How to set up your own basic composting system

November 3, 2015

Adding compost to your garden is a healthy, organic way to condition and fertilize the soil. In addition, a compost pile recycles a portion of your kitchen scraps and yard clippings, which helps reduce landfill waste. The following tips can help you set up a basic composting system at home.

How to set up your own basic composting system

Setting up a composting system

Setting up a composting system at home is easy and requires very little maintenance to keep it running. There are a few basic ways to get started:


Some people throw all of their compost materials in a pile on the ground and cover it with a tarp.

With this method, it's helpful to frame your compost pile with wood fencing or chicken wire to help keep rodents and other pests out. Doing so will also give your compost pile a bit of structure.

Specially designed bin

You could also use a specially designed composting bin to set up your system.

Many home improvement stores sell specially designed composting bins with built-in mechanisms that rotate your pile for you.

Homemade bin

If you don't mind manually rotating the compost pile with a pitchfork or shovel, a simple outdoor trash barrel with a lid is an easy, inexpensive bin for composting.

Just cut off the bottom so the compost pile rests against the ground, allowing organisms and worms from the soil to aerate the compost.

If you're not using a specially designed bin, or other container with a bottom, then make sure you line the ground with a few inches of straw or twigs before you begin to toss waste onto your pile. This helps with drainage and aeration of the compost.

Try to set up your compost pile in a sunny area near a water source. The heat from the sun helps break down the waste much faster than it would in a dark, shady area.

However, your compost pile will dry out quicker in a hot, sunny location, so it's important to moisten it with water regularly.

Balancing the compost

Your compost pile will consist of three main ingredients:

  1. Brown matter: Plant matter like dead leaves, twigs, and branches. These materials provide carbon to the compost.
  2. Green matter: Plant matter like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. All of which provide nitrogen to the compost.
  3. Water: Moisture helps break down the plant matter.

You may hear that a compost pile must consist of two parts brown matter to one part green matter, or that you should have equal parts brown and green.

While these precise measurements may be crucial for a large commercial composting operation, it really doesn't need to be this complicated with a small at-home composting system.

Your plant matter will still mature into compost, even if the ratio of browns and greens isn't carefully balanced.

Experts recommend that you alternate the layers of different types of plant matter to help speed up the composting process, too.

Finally, once your compost pile has been started, just remember to keep it moist and rotate the plant matter regularly so it can work its magic. It's really that easy.

Get out there and start composting

If you follow these steps and keep this advice in mind, you'll be well on your way to setting up your own composting system. And doing so will help improve the quality of the plants in your garden ― whether they're lovely perennials or a pantry's worth of vegetables and herbs ― while also reducing the amount of waste you put out on the curb.

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