Making your own compost at home is a super easy and environmentally-friendly way of dealing with kitchen scraps and garden waste. With it, you can turn this waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for your garden.
The great thing about composting is that you are not limited to what time of the year you get it started. It can be done all year round, as and when suitable materials are generated in the garden or home.
Due to the compost being nutrient-rich it will help improve soil structure, maintain moisture levels, and keep your soil’s pH balance in check while helping to suppress plant disease.
- 1 How do Compost Bins Work?
- 2 Diseases Contracted from Handling Compost
- 3 How to Avoid Potential Hazards of Composting
- 4 What Can Go Into a Compost Bin?
- 5 What Should Not Go Into a Compost Bin?
- 6 How Do You Make a Compost Bin?
- 7 How Do You Make a Compost Pit?
- 8 How Can I Speed Up My Compost?
- 9 How to Keep Pests Out of the Compost?
- 10 How to Make Compost at Home
How do Compost Bins Work?
Compost bins are where you make your compost and they will house it once it’s complete until you need to use it in the garden.
Many of the commercial compost bins available are designed so that they speed up the decomposition of organic matter through proper aeration and moisture retention. If this combination of air and moisture is correct, ideal conditions are produced for the activity of aerobic organisms responsible for the high temperatures that transform the organic materials into compost.
There are three main stages in the composting cycle:
- The first stage usually only lasts a couple of days in which time microorganisms begin physically breaking down the biodegradable compounds. Heat will be produced and temperatures quickly rise to over 104 degrees F (40 degrees C).
- The second stage can last from a few days to several months. The organic materials will be broken down into finer pieces. Temperatures will continue to rise and if it’s not monitored, it can get so hot that it can eventually kill off all the helpful microorganisms.
- The third stage can last for several months and begins when the thermophilic microorganisms use up the available supply of the compounds. Temperatures will begin to drop at this stage.
Diseases Contracted from Handling Compost
While composting has many benefits that people are willing to discuss, very few people are aware of the potential hazards and dangers that composting can pose. It can be a breeding ground for dangerous pathogens, some of which have even killed unsuspecting gardeners.
Some of the most common physical ailments that can result from unprotected contact with compost include:
- Aspergillosis – fungal infection of the lungs that is caused after the inhalation of a fungus commonly found in rotting plant matter.
- Farmer’s Lung – resembles pneumonia, and may result from respiratory exposure to certain fungal and bacterial pathogens present in rotting organic materials, such as mushrooms, hay and sugar cane. Be aware that dusty white patches may be a sign that dangerous spores are present.
- Histoplasmosis – caused by fungus that grows in guano and bird droppings.Legionnaire’s Disease – respiratory infection that’s caused by the inhalation of L. Longbeachae.
- Paronychia – local infection that occurs in the tissue around the fingernails and toenails.
- Tetanus – disease of the central nervous system that’s caused by bacteria that is very common in soil.
How to Avoid Potential Hazards of Composting
Always follow the safety precautions below when dealing with compost in order to avoid transmission of dangerous fungi, bacteria and other pathogens that can be found in compost:
- Always wear dry, breathable gloves to avoid direct contact with compost.
- Wear protective footwear that covers your skin adequately to avoid direct contact with compost. Do not wear them anywhere except outdoors.
- When stirring and tilling the compost, always wear a nose and mouth guard or dust mask to avoid inhaling the various spores that will become airborne during tilling and turning.
- Avoid tilling on windy days.
- Do not store the compost in fully closed or airtight containers.
- Always wash your hands after dealing with compost.
- If you develop a severe cough or infection of the skin, seek medical attention immediately. You may require antibiotics or a Tetanus shot.
What Can Go Into a Compost Bin?
There are lots of different waste items that can be added to the compost bin and many that you may not have even thought of. The following list is meant to give you a head start.
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Crushed egg shells
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags (natural) and loose leaf tea
- Paper napkins and paper towels
- Shredded cardboard
- Shredded paper bags
- Cooked pasta and rice
- Stale bread, pitas, or tortillas
- Stale tortilla chips or potato chips
- Spoiled pasta sauce or tomato paste
- Stale crackers
- Stale cereal
- Used paper plates
- Nut shells (except for walnut shells, which are toxic to plants)
- Unpopped, burnt popcorn kernels
- Old herbs and spices
- Pizza crusts
- Old oatmeal
- Wine corks
- Moldy cheese (in moderation)
- Melted ice cream (in moderation)
- Old jelly, jam, or preserves
- Toothpicks and bamboo skewers
- Paper cupcake or muffin cups
- Used facial tissues
- Hair from your hairbrush
- Trimmings from an electric razor
- Nail clippings
- 100% cotton cotton balls and swabs
- 100% cotton tampons and sanitary pads
- Dryer lint
- Old cotton clothing and jeans (ripped or cut into small pieces)
- Old wool clothing (ripped or cut into small pieces)
- Old cotton towels and sheets (shredded)
- Shredded paper and envelopes (non-glossy)
- Pencil shavings
- Burlap sacks (cut or torn into small pieces)
- Old rope and twine (chopped, natural)
- Leaves trimmed from houseplants
- Dead houseplants and their soil
- Flowers from floral arrangements
- Natural potpourri
- Used matches
- Grass clippings
- Sawdust (from plain wood that has NOT been pressure-treated, stained or painted)
- Latex balloons
- Christmas trees (chop up with pruners first, or use a wood chipper, if you have one…)
- Pet fur and feathers
- Horse, cow or goat manure
- Alfalfa hay or pellets
- Dry dog or cat food, fish pellets
What Should Not Go Into a Compost Bin?
While there is lots of kitchen and garden waste that can be added to a compost pile, there are also certain items that you should never add. These include:
- Cooking oil
- Diseased plants
- Dog/cat poop
- Citrus peels
- Fish and meat scraps
- Milk products
- Coal or coal ash
- Anything treated with pesticides
How Do You Make a Compost Bin?
You can make a simple little compost bin very easily, just follow the steps below:
- Get your hands on a plastic bin with a tight fitting lid that is at least 24 inches tall or taller.
- Use a drill to make 8 – 10 small holes in the bottom of the container for aeration purposes.
- Place some shredded newspaper or dry leaves on the bottom of your compost bin, filling it about 1/8 – 1/4 full.
- Place dirt on top of the leaves or newspaper until the container is 1/2 full.
- Add your food scraps and give it a stir.
- Spray with lukewarm water until moist, but not soaking wet.
- Use a drill to make 8 – 10 small holes in the lid and place it securely on top of the bin.
- Place the bin in a shady area away from the house. Be sure that it’s not in full sun or your compost will dry out.
Here are a couple of great little videos that will show you how you can make your own compost bin for your garden.
How Do You Make a Compost Pit?
How Can I Speed Up My Compost?
The composting process can be a fairly slow one. Usually the compost would be usable the following year but did you know that you can have usable compost in as little as a couple of months?
The rate of decomposition has to do with microscopic bacteria and other microorganisms that live and thrive in your pile. The more microbes you have and the more you feed them, the faster your pile will compost!
So how can you speed up this process?
- Have the right size of pile – the center of the pile needs to be hot enough to quicken the decomposition process. To help to maintain this, keep your pile to at least three cubic feet, or about three feet tall by three feet wide. Compost piles larger than this are just not effective enough.
- Keep it moist – there needs to be a certain amount of moisture, but not too much. If you can imagine the texture of a wrung-out sponge, that would be a perfect amount of moisture. If it’s too wet, it smells; too dry and the microbes will die.
- Oxygen rich – turn your pile often to aerate it. Take a pitch fork, shovel, or special compost tool and literally twist and sift the compost pile, allowing oxygen in. You should aim to do this about once a week.
- Shredding – the smaller the materials, the faster it can decompose.
How to Keep Pests Out of the Compost?
Many people are put off with the idea of composting due to the thought of rats and other vermin but there are steps that you can take to keep these pests away.
The location of your compost plays a big role. It should be placed in a dry, shady spot with the water source nearby.
As we mentioned above, you should keep meat, bones and dairy out of the compost pile. These can make the pile too hot, and cause it to smell attracting the attention of Pests.
You should also