How to Make Backyard Compost

This weekend, I finally got my compost bin. If you haven’t considered composting, you should, and I’ll tell you why. If you want to, but aren’t sure how to start, I’ll show you how.

Why You Should Compost

There are two main reasons you should compost:

1. It’s cheaper than buying potting mix or garden soil. And you don’t have to drive anywhere to get it. You’ve got a ready supply on hand.

2. It reduces the amount of trash you produce. If you live in an area that offers smaller trash bins at a reduced price, this could also reduce your trash collection costs.

What You Can Compost

You can compost a great variety of things. There’s a long list at Planet Green. In short, you can compost:
Yard trimmings
Egg shells
Fruit and vegetable kitchen waste
Coffee grinds and tea bags
Shredded paper
Dead leaves

You can’t compost:
Protein and bones
Fats and oils
Some seeds
Weeds with seeds or infected plants
Moldy food
Pet waste from carnivores (cats, dogs)
Citrus (you can use a little, but not a lot)
Glossy paper printed with non-biodegradable in (soy ink is OK.)

Where to Get a Compost Bin

You can buy a compost bin online for $100-$200. If you don’t want to spend that much, you can see if your city or county offers bins free or at a reduced price, or you can make one.

Los Angeles County offers free composting workshops where you can buy a yard bin for $40 or a worm bin for $65. My friend tells me that even if you get a regular bin, the worms will get in there, so you don’t necessarily need a special worm composting bin.

To find out if your city or county offers bins, either Google “Your City/County + compost bins” or visit the website for your waste division. It will probably be under the Programs or Information for Homeowners section.

If you want to build one, try one of these sets of instructions.

How to Start Your Bin

Starting a bin is easy. I saved three bags of dead leaves from the fall, but you can start one now even if you didn’t do that.

Choose a Site

First, assemble the compost bin. It took me about ten minutes to put this one together. Then find a spot for it. Ideally it should be on ground, not concrete. You can put it near a fence, but not right up against the fence. It should also get some sun, but not all-day sun. You’ll need to water it occasionally, so it should be close enough to a water source that it’s convenient. We put it near our trash cans, which are also near the kitchen.

Gather Supplies

Next, gather your supplies. You’ll need garden gloves, a shovel, dead leaves, green matter, kitchen waste, pruning shears (for cutting up the larger items), a water source, and a shovel. I got the white kitchen compost crock at Cost Plus World Market for $15. It sits on my counter, then I take it out to the bin when it gets full. It includes a charcoal filter, so it doesn’t smell or attract bugs.

Fill the Bin

Ideally, you want to use a 50/50 mix of green matter and brown matter. My gardeners haven’t come yet this week, so I was a little light on green matter. I started with about 6 -8 inches of leaves.

  1. Next I dumped in the kitchen waste. The egg shells should be dried and crushed.
  2. Next I cut the green yard trimmings into smaller pieces and added those.
  3. Add water to moisten and help it build heat.
  4. Stir. You’ll need to water and stir it every 7-10 days.

Cover and wait. Add more kitchen waste as your container fills up. Add yard trimmings when you have them. Want to dispose of shredded paper? Toss it in. Got an empty egg carton? Add it. I’ve got a container full of dryer lint. That’s going in, too.

It will take about 3 months for the compost to become soil. It shouldn’t smell during that time. If it does, it needs water, stirring, or it may not be getting hot enough. It should be about 140 degrees.

With the plastic bins, you can then open a door in the bottom to scoop out the soil. Always add to the top, and remove from the bottom.

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