How to Start Composting

By Amanda Streets
January 4, 2019

Do you know why I love composting? It solves all of my troubles.  No food in the house? I can find it growing in my yard. Smelly trash? Put food waste in the compost instead, that’s the smelly part. Forgot to take my trash can out on trash day? It’s not full because I compost my food, yard waste and paper products. I ran out of potting soil to repot my plants? I made some from my compost. And the true icing on the cake is that I know what’s in it, it didn’t come from the store wrapped in plastic and it has no substantial carbon footprint going from production to garden. It’s fun and easy to make. There’s really no downside to home composting. A few basic tips and you’re ready to go!

The Four Ingredients to Great Compost

Every compost system – big or small, on the ground or in a container – needs the same basic components to make rich compost.


Before you consider starting a new compost pile, start accumulating browns. These items were once a tree – brown leaves, small sticks, mulch, paper, cardboard, sawdust. They are high in carbon. The closer to a tree and less processed it is, the higher the carbon content. You will need less wood chips than shredded paper to get the job done.

The green, or nitrogen rich, material is a little easier for the average homeowner to gather. This includes coffee grounds, tea, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings and grains. You’ll need a kitchen container to hold them in until you’re ready to take them to your compost. A repurposed tub, Ziploc bag or a fancy stainless bucket with a charcoal filter will all serve the same purpose. Some people keep this on the counter while others prefer the refrigerator or freezer.

The air and water are just as important as the green and brown compostables. Imagine that you are building a home for a pet. You’ll want a nice pen with air holes, and bowls for food and water. Without any of those essentials for life, your pet will die. It’s the same for compost. Your compost is full of micro-organisms that need your care, just like the pet, to survive. The greens and browns are the food, and they need to drink water and breathe air.

The Location

Don’t get too caught up in where to put your compost. Especially when you’re starting out, you want to actually start composting. If it’s not the perfect spot, you can move it later. Find a location that you can reach with your hose that isn’t too far off the beaten path so you won’t forget about it. I hid my first compost pile in the furthest corner of my back yard behind my shed. I had to haul water in buckets to it and I never checked it unless I was bringing my food scraps out. It was either too dry or too wet all the time.

Make sure that you have enough room to access and maneuver around your compost. You will need to turn it with either a shovel or a pitchfork and may require a wheelbarrow to move it. You don’t want to put your compost right up against a wooden structure like a fence or building since it’ll cause the wood to rot over time. Come out about a foot from a structure.

If you are using a pile method or a container with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage, ground contact is important. If you have a tumbler or completely enclosed system, a patio or paved surface is fine. A shady space will retain more moisture while a sunnier spot will dry out faster.

Check out Choosing a Composting System for Your Home to help determine which type of system is best for you.

Why Compost?

The trash keeps piling up, increasing the size of current landfills and asking for more. Resources are used to bag, pick up, dump, and store this trash for what seems like eternity. It’s a wasted opportunity.

According to the EPA’s data, roughly 60% of trash in landfills is made up of organic matter that could be composted under the right conditions, and about 40% could very easily be composted in your backyard. You can repurpose the food and yard waste to improve your soil and plant health rather than sending it off to produce greenhouse gases in the landfill. Imagine if everyone composted…  The statistic under the circle graph could show a far lower amount of trash produced.

Photo Sources:

Published by Pinellas Community Composting Alliance

Pinellas Community Composting Alliance was formed as an education and advocacy group to promote community composting in our Tampa Bay area. We do this by holding classes, helping to establish community compost drop off stations, and working with others to help create a more sustainable local food system.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: