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Your 101 guide to composting at home

Posted by American Homes 4 Rent Team

5m read time

Jul 14, 2022

Composting benefits the environment by recycling organic resources and conserving landfill space. Plus, plant lovers can use homemade compost as a sustainable way to fertilize both their indoor and container gardens. Not only will your plants thrive when you add your own compost to their pots, you'll also save money on soil conditioners and fertilizers, as well as reduce your trash output. Here's everything you need to know about why composting is so helpful to your plants and how you can easily get started at home. 

Compost explained 

Compost is a mixture of natural materials that breaks down to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used with most types of plants. For the home gardener, adding a balanced ratio of brown matter (like leaves), green matter (like raw vegetable scraps), and water eventually decomposes after exposure to heat. 

 

Composting has become so popular that, today, there are countless resources available to create your own setup, no matter how much indoor or outdoor space you have. It simply takes some consistency and attention to make sure your ratios remain balanced. Some gardeners also use worms to aid in the composting process, called vermicomposting, but this isn't necessary as long as you place your traditional compost bin in a sunny spot in your backyard to break down plant matter.

Benefits of composting at home

Here are just a few of the advantages of using compost for people and the planet. 

Improves soil quality for plants: Compost includes a variety of helpful nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It also helps drainage issues in poor soil conditions, especially those that are sandy or have a lot of clay. So no matter what type of soil you use in your potted plants, a layer of compost can recondition it.

 

Adds helpful bacteria to soil: Different types of bacteria offer different benefits. But in general, the microorganisms present in compost reduce the risk of disease and encourage root growth. 

 

Reduces the use of chemical fertilizers: Compost replaces the need for chemical fertilizers, which can have many harmful effects on plant life, including lower fertility of the plants and lower quality of the soil. 

 

Keeps more trash out of landfills: Organic waste accounts for anywhere between 25% and 50% of trash in the U.S. By composting a portion of that, you'll keep more trash out of landfills.

 

Lowers the cost of gardening: It can be expensive to continually purchase fertilizers at the home improvement store, especially for potted plants that continually require new nutrients. At-home composting gives you better quality fertilizer using what you already have; plus, the quality is often better.

4 steps to create healthy compost

Follow these four easy steps to create your own compost at home. It takes just a few supplies to get started. 

 

Choose a compost bin

There are tons of quality compost bins on the market that are designed to fit any space, indoors or out. It's also possible to build your own compost bin, but starting off with the right bin designed for your site conditions can make the experience a lot easier. 

 

Outdoor composters are often divided into two categories: batch bins, which allow you to compost one batch of compost at a time, and continuous bins, which let you keep adding as your older compost breaks down. Both have design features to keep critters out while everything breaks down. 

 

You can also opt for an indoor composter. Some are meant to safely hold kitchen scraps until you transfer them to your outdoor bin, while others will begin the compost process while inside. There are even indoor electronic composters that speed up the process for small batches.

 

Learn what can go in

There are a few rules to follow on what can safely go in the compost bin. Half your compost mixture should be from green materials, and half should be from brown materials.

 

Green materials include things like grass, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds. Brown materials include leaves, twigs, straw, paper, and cardboard.

 

Every time you add green materials to your bin, throw in a handful or two of brown materials to provide carbon to your bin and keep the mixture from getting too soggy.

 

There are also several things that should never go in your compost bin, regardless of your setup. These include meat or dairy products, oil, baked goods, or weeds that have set seed.

 

Pro tip: For quicker results, chop food items into smaller pieces, and shred or tear paper items into strips, so they’ll break down faster.

 

Turn the soil

Expedite the composting process by regularly turning the soil in your bins. Ideally, you should do this chore once or twice a week. The most decomposition occurs in the center of the pile where heat builds up. By regularly turning the bin, you'll redistribute the contents so that they break down evenly. It also adds oxygen to the mixture, which keeps all those microbes alive.

 

It's easiest when you have a compost barrel that is designed to spin or tumble. And if you notice your materials inside are dry, take this time to grab a hose or watering can to add the third necessary ingredient: water. 

 

Keep an eye out for red flags that may indicate you need to turn your compost more frequently. These include things like the presence of bugs or unpleasant smells. Your compost should smell earthy, but never putrid.

 

Check the final product

After six to eight weeks, it's time to look for signs that your compost is ready to use in your container garden or indoor plants, although it may take several months for your compost to be ready, depending on the size and location of your bin. In addition to that earthy tone, the compost should have a crumbly texture when you grab a handful. Also, you shouldn't be able to identify food content; it should be fully broken down into brown matter. Another sign that the compost is done is that the temperature has cooled. If it's still warm, that's a sign that decomposition is still taking place.  

Bottom line

Composting adds a lot of value to your home life and to the planet. Not only will your plants be happier with a top dressing of self-made compost, but you'll also contribute to a more sustainable world where you're continually reducing and reusing your waste to create a healthier ecosystem. 

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