Composting 101 | The Ultimate Guide To Homemade Organic Compost

Organic Waste

On average, Americans throw out about 1.3 pounds of food scraps daily. That equates to around 24% of the waste we Americans produce. You may not think twice about the banana peel or the apple core you throw into the garbage can, but did you know that most of this organic waste we throw out can be broken down and transformed into organic compost packed with nutrients and beneficial bacteria you can add into your home garden?

Benefits of Organic Composting

Creating organic compost is not only a great way to add nutrients back into the soil of your garden, but it’s also a very simple and easy method of doing so. The bacteria occupying the organic materials you supply your compost bin with do all the work of transforming the food scraps various other organic matter into organic compost.

Handful of Organic Compost

Not only is starting your own compost pile great for your garden, but it’s also great for your wallet. As stated before, about 24% of the waste we throw into the garbage can be composted. With nearly a quarter of your waste out of the trash and into the compost bin, your garbage can will not be filling up as frequently. Therefore, you’ll be replacing the trash bag less often and saving money on trash bags as a byproduct of composting.

Creating your own organic compost also saves you the time and money needed to go and purchase special fertilizers to add to your garden. Compost is packed with micronutrients and bacteria that are highly beneficial to the plants within your garden. 

With organic composting, you can say goodbye to those expensive fertilizers and soil amenities, and hello to a nutrient rich and organic compost that’s absolutely free and made entirely in your own backyard.

Because organic compost relies on much of the waste you usually would put into the garbage can, you in turn, reduce the amount of waste you produce. 

If everyone were to start their own compost pile, this would have a remarkable effect on the environment. Landfills would not fill up as fast and the need for special chemicals and fertilizers produced by factories will also be reduced. Organic composting is easy and highly effective way of saving the environment.

Starting your own Organic Compost Pile

Homemade Organic Compost

The best time to start your own organic compost pile is right now. The earlier you start, the greater the benefits of organic composting will have on your garden, your wallet and the environment. That being said, how do you begin composting?

Setting up a compost pile is pretty simple. All you really need is a vessel to contain your compost in and an area to put said vessel. There are many types of compost bins and containers out there to choose from.  Selecting your ideal compost bin all just depends what works best for you and how much you will be composting. Below are few of the main types of compost bins that gardeners utilize.

The Basic Compost Bin

Garden Composter Bin Made from Recycled Plastic, 110 Gallon (420 Liter) Large Compost Bin - Create Fertile Soil with Easy Assembly, Lightweight, Aerating Outdoor Compost Box, by D.F. Omer

The Standard Compost bin is pretty much just a plastic or metal compost bin with a lid. They come in different sizes depending on how much compost you are making. You simply just add the composting contents into the bin and turn/mix them every once and a while. While they work just fine and you will eventually get compost from them, it may take longer to get compost from a standard bin compared to the other types of compost vessels available for sale. For best results, you want to find one that allows air to circulate throughout the bin.

The compost bin featured in the image above is a prime example of an excellent basic composting bin. Made from recycled Plastic, this composting bin can store up to 110 gallons (420 L) of organic material. Its sturdy walls help keep the compost in place, while the vents on the side walls help keep the compost aerated for a faster decomposition. The top of the bin also opens up to allow for an ultra-easy deposit of organic material. In addition, there is a door at the bottom that slides up for easy withdrawal of the finished compost. Overall, a great composting bin for any gardener.

Click here to purchase this Compost Bin: 

The Compost Tumbler

Miracle-Gro Large Dual Chamber Compost Tumbler – Easy-Turn, Fast-Working System – All-Season, Heavy-Duty, High Volume Composter with 2 Sliding Doors + Free Scotts Gardening Gloves (2 – 27.7gal/105L)

The compost tumbler features a cylinder shaped container that rotates via an axle that is generally turned by a hand crank. Compost Tumblers are generally better than standard bins as they allow you to simply turn and mix the compost with little effort thanks to the rotating axle. It’s also a faster method of breaking down the organic matter into compost. When choosing a compost tumbler, it is important that you find one with a strong crank handle as this is a common flaw many compost tumblers have.

