some holes all around it to make your own. To turn the compost, all you'd have to do is turn the can on its side and roll it around! I've heard of open wire "cage" composters also but these would not be practical areas where wild animals lurk.

Spread the compost for your garden throughout the planting beds for fruits, vegetables and flowers. Plant seedlings in a hole with compost in the bottom. The compost enriches the soil and aids in prolific growth for plants.

I am thrilled to start this new "green" project at home and am looking forward to beautiful flowers and vegetables later in the season!


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  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 6 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    I have a hard time remembering about the brown & green parts, too, prairieprincess. Thanks for the positive feedback!

  • prairieprincess profile image

    Sharilee Swaity 6 years ago from Canada

    I love composting, too! I made my first composter myself and then bought one after that. I am not sure but I think I like the homemade one a bit better! Great hub. Voted up useful and awesome. I am also bookmarking this for the basics of brown and green parts. I had read about these before but I needed a refreshing on composing. Great informative hub!

  • Esmeowl12 profile image

    Cindy A. Johnson 7 years ago from Sevierville, TN

    If you have some houseplants or a balcony where you could grow plants, you could use the compost there or give it away to friends or use it for plants at work. Just some ideas. Thanks!

  • askjanbrass profile image

    askjanbrass 7 years ago from St. Louis, MO

    Yes, composting is great. I've always wanted to start composting but don't know where I would use the finished fertilizer. I live in a city and don't have any yard space or land of my own.