Composting from the Ground Up – How to Start a Home Composting Bin

By Brent Hardy

While the idea of composting may make some homeowners squirm, the process isn’t nearly as complicated – or stinky – as some may think. A walk through the woods is a good example of composting at work.

Does the forest smell like a garbage bin or did it smell earthy and almost sweet in the warm sun? All those leaves, weeds and organic material are constantly breaking down, adding rich layers to the forest floor.

Compost, once broken down, has a pleasantly organic smell to it, and even during the process it doesn’t give off an incredible amount of odor if one is adding the right ingredients. For those who are restricted to small spaces such as postage stamp-sized backyards or apartments with balconies, there are enclosed compost bin options. Though the composting process moves more quickly with open bins, the enclosed containers are still a practical and viable option.

Don’t waste those eggshells!

Whether one decides on an enclosed bin for a small space, a standard composting bin from the local hardware store or http://epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/rrr/composting/by_compost.htm”>home composting.

To everything, turn, turn

Once the composting pile is started, it needs to be turned every once in a while to make sure all those composting microorganisms are getting enough oxygen. Not enough air and the compost will become dense, slimy, stinky and potentially unusable. For this reason, don’t pack down materials when they’re added to the pile. Leave room for some air flow. For those homeowners using a rotating composting bin, turning it is as easy as giving the bin a couple good spins every few days or so. If the bin is a simple box design or just can’t be turned, use a pitchfork or shovel to turn as much material as possible every few days. This is another reason why it’s good to keep home bins small. Anything larger than a 3′ x 3′ x 3′ bin might be a touch unwieldy. And though that space may seem small, keep in mind that material, as it composts, degrades by about 70 percent.

Additionally, be sure to keep the compost pile moist. Not soaking wet as that might kill those microscopic composters, but not bone dry as those little beneficial bugs might dry out. Adding green materials, such as grass clippings, will help add to the moisture content, but just checking it every once in a while and soaking it with a hose if too dry should keep the moisture content steady.

Starting to get a bit stinky? Add some more carbon to the mix. Too much nitrogen results in that strong ammonia smell that turns off a lot of potential composters. But by adding more brown materials to the bin, the nitrogen amounts will even back out.

How long will it take?

An average home composting bin will take from six months to a year to compost entirely. For those using an enclosed composting bin, it might take up to two years because of the tight environment. If there’s enough space in the backyard, keeping two compost bins will keep available composting in regular rotation by filling up one over six months, then filling up the other. Once the second one has been added to for six months, the first one should be ready to go.

About the Author

Brent Hardy is Vice President of www.extraspace.com responsible for all corporate construction & facilities management. He writes about corporate sustainable practices at blog.extraspace.com/category/sustainability</.