This Compost Tumbler featured in the image above is made by Miracle Gro. It features two chambers that can hold 27.7 gallons each. This gives it a total capacity of 55.4 gallons (105 L). Although its capacity it significantly smaller than the last compost bin, it is able to produce compost at a much faster rate due to its rotating chambers that allow the organic material to break down and therefore decompose at a much faster rate. With a steel base and a sturdy locking mechanism, this tumbler will certainly stand the test of time and help you make compost for years to come.

Click here to purchase the Miracle Gro Compost Tumbler.

Heavy Duty Compost Bin

Jora Composter Tumbler JK270

The heavy duty compost bin is one of the more pricey compost bins out on the market. To make up for this, they are also the largest and highest quality compost containers as well. They typically have insulated walls which keep the compost nice and warm even throughout the winter. Because of this, heavy duty compost bins can create higher quality compost and in less time as well. Some can even create compost in as little as 30 days!

The Jora Composter Tumbler JK270 is a prime example of a heavy duty composter. Coated with Galvanized sheet metal, this compost vessel is not only extremely sturdy, but also rust proof. Its dual chambers hold a total capacity of 70 gallons (264.9 L). Other features include an insulated interior, which keeps the compost nice and warm for faster decomposition and also, small holes on both sides of the vessel ensuring the microbes and bacteria get oxygen. Of course, this compost bin can also rotate using the super sturdy handles mounted to the outside. This allows for a faster breakdown of the materials inside and inevitably, a quality compost made fast.

Click here to buy the Jora Composter JK270

The DIY Compost Container

DIY Compost Bin

 The Do-it-Yourself Compost bin is for those who want to save money and construct a compost bin of their own. Most homemade compost bins are constructed from wooden pallets. These are great to use for the wall of compost bins because they are sturdy enough to hold the contents in place, and the gaps of the wooden planks on the pallets allow air to circulate throughout the inside of the bin. 

 When constructing a compost bin out of wooden pallets however, it is import you check the pallet stamp on the pallets. Pallet Stamps should have the letters HT to confirm that it has been heat treated. Refrain from using pallets with the letters MB on them as this represents the pallet was treated with methyl bromide. This is a toxic pesticide that you do not want your compost to be contaminated with.

Starting out Your Organic Compost Pile

Once you have your compost vessel, it’s time to fill it up. Most any organic materials can be composted, but there are some things that you should avoid adding into your bin in order to create a successful organic compost and also to prevent rodents and pests from being attracted to the bin. The following are some common household things that can and can’t be thrown into your compost bin.

Can Be Composted

  • Apple Cores

  • Banana Peels

  • Orange Peels

  • Grape Stems

  • Coffee Grounds

  • Coffee Filters

  • Grass Clippings

  • Leaves

  • Small sticks and twigs

  • Vines and stems from your garden

  • Shredded Paper

  • Egg Shells

  • Pencil Shavings

  • House Plant Trimmings

  • Tea Bags

  • Hay

  • Saw Dust (Non treated wood only)

  • Weeds (Not the flower part)

  • Hair

  • Manure form Cows, Horses and Chickens

  • Bread

  • Melon Rinds

  • Potato Skins


Can NOT be Composted


Dog/Cat Feces


Cheese and Dairy Products

Plastic Products

Paper with Wax Coating

Diseased Plants matter

Items in the Gray Area…

There are some items that fall between the gray area of can be composted and what cannot be composted. The main reason these items fall within this category is because they can be composted, however, they just take significantly longer to breakdown into compost compared to other organic materials. It’s up to you whether or not to add these items into your compost bin but just know that it will take longer to turn into compost. The following items fall within this “neutral zone”

  • Larger Sticks and branches

  • Pine Needles

  • Bamboo

  • Leather

  • Corn Cobs

Greens and Browns

Greens and Browns of Compost

The items that can be composted fall into 2 different categories. Greens and Browns. Browns are items that are high in carbon and or carbohydrates. Items that are included in the brown category include: Leaves, Sawdust, Hay, Twigs and Shredded Paper. The browns act as food source for the microorganisms within the organic matter.

Greens on the other hand, are items that contain nitrogen. This is what heats up the compost pile. Greens include: Banana Peels, Apple Cores, Grass Clippings, Eggshells and various other fruit and vegetable remains. With an ample supply of greens in your compost pile, the microorganisms will be able to multiply and therefore breakdown the materials into organic compost faster.

