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How to Start Composting: A Step-by-Step Guide

If you ever wanted to start composting but thought it was too difficult or time-consuming, you have come to the right place. Not only is composting beneficial for your gardens but also for you and Mother Nature.

Here, we have composed a step-by-step guide on how to start composting to show how easy it is, and with the right tricks and knowledge, you’ll be well on your way to bigger and better vegetable and flower gardens.

Image of compost bin in the autumn garden

Methods of Composting

In this section, we break down the different composting methods as it is not one size fits all. The first step in your composting journey is to see what process would benefit you and your space the most.

Compost Bins

You may have noticed these before at flower and garden nurseries or your local hardware stores, and compost bins are a great beginner-friendly option for someone with a smaller space or small amounts of organic waste.

Compost bins are great because most have a top sealable door to trap unwanted smells and keep pests out but have useable doors on the bottoms to easily remove compost once it is ready.

Compost bins process large amounts of waste in a small space and are designed to do so quickly and effectively. So, when learning how to start a compost, this is a great option.

Aerated Static Pile

Composting using an aerated static pile is exactly how it sounds: a static pile with a mix of organic materials. Some reuse wooden pallets to contain organic matter, and some just use space on their property as a reserved composting space.

This is a wonderful option when learning how to start composting because it’s easy to fix any mistakes or add more materials like lawn clippings or fallen sticks from trees.

Composting Tumbler

Another excellent beginner option when learning how to start composting is choosing a compost tumbler. A tumbler is a fully sealed container that you can easily rotate to mix organic materials. Rotating the compost material ensures the breakdown will never rot but will decompose properly.

Tumblers also keep heat in, causing composting to happen much faster than bins or static piles. Composting tumblers are great for those with small gardens and small amounts of organic matter that need composting. It’s the perfect option to try to see if composting will fit into your routine.

Trench Composting

Trench composting is when a trench is dug, and you place your organic materials inside and then bury them. This is the simplest method because there is no turning, aerating, or layering of materials. You just let the earth do it all for you.

How to Start Composting

A woman emptying a home composting bin into an outdoor compost bin to reduce waste

1. Choose a Method and Location

The first step is choosing a preferred method and where you’ll want to have your compost area.

Choosing a method will determine where the location will be. If selecting a bin or tumbler, these can be placed near your garden to have everything in one central location.

If you want a more significant composting area like a static pile or a trench, you may need a larger area further out from your home, but this will depend significantly on the size and layout of your property. You could have multiple piles where there can be all the different stages of decomposition so you never run out of compost to use.

2. Knowing What to Compost and Not to Compost

Compost materials break down into two main groups, which are the green group and the brown group.

Green Group:

  • Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
  • Used Tea and Coffee Grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Grass Clippings (Not Treated With Fertilizers or Pesticides)
  • Plant Cuttings
  • Spent Flowers
  • Most Weeds

Brown Group:

  • Straw
  • Hay
  • Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Dry Leaves
  • Wood Prunings/Falled Sticks or Small Branches
  • Untreated Wood Scraps or Sawdust

Most organic, untreated materials can be composted, but not all. Here are the following items to never allow into your compost.

Do Not Compost:

  • Diseased or Sickly Plants
  • Pet Droppings
  • Cooking Grease or Fat
  • Dairy Products
  • Glossy Paper From Magazines or Books
  • Weeds With Seed Pods
  • Treated Lumber
  • Large Branches
  • Meats and Animal Bones

3. Layering Materials: A Good Start

Unless your chosen composting method is by a tumbler or trenching, you will want to start strong and layer your composting materials. Of course, as your composting pile grows, you will begin layering on top of already composted materials, but when learning how to start composting, these basic steps kick-start the process.

  1. First, start with a layer of twigs, mulch, and old used potting soil. This allows the compost pile to breathe and encourages air circulation and proper draining.
  2. Next, add a layer of both your green and brown materials.
  3. On top of the green and brown materials, add a layer of leaves or grass clippings.
  4. Finish off with a layer of topsoil. This helps keep everything in place and helps prevent any unwanted odors from escaping.

Pro Tips:

You can add water to each layer while layering to help start the decomposition process.

Make sure that for every two parts of brown materials, you use one part of green materials.

