15 Composting Tips for Beginners You Need to Get Started

Have you heard that all good gardeners need to compost but have no idea where to start? All you need to know is some composting tips for beginners.

I felt the same way for years. Everyone told me that composting was easy to start, but I often overanalyze and make things bigger in my head than they really are. Then, I started reading some composting tips for beginners and realized it really didn’t see too hard at all.

Could it really be that easy?

The idea of taking typical kitchen waste and creating a “rich compost” that would “feed my garden all year” seemed bogus.

At best, it seemed like it was more trouble than it was worth. I could buy a bag of compost at my local gardening store for like $7, so what’s the big deal?

Finally, I gave in because I wanted to be like the cool gardeners with a compost bin, but then I learned – I really had no reason to be so worried. With the right composting tips, it doesn’t have to be brain surgery. If you can garden, you can compost.

Related: 15 Things You Should Never Compost

Why Should You Start a Compost?

Composting is a worthwhile task, but you might wonder why you should give composting a try. There are several reasons you may want to start composting for beginners.

Composting Reduces Household Waste

Households throw out so much food that you can turn into compost that will feed your family. So many things that families toss out can be added to our compost bin.

It Creates Free Fertilizer for Your Garden

Gardens need fertilizer, but the bags of compost and other soil amendments are pricey at the store. All you really need is compost to turn your waste into organic soil.

It’s Easy for Families

My kids enjoy tossing things into the compost bin for me, and they find it fascinating. Once you understand the basics, it’s hard to mess up.

Composting is Fun & Educational

As I mentioned, my kids like composting, and the science behind how composting works is educational for older kids.

15 Composting Tips for Beginners

1. You Can Compost Anywhere

Before I composted myself, I wouldn’t be able to tell you this, but now I know that you can compost anywhere you live.

Composting for beginners in the city is totally possible. You can have a worm compost (known as vermicomposting) under your kitchen sink. Vermicomposting is virtually odorless and perfect for those who want to compost in an apartment.

You don’t need a huge backyard or acreage to compost.

Consider getting a worm composting bin; these sit right in your house and have NO smell at all. It’s such an easy way to compost, even if you don’t have a backyard to get started yet.

2. Don’t Spend a Fortune on a Compost Bin

Seriously. You don’t need to spend $100 on a compost bin. You don’t even need to buy a compost bin unless you find one used in your local marketplace.

Instead, try to make a DIY compost bin. You can give my $10 DIY compost bin a try!

If you don’t want to make a compost bin and have some money to spend, I prefer a composting tumbler. These are bins with a handle that you crank, turning and spinning the compost. This helps the compost break down faster, reduces any bad odor, and prevents insects from getting into your compost.

3. Learn What Not to Compost First

Some people might tell you to learn what you can compost first, but I find it much easier to learn things not to compost.

Why is it easier?

Because there are MORE things that you CAN compost than things you CAN’T compost. So, by human nature, it’s easier to learn a smaller list than a longer one, right?

What are some examples of things not to compost?

  1. Dog & Cat Feces
  2. Diapers
  3. Meat
  4. Fish
  5. Dairy Products
  6. Diseased Plants

Make sure not to ignore these composting tips for beginners. Adding the wrong materials to your compost bin can do more harm than good. They can attract unwanted pests and smells.

4. Understand Composting Ratio

Perhaps one of the most essential parts of composting is understanding that you need a balance of green & brown materials. The proper composting ratio uses both of these materials; this is one of the most important composting tips for beginners.

Confused? Let’s take a closer look.

Green materials are nitrogen-rich, fresh waste, such as grass clippings, fruit scraps, vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. Brown materials are dry, carbon-rich items, such as dead leaves, hay, shredded leaves, and dead plants.

Understanding these differences is one of the most important composting tips to know. Remember that green materials decompose faster while brown materials are slower to rot yet provide fiber and carbon that are needed to create air pockets in the mixture.

You need both composting materials to decrease the risk of problems. For example, a stinky composting is typically a sign that you have TOO MANY green (nitrogen) materials and need more brown materials.

Aim for a 50:50 ratio of brown and green materials.

5. Find Out How Often Should Compost Be Turned

There is no perfect schedule for turning your compost. No one created a hard-fast rule on how often to turn your compost.