In order to create a successful organic compost for your garden, try to maintain a balance of 25% green material to 75% brown material. Don’t worry about trying to maintain an exact ratio of greens and browns however, as it is not a big deal if it’s not exact. This is simply just a general ratio to follow.

Caring for your Compost Pile

Hands emptying a container full of domestic food waste

Once your materials begin to pile up in your compost bin, there are some steps you should take in order to help the materials successfully breakdown into organic compost. With a little bit of care from time to time, you will ensure your compost bin produces quality, organic compost and will also speed up the rate at which your materials compost.

One of the most important steps to take when it comes to maintaining your compost is to mix it up every so often. Stirring up the contents of your compost helps provide fresh oxygen and moisture to microorganisms within the organic matter. 

By turning and mixing your compost every so often, you ensure the microorganisms stay productive and breakdown the organic matter faster. Compost tumblers make this task easy, but it can still be done using a shovel or pitchfork.

Hose spraying water

Another task you should do every so often is water your compost pile. A successful and efficient organic compost requires a moist environment. Not sopping wet and not bone dry, but moist. Too little moisture results in compost taking far longer to decompose, while too much moisture results in the organic matter rotting rather than decomposing. Therefore, it is important to water the contents of your organic compost every so often to ensure the fastest rate of decomposition.

You can tell when your materials are breaking down into organic compost when the pile you have created is warming up. Organic Compost can heat up to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (77º C). Ideally, you want your compost pile to heat up to around 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71º C). However, like the greens and browns ratio discussed earlier, this is something you should not stress too much over getting exact. 

Consider getting a compost thermometer to ensure your compost is heating up to the optimum temperature. Warm compost decays at a much faster rate than cold compost.

Misconceptions About Organic Composting

There are a lot of misconceptions out in the gardening world regarding the process of creating organic compost. There some statements that are partially true, and others that are flat out bogus. I will be reviewing some of the more common myths and misconceptions about organic composting and debunking them so that you can be fully informed and create the best homemade, organic compost possible.

1. Compost piles should be located in a sunny area.

Organic Composting

While it doesn’t hurt to put your compost pile an area that receives lots of sunlight, it really does not have any clear advantage in such a location. Ultimately, you should put your compost pile in an area that works best for you. I actually keep my compost bin in a shaded area. This way, the compost can retain moisture better and remain damp.

2. Pine Needles should not be Composted

Many people avoid putting pine needles into their compost due to the acidity within them. What most gardeners fail to understand however, is that once pine needles turn brown, they no longer are acidic. The only issue with pine needles is that they typically take longer to decompose compared to other organic materials. Feel free to add pine needles into your organic compost if you are planning to compost long term.

Pine Needles

3. Sugar should be added to Compost to help feed the bacteria.

There is no need to add sugar to your organic compost. The idea behind this was that the sugar will act as a food source for the bacteria and microorganisms. However, the brown materials such as hay and leaves contain carbohydrates which in turn, feed the microorganisms. Adding sugar won’t hurt your compost, but it will not help either.

4. Compost is a Dark, Crumbly Material

While companies often advertise their compost as a dark, crumbly soil, this is not necessarily what it always looks like. Homemade, organic compost often very clumpy and straw-like. This is perfectly ok you should not worry if your compost looks like this.

How long does Organic Compost take to Make?

Compost And Composted Soil

The time it takes for organic matter to break down into organic compost varies depending on what you add to your pile and how well you care for it. With the right ingredients and a good composting bin, you can have organic compost in as little as 4 to 6 weeks. 

A compost pile with larger, more hard-to-break down materials may take up to a year or two to fully decompose. Just determine how fast you need compost for your garden and plan accordingly. Personally, I like to have my harvest compost after 6 months of decomposing. This way, I can make one application to my garden in the spring, and a second one in the fall.


This is it. Composting 101, the ultimate guide to compost. Organic compost is not only great for the garden, but it is also a great way of saving money as well. There are many different types of bins and containers to choose from so make sure to choose the one that best suits your needs. Now that you know what to compost and what not to compost, it’s time to begin organic composting. Remember, the best time to start is right now. The earlier you begin composting, the more of the benefits you will reap from the wonderful practice of composting.

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