DIY Composting for Everybody

Credit: Sean Malyon / Getty Images

Whether you live in a house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city, you can compost, and it doesn’t have to be a time-consuming activity.

If you have a yard, simply create a compost pile in your backyard, says Craig Jenkins-Sutton, president of Topiarius, an urban gardening and landscape design firm. If you live in an apartment, you can put a composting container in your kitchen.

Most people use compost in their vegetable beds to provide additional nutrients to help their plants grow. Benefits of composting include:

  • Enriching the soil by helping it to retain moisture and quell plant diseases.
  • Reducing the need for chemical fertilizers because the compost acts as a natural fertilizer.
  • Lowering your carbon footprint by keeping waste out of landfills.

There are hundreds of different ways to make a compost pile that involve turning the pile frequently, layering the compost, and moving material to separate bins, but the process doesn’t have be so labor intensive. “I’m all for lazy man’s composting,” Jenkins-Sutton says. “My theory is this is how nature composts anyway, so why should I fuss with it.”

Spring is a good time to start composting, Jenkins-Suttton says, because you can use the organic materials from your spring yard or garden cleanup to start your compost pile.

Getting started
Whether you are creating a backyard compost pile or composting in a bin in your kitchen, here’s what you need to put in your compost. Add any chopped up leaves, grass clippings, and perennials that you cut back from your spring cleanup. Dead leaves, bark, and twigs will need to be chopped into smaller pieces to help them decompose. Make sure you have a mix of brown leaves that have fallen from the trees and green leaves and grass clippings. “If you use only brown leaves, it will take much longer for the pile to break down,” Jenkins-Sutton says. “Green leaves help the pile to heat up and decompose more quickly.”

What to leave out
Make sure the weeds you are adding to the pile don’t have seeds on them, and don’t add any plants that have diseases or fungus. Don’t add any animal waste. If you have an outdoor compost pile that isn’t enclosed, don’t use kitchen waste, except leafy greens, because it will attract rodents.

Maintaining your compost
Your outdoor compost pile should get some sunlight to speed up the process a bit. Jenkins-Sutton’s pile is under a tree where it gets two to three hours of sunlight a day. Keep the pile moist but not wet. Turn the pile or the material in your compost bin occasionally. Once the pile has sat for a few months, Jenkins-Sutton says you will want to separate out the rich soil at the bottom and use that in your vegetable garden. Pull out any big chunks and return them to the pile for more decomposing. You can also use a screen to sift out the larger chunks that will need to be further disintegrated.

“If it was harder, I just wouldn’t compost,” Jenkins-Sutton says. “I don’t have the time, and there are other things I would rather do instead of turning compost.”