Composting for Dummies: A Step-by-Step Guide

Not sure how to start composting? Have no fear! This guide will tell you everything you need to know about compost, from what it is and why we compost, to how to start composting in your own home. 

What is compost and why you should be doing it

Compost is decomposed organic matter, like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and eggshells, that can be used as a natural fertilizer for plants. Composting is the process of breaking down these organic materials into usable forms. 

There are many benefits to composting. For one, it reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills. According to the EPA, over 30% of what we throw away can be composted! That’s a lot of waste that we can prevent from taking up space in our landfills. 

In addition, composting helps to improve the quality of the soil. The decomposed organic matter in compost contains nutrients that are essential for plant growth, like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Compost can also help to retain water in the soil and reduce erosion. 

Finally, composting is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. The decomposition process of organic matter releases methane gas, which is a powerful greenhouse gas. However, very little methane is released when organic matter is composted aerobically (with oxygen). 

Now that you know all about composting, let’s get started! Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to start composting in your own home: 

  1. Choose a location for your compost bin or pile:

If you have a backyard, the best place for your bin or pile is on the bare ground so that worms and other critters can easily get in and do their job. If you don’t have a backyard or if your backyard doesn’t get much sun, you can also put your bin or pile on your porch or balcony. Just make sure that it’s in a location where it won’t bother you or your neighbors too much! 

  1. Choose what type of bin or pile you want:

There are many different types of bins and piles that you can choose from depending on your needs and preferences. If you want something low-maintenance, you can choose an enclosed bin with a lid so that animals can’t get in and make a mess. If you don’t mind doing a bit more work, you can choose an open-air bin or pile. Just ensure that if you choose an open-air bin or pile, you cover it with a tarp when it rains so that the rain doesn’t wash away all your hard work! 

  1. Gather your materials:

You’ll need some organic material for your bin or pile (more on what counts as organic material later!) and something to use as filler.

Fillers can be things like:

  • Straw
  • Leaves
  • Wood chips
  • Newspaper
  • Etc.

Important Note:

You’ll also need a pitchfork or shovel so that you can turn over your bin or pile every few weeks.

  1. Start adding organic material to your bin or pile:

Once you have all your materials gathered, it’s time to add organic material to your bin or pile! Some examples of organic material include fruit and vegetable scraps (no meat or dairy!), coffee grounds and filters, eggshells, dryer lint, leaves, grass clippings, etc.

A good rule of thumb is to add two parts “green” material (fruit and vegetable scraps) for everyone part “brown” material (leaves). You should also avoid adding things like diseased plants, weeds with seeds, and pet waste because they can introduce harmful bacteria into your compost.

  1. Add water:

After all the hard work of carefully placing your organic fertilizer into the crafted bin or pile, giving it a good watering is essential. Too much water can lead to awful odors from standing water and a slightly dry mix may not break down as expected; making sure everything is moist yet not soggy is key for successful composting.

Taking the time to ensure that everything is right is worth it and will provide you with an ideal growing environment for a healthy garden.

  1. Turn over your bin or pile every few weeks:

Turning over your compost bin or pile regularly is one of the most important steps in composting. It introduces oxygen into the materials and helps them to break down at an increased rate, giving you a ready supply of organic matter. Doing this every two weeks is recommended as it will ensure that your compost matures faster, so that you can enjoy the benefits of using it in gardening or other outdoor activities. Taking this simple step regularly is really important for successful composting.

  1. Wait patiently:

Depending on the temperature, moisture , and size of your materials, it can take anywhere from two weeks to six months for everything to break down completely. Once everything has broken down, you’ll know because it will look like rich, dark soil! Congratulations—you have successfully made compost! Now all that’s left to do is add it to your garden beds and watch your plants grow! 


Composting is an easy and useful way to reduce the amount of waste produced while also nurturing a garden or backyard soil. Everything from food scraps to yard clippings can be composted and used as natural fertilizer.

To get started, all you need is a container for the organic material and some insulation (such as leaves) to help it break down.

Once that is in place, it’s just a matter of adding the material, removing any ‘problem items’ such as weeds and sprinkling in water from time to time. With this handy guide at your side, you’ll soon become an expert composter!


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