4. Wait and Aerate

After laying your materials, it is time to wait and let nature do the rest of the work for you. After about a week or two, return to your compost and give it a spin by using a large gardening fork or rake to mix everything.

You could also head to your nearest hardware store and pick up some PVC pipes, cut them to size, and stick them into your composting to encourage ventilation.

After aerating, give the compost a little watering enough to moisten it up but not leave it soaking, and cover it once again with a layer of topsoil.

Again, if you’re using the compost tumbler or the trenching method, you don’t need to worry about aerating. If using the tumbler, spin it once a week or when you add more organic materials.

Knowing When Your Compost Gold is Ready

Now that you have all the steps on how to start composting, you may be thinking, how will I know when I can use the compost, or how will I know it was successful?

There is no definitive timeline for when your compost will be “ready.” It could be two weeks or two years, depending on the size, location, materials, weather, and climate.

There are a few telltale signs your compost is ready. Ready-to-use compost will be dark brown, rich, and crumble easily when touched.

Where to Use Your Compost Material

Compost bin in the garden

After learning how to start composting, you’ll be on your way to composting all the materials you can. But where can you use this organic matter?

Garden and Flower Beds

Compost is the best organic fertilizer. Some may say it’s even better than any store-bought or chemical fertilizers. Once your compost is ready, sprinkle it in your flower pots, flower beds, or vegetable gardens.

This gives a natural boost for your plants to explode with life, creating bigger, better fruits and vegetables and larger, healthier flower blooms.


Not only can compost be used outdoors, but it can significantly benefit your indoor plants as well. All you need to do is blend some compost with the potting soil to boost your favorite houseplants’ nutrients.


If your lawn is looking sparse, sprinkle a bit of compost throughout like you would if you were using commercial-grade lawn food. This will ensure a greener, healthier lawn.

Added Drainage

If you have planted or grown any flower or vegetable, you’ll know most plants require well-draining soil. This can be challenging depending on where you live, especially if you have clay-ridden soil. Adding compost into the ground will create well-draining soil without purchasing a bunch of potting soil and mulch.

Benefits of Composting

What are the benefits of taking on the extra work of creating compost at your home? Composting at home benefits our environment greatly. Landfills are constantly overwhelmed with the amount of food waste they receive daily, which in turn causes harmful greenhouse gases.

By composting our food waste, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.

Our soil also benefits from the use of compost. Not only does it create beautiful flowers and produce, but it can eliminate the use of manufactured fertilizers. These fertilizers eventually run off our lawns and gardens and end up in our drinking water from runoff.

Frequently Asked Questions About Composting

Woman composting food waste. Outdoor compost bin for reducing kitchen waste. Organic waste in garden composter, eco-friendly gardening, sustainability. Environmentally responsible, ecology.

Should I purchase a composting kit since I am a beginner?

Walking around a garden center, you may see composting kits that offer excellent results for a price. But you don’t need to purchase a kit even if you’re a beginner composter.

If you follow our thorough step-by-step guide, you’ll be a composting pro in no time!

Do I need worms for my compost bin or tumbler?

It’s a fact that worms benefit our soil, so you may be thinking of adding them to your compost bin or tumbler to reap even more benefits.

In reality, if you have a compost bin, worms will make their way in there without any of your help. As far as adding them to a compost tumbler, this would be unsuccessful. Compost tumblers generate too much heat that would surely kill off the worms.

What happens if I accidentally put the wrong items into my compost pile?

Composting is a forgiving process that, most of the time, can either be remedied or easily fixed. If plastic ends up in the compost, it isn’t a huge deal, as when you use it, you will likely find it later.

If it was something toxic, that could cause more of an issue and affect your compost pile. So, it’s best to ensure anything with chemicals stays out of the compost bin.

But if food such as dairy or meat ends up in the compost, you may see rotting or an abundance of flies. When this happens, add a bunch of your “brown” materials to help counteract the decay process.

Wrapping Up How to Start Composting

With this beginner-friendly step-by-step guide on how to start composting, you are fully equipped to begin your first compost pile! As long as you pick the best method for you and consider the proper things that can and cannot be composted, you’ll have your “black gold” in no time.

If you want to show off your gardening skills, look into the best compost bins to start your composting journey.