Being an agronomist I want you to take note I will be using some technical terms in my posts (I am used to technical terminology and writing), but I promise you I will try not to be boring (I like being funny, believe or not, ask my family) and I will explain them to visitors to my site in general (translating them to colloquial terms, that is) in order to avoid confusion and/or misunderstandings. Nevertheless, if there is anything, whatever, any concept you do not understand or need further explanation, please leave a message (gratefully this is a blog). That explained, I consider we should begin by having a clear understanding of what composting is.

If we search for definitions on the web, we will find many, but they are all somewhat similar (should be, right?). Only to show some examples I will just list a few of such definitions and where they came from (sources), on a second thought, they did not come, I grabbed them, here they are:

Composting, What is it?

The prior definitions will provide you with an idea and a clear enough understanding of what composting process is about, simple, is it not? Natural fertilizer and soil amender! so let’s go on.

In this post, I will be writing about compost or composting, the natural and unique method of waste disposal where organic materials are given the needed conditions to decompose or ferment (not rot). I will also discuss the composting process and the benefits of composting, plus I will be including the traditional way of composting doing it yourself, explained step by step. In some other posts I will show you examples of different types and methods of composting, like improving the traditional method, worm composting, Super Magro composting and Bocashi (a Japanese method).

Visualize yourself out in the woods, you can see fallen trees, branches and leaves in the process of breaking down and having other micro and macro organisms growing on them or within them (degraders). That is the process of decomposition or natural composting, which is the breakdown or degrading of materials. Decomposition is often referred to as decay or rot (?) as well. Although all of our waste materials will eventually decompose, not all of them are considered compostable because of the time involved in their decomposition or degrading, like glass (never decomposes, only becomes glass dust), hardwood, metals (both of them take many years to decompose or break down) and plastics (600 to 10,000 years to break down in the case of different plastics -polymers) which should not be added to compost piles or containers.

Garden waste like grass clippings, leaves, twigs and small branches; food waste, such as peels -with the exception of citrus peels, especially in acid soils, coffee grinds, uneaten vegetable food; plus eggshells, shrimp shells, crab shells, oyster and similar shells (they will need to be crushed down prior to adding them, but they all are magnificent sources of calcium and phosphorus that plants need), are great items to compost -wash them before adding. Other than shells, the addition of animal products to compost should be avoided because as they decompose, they will attract large animals like rats, mice, opossums, armadillos, coyotes, skunks, foxes… plus undesirable insects like flies, cockroaches and others, and will have quite a bad smell!

Garden, field or yard waste will help by increasing decomposition rates and also will help reduce unwanted odors as materials break down. There are also some types of yard waste that should be avoided, as with kitchen food waste. Native weeds, which are plants that grow naturally year after year, should not be added to compost because their seeds or vegetative parts (stolons and rhizomes) will grow back and spread, since some plant have stems that are capable of growing roots and shoots, besides the fact that the seeds of many of them are very resistant and viable (able to sprout). Any weeds in your vegetable growing area should be uprooted and deeply buried (at least three feet down), this way in case they sprout or grow roots and shoots, they will not have enough energy to emerge to the surface of soil and so they will perish.

Materials for composting

Almost any kind of discarded materials from plants are good sources for composting, you can gather them from the garden, kitchen, or bedding materials from cattle pens, plus dung from domestic animals -if you have access to such sources; they are all fine.

Please take note that the feces or excrement of dogs and cats should not be added to compost (it is better to bury them deep in your loan or land), in order to avoid the possibilities of being infected by harmful microorganisms to humans like pathogen (disease carrying) bacteria, fungi and viruses that may be present in cats and dogs feces.

There are a few exceptions related to the use of discarded animal materials, like meat and bones, unless you perform an anaerobic (absence of air, oxygen that is) composting method, particularly when you do “super Magro” composting (Brazilian invention of Mr. Magro). This method shall be discussed in a different post.

Tools you will need

Composting, especially if done at a small scale, needs simple tools you may already have down at your workshop, like picks, shovels, hoes, racks, buckets, forks, wheel barrows, 5 gal buckets, sacks… and energy.

Benefits of composting

Composting brings about many benefits, many indeed, to your physical and mental health, your finances, your family, your neighborhood, the environment… and so on and on. Back in 2013, yard and food waste amounted up to over 27% of all municipal solid waste in the United States. If these refuse items were 100% composted, it would be possible to reduce the overall amount of waste being sent to landfills and mass-burn incinerators and it would also reduce the need for chemical synthesis fertilizers.

Working in your land or garden is relaxing, keeps you moving (exercising) and concentrated (mentally focused); instead of buying fertilizers and soil ammenders, you do them yourself with little or no cost, therefore, reducing your costs; furthermore, if you pick up the green refuse from your neighbors, or if you get together with them to compost their green refuse, the neighborhood will benefit; family members can join in, kids, teenagers, adults and elders, will benefit from doing it; the environment gets benefited, given that by reducing waste by converting it to compost, the process also creates a usable product supply. Compost is a man-made humus, is nutrient-rich and balanced, and it can be used to amend poor soils and fertilize gardens instead of using chemical fertilizers that damage soils. The added compost also helps the soil by increasing its capacity to retain water by means of mulching and therefore, can improve growing conditions by retaining moisture in soils, lowering or decreasing the need for watering.

First things first, you can begin by composting your household vegetables and garden refuse, which are the most available supplies to you, and free of charge. All you need is a composting bin, which you can “do it yourself”. There are commercial bins as well, as an option, but if you can drive some small holes on a 5 gal bucket with a lid, that’s good enough. If the amount of refuse is bigger than what could fit inside a bin, you can do it in several bins or over an old sheet of plastic and cover it with another sheet and fasting them down with rocks, bricks, or a variety of heavy materials to prevent the plastic cover from being blown away.

Alright! let’s now get our hands on doing it. Next I will explain step by step procedures for the easiest kind of composting.

Traditional composting

Farmers all over the world have done composting for centuries using plant refuse like grass clippings, leaves, small twigs, overripe fruits and vegetables, leftover food and/or cattle dung from domestic farm animals, depending on the availability of such materials in the farms or homes. The exceptions being: refuse from animal origin like meat of any kind, fat and bones, in order to avoid bad smells and attracting unwanted animals like rats, mice, insects (flies, cockroaches, ants…) and other scavengers; milk, yogurt or whey are OK. A small amount of soil is a good addition to be used to add beneficial microorganisms that will help break down other materials. The best kind of soil for this purpose is one that is rich in organic matter, like the one you find under trees or bushes. You recognize it because of the dark color and humus like smell. If you can collect soil from the forest or any wooded grove, would be the best kind to use. Please keep in mind that there may be some restrictions as to the extraction of any kind of materials from forests, soil included, especially from parks and such -you don’t want to get in trouble with government officials.

Anybody interested in beginning a compost pile or bin must collect, or salvage if you may, the same sort of organic materials: collect any refuse like the ones mentioned in the above paragraph that are available at home or in the farm. As for urban areas or home gardening, it is advisable to do it in bins. Two bins with lids are perfect, optionally you can make small holes in the sides with a 1/4″ or 3/8″ diameter drill to provide for ventilation. Distances between holes should be around 4 inches all around the bin, beginning at 4″ from the bottom and all the way up to the top. Bins don’t have to be brand new, some empty 5 gal buckets are just fine, providing they are thoroughly washed before using them. Warning: do not use buckets that when new, came or were used to store dangerous substances of any kind, to prevent contamination of the compost.

Tools you will need:

  • Shovel
  • Fork
  • Bucket
  • Rack
  • Wheel barrow (optional)
  • Leather gloves
  • Goggles
  • Nose and mouth filter
  • Work or rubber boots
  • Work comfortable clothing

Preparation: Just dump all materials as you are collecting them, into the bin or pile; if they are too dry like autumn leaves, add a small amount of water to dampen them, without soaking -you do not want your compost to rot, but to ferment. Always keep the lid on the bin.

Every day, after you add the daily refuse, put the lid on the bin and shake it or turn it around (if waterproof) to mix the new and old refuse and aerate it -add air, so it will not rot, but ferment. You can use a fork or shovel to loose compost and turn them inside the bin, which will be a better way of aeration.This is very important, since the fermenting process produces a raise in temperature that can be over 70° Celcius (158° Fahrenheit) if not turned daily. When the lid is full of refuse, keep on shaking or turning daily for the next two weeks, then just leave it alone -maybe an occasional turning for aeration (ventilation) every week would be fine. Then it is time to start exactly the same process in the other bin.

After around three to four months, depending on your weather conditions, especially temperature (the warmer the faster) the refuse of your first bin should be ready (composted). You can tell by the smell, which should be similar to forest soil, plus a nice dark color and soil texture (not any remnants of materials used to produce it can be detected).

Note: The amount of bins you will need depends upon the amount of refuse you will collect. The more refuse, the more bins you will need, and the more compost you will produce.

Happy composting!

2 thoughts on “DIY easy composting methods”

  1. I like how approachable the article is – even for someone like me who hasn’t got a proper knowledge and is not familiar with some terms. You’ve explained everything in details. Maybe in the future it would be a good idea to incorporate some photographic documentation for the few steps of the process of the composting? Visual people LOVE pictures. I still remember (what is a bit funny) few years ago one of my professors at the university said that we as human beings make a regress towards the processing of infomation and we go back to the cavemen’s technics regarding understanding and presenting information.
    Well, all in all. Very good article – definitely worth recommending to someone looking for a data on the subject.

    1. Hello Gosia: I am in the process of making my articles more visual. Just learning how to do it. I totally understand your professor’s comment. I am very visual myself -maybe it is still my caveman ancient instinct? I truly appreciate your honest suggestions and I hope you will visit frequently and keep on commenting about my articles, it really helps me improve them, especially since my native language is Spanish, not English.
      Thankfully.
      Eugenio.

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