How to Compost at Home

compost at home with these tips from Duke's Junk Recycling in Austin, TX

Want to revitalize your garden and lawn without spraying chemicals? Composting saves you money on fertilizer and expensive soil, all while reducing the amount of waste you send to the landfill. Composting is truly a win-win!

Composting turns waste into something healthy. The process creates organic matter that is super fuel for plants, chock full of microorganisms, beneficial humus, and humic acids. Compost also acts as a natural pesticide, protecting your plants from harmful insects.

Even if you aren’t working on your garden or lawn, there are plenty of reasons to compost. Studies have shown up to half of home waste could be composted instead of sent to the dump. Composted waste can biodegrade naturally, while waste in a landfill is buried without oxygen. Instead of breaking down into healthy soil, that waste releases harmful methane gas. Composting is a simple way to turn trash into something of value for everyone!

Composting Basics

If you’re composting outside, you want to find a dry spot without too much sun. You have many options for how to keep your compost; you can purchase a compost bin or simply create a compost pile. Compost piles are a great way to get started, without any up-front costs. Bins are helpful, as they make it easier to keep your compost contained and keep it from drying out. If you’d like, you can put a tarp over your compost pile to keep it moist. 

If you live in an apartment, you can still compost! There are special indoor compost bins available that let you compost while keeping your home clean and smelling great. Some of them look pretty fashionable!

The trick to composting is reaching the right balance of browns, greens, and water. Browns include the stuff you rake up in your yard, like dead leaves and branches. Greens, of course, mean green things like grass clippings or fruit and vegetable food waste. You want equal amounts of browns and greens, and you want to keep your compost pile moist.

There are items you do not want to put into your typical compost. You don’t want to add dairy products, eggs, fats, oils, or meats. There are special composting machines specifically made for these products, because they decompose differently than plants and will attract scavengers. You want the benefits of composting without becoming the buffet for every animal in the neighborhood! 

There are other items that don’t belong in your compost. Black walnut leaves or sticks can be toxic, as can the ash from coal or charcoal. If a plant was sick or full of insects, you don’t want to add those problems to your healthy compost. Pet wastes can also introduce harmful elements. And while yard trimmings are great by themselves, if they are treated with chemical pesticides they can hurt the organisms you want to thrive in your compost ecosystem.

Once the process starts, your compost pile will get hot, between 120 and 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Compost piles that are about three feet by three feet tend to get hotter quicker. Remember to keep the pile moist but not soggy as you go to keep everything working.

While the composting process takes place, remember to aerate your pile or bin. You can turn it over with a shovel or mix it up with a pitchfork, and some bins are made to spin to make it easier. These bins are usually called a compost turner or compost tumbler. You can also add nightcrawlers or red wriggler earthworms. Worms are a great way to keep your compost aerated and healthy.

When is My Compost Ready to Harvest?

When your compost looks like dark brown soil, crumbles easily, and has a rich, earthy smell, it is ready. Depending on the size of the pile and other factors, this can take between a couple of months and two years. If your pile is still hot, or if it smells like ammonia or garbage, it isn’t ready. Keep working that pile, and you’ll get there!

If you have too much brown material, you can speed up the process by rebalancing it with greens, keeping the pile moist, and continuing to aerate the compost. You can also shred the waste to make it decompose faster. Some composters recommend having two bins, so that one will be ready when the other gets full!

How to Use Your Compost

When your compost is ready, you can use it in your garden to help your plants or in your yard for a healthier, greener lawn. The process is simple, but it will make a huge difference!

For new plants, add a handful of compost to every hole. But you don’t have to dig anything up to get the benefits! You can give your lawn or garden a top-soil treatment by adding an inch or two of compost to the surface. Make sure the tops of your plants aren’t covered, so that they don’t get smothered. A light rake helps with this on the lawn. Some plants, like tomatoes and squash, will benefit from monthly compost treatments.

If you don’t want to use your compost yourself, or if you’ve made too much, spread the love! Share with your gardener neighbors or friends. You can also store unused compost in plastic bags or buckets. Just make sure to mix it up on occasion and add more moisture.

Austin Curbside Composting

If you’re fortunate to be a fellow resident of Austin, Texas, you are probably served by Austin Resource Recovery’s Curbside Composting service. Residential composting and curbside composting can work together. If you don’t need more items in your compost, you can put them in your green cart for the city. The city compost program also accepts items you probably won’t put in your own compost, like food-soiled paper, meat, and dairy products. Just remember, you still don’t want to put cooking fats, oils, or grease in your green cart!

And if you are a fellow resident of Austin, stop by our recycling center and tell us about your composting and other efforts to keep garbage out of landfills.

Good Luck with Your Composting!

Composting is a satisfying and fulfilling way to help the planet and save a little money on the side. Who wouldn’t want a greener lawn or a healthier garden? And the waste you keep out of the landfill benefits us all. If you are a fellow resident of Austin, stop by our Austin recycling center and tell us about your home composting efforts. Always good to share good news.We wish you all the best in this new adventure!

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