The more that you turn your compost pile, the faster it becomes a finished compost. Once the bin is full, you can turn the pile every 10-14 days.

Turning your compost isn’t difficult. I use a long-handle shovel and just turn it a few times a week. If you don’t like using shovels, a compost crank twist aerator might be for you. You put the aerator into the compost pile and twist – literally that’s it. This helps get oxygen throughout your compost pile.

6. Pick The Right Spot for Your Compost Bin

Every compost bin needs to be in the right location. Pick a spot that is level and well-draining. You might need to prop it up on bricks or pallets to let water flow out the bottom.

At the same time, your compost bin needs to be accessible year-round. I made that mistake by putting my compost bin at the edge of my property, but then in the winter, I didn’t want to walk out there when it was too cold.

It’s best to put your compost bin over bare soil rather than concrete. When water comes out of the compost bin, it feeds the worms waiting in the ground as well as other beneficial organisms.

7. Start With The Right Materials

When you start your compost pile, think of it like making a layered cake. You need to start with the right composting materials.

First, you want to start by adding brush, hay, or straw at the bottom of the bin. Then, add a 4-inch layer of brown materials along with a thinner layer of finished compost or garden soil.

Next, add a 4-inch layer of green materials along with another layer of garden soil.

Make sure you moisten each layer with a garden hose. Then, continue to alternate layers of green and brown materials until your bin is full.

8. You Can Compost in the Winter Too!

You don’t have to stop composting over the winter. If you can provide a shelter space with some insulation, the composting process can continue even as the winter temperatures drop down low.

Related: 8 Winter Composting Tips: How to Compost Year Round

9. Dice and Shred Your Materials For Faster Composting

If you don’t want to add extra time waiting for your finished compost, consider dicing, shredding, and slicing materials. Doing so helps to quicken the composting process. It creates more surface area for the enzymes and microorganisms to decompose.

10. Compost Needs Air Too

One of the main ingredients you need to have a successful compost is AIR. Seriously!

Aeration is crucial for the composting process. That’s why you need to turn your compost just like we discussed in tip #5.

Not only do you need to turn your compost, but you also need air holes that let air in and out. If you don’t have air entering and leaving your compost bin, it can become anaerobic, creating a slimy appearance.

11. Don’t Forget The Water

You need to add water to your compost to make that magic happen. There is no need to water daily, but as you add dry items you’ll need to make sure the bin is damp.

Make sure not to soak your compost. If you’re having trouble with your compost retaining water, consider adding a lid on your bin to reduce evaporation.

12. Learn How to Apply Compost to Your Garden

What’s the purpose of creating compost if you don’t plan to use it in your garden? There are several ways to use compost.

Here are a few examples.

  1. You can create a liquid fertilizer called compost tea with the finished product. All you have to do is steep a shovel-full in a 5-gallon bucket for 2-3 days. Then, pour it over your plants.
  2. Try spreading 2-3 inches of compost around flowers, trees, and shrubs to use as a mulch.
  3. You can fertilize your lawn by adding 1-3 inches to your grass and raking it evenly over the grass.

13. Don’t Spend a Fortune on Compost Activators

A compost bin is a living being, believe it or not. They contain live enzymes and microorganisms that act as compost activators. Activators turn everything you add to your bin into finished compost faster.

Activators contain protein and nitrogen, so they help the bacteria in the compost bin. It helps the microorganisms break down the organic matter.

You can purchase compost activators. All you do is mix a small amount into the water, pour it over your compost, mix it throughout, and wait for 10 weeks.

However, compost activators can be costly, and if you want to keep costs down, you can try alfalfa meal. It’s cheap and works quickly.

Here’s how it works.

Start by composting kitchen waste, then sprinkle your chosen activator, moistening with water. Turn the compost bin, and continue this process.

14. Composting with Worms Works

Nature gives us the best helpers for waste disposal – earthworms. Whether you want to practice vermicomposting in an apartment or toss in worms into your outside compost bin, worms are a boon to any gardener.

Worms love to be in compost bins, eating all of the materials that you add, turning waste into compost. Don’t be afraid to add worms in your compost bin.

You can buy worms online or send your kids out on a worm hunt. Kids love this mission!

15. Use All of The Free Resources to Compost

You might be surprised, when you start composting for beginners, at how many different things you have in your home that you can compost. When you follow composting tips for beginners, you’ll find that there are SO MANY items you can toss into your bin.

MaterialCarbon or Nitrogen
Wood Chips & PelletsCarbon
Wood AshCarbon
Coffee Grounds Nitrogen
Tea Leaves & Bags Nitrogen
Veggie & Fruit Scraps Nitrogen
Straw Carbon
Shredded Leaves Carbon
Grass Clippings Nitrogen
Shredded Paper Carbon
Pine Needles Carbon
Newspaper Carbon
Garden & Lawn Weeds Nitrogen
Egg Shells Neutral
Dryer Lint Carbon
Chicken ManureNitrogen

What are Potential Problems with Composting?

Composting sometimes runs into problems, so you should know how to fix those if it happens to you. Here are some common composting problems.

1. A Bad Smell

One composting problems that no one wants to encounter is a bad smell; it’s a fear new composters have. No one wants to walk outside and smell rotting anything.

Typically, a bad smell is because you have too much nitrogen (green) in your compost bin. Try adding some carbon materials and turn it really good. Some dried leaves will do the trick!

2. Insect Infestation

If you have an insect infestation, you have to heat up your compost to 120 degrees F or higher. Use a compost thermometer to figure out what your core temperature is and add high nitrogen items like blood meal. Turn it regularly and add water until it heats up.

This kills off the bugs!

3. Animal Attraction

Animals, like raccoons and rodents, are always looking for a free meal. If they discover your compost is easy to access, they’ll come back for a free buffet all the time.

The best way to get rid of pesky animals is together an animal-proof bin. If they realize they cannot access it as easily, they will eventually give up, but you also can try to turn your pile more often to heat it up. A hot compost pile is less appealing than a cool one.

Learn more about gardening in my new e-book!

Remember These Composting Tips

Creating a compost pile doesn’t need to be overwhelming. The composting benefits far outweigh any of the cons that might come with it.

It takes between 6-12 months to create finished compost. By remembering these composting tips for beginners, your first experience will be a positive one. Soon, you’ll have fresh compost to spread over your garden beds.

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  1. Is there a way to compost if you don’t have a lot of green. We don’t collect our grass and have a very small portion of grass and don’t collect it but leave it on the ground. We put food scraps but it’s not enough to get any heat going.

  2. Bethany, I was reading the recipe for Strawberry Jam that you posted and it sounds so yummy I can’t wait to make it.
    HERE’S MY PROBLEM: We are renovating our little house top to bottom and by the time my strawberries ripen my ovens won’t be installed yet. All I will have is my Emeril’s Power Oven which will not keep all my 1/2 pint jars warm while the berries cook. Do you think your Jam recipe would do the trick if I cooked it in halves? Thanks for your help!!! BTW..Great Site!!

    1. I honestly have never tried halving the recipe. In your case, I would probably freeze all of my strawberries and make the jam when my oven was installed. Frozen strawberries work perfectly!

  3. I am composting and very soon will start tiling!
    My compost is not 100 % ready, can I till it in regardless. I suppose that eventually will do the job.
    Thanks for anyone to answer!

  4. One thing I think gardeners forget about is sifting the compost periodically… Every 2 to 3 weeks. You do not have to wait a year to be able to use your compost.

    I have a perpetual compost pile I work and sift from. I have a bin that contains all of my sifted compost from which I draw on. I have another bin full of brown and another bin full of green and I am constantly adding to my production bin. Are use my own grass clippings and leaves, but I drive around the neighborhood and collect others that I know don’t have chemical fertilizers or animal poop in it.

    I have tried a number of commercial compost bins over the years, but I find the GEOBIN to be the easiest and most productive system yet. It is so simple and I highly recommend it to anyone. I bought four of them and they work wonderfully.

  5. Thank you for explaining that if your composting is smelly, it can be a sign that there is too many green materials in your compost. I just built a compost bin, and I’ve been wondering how to get started composting some of our organic waste. This helped me to understand how important the ratio is between green and brown materials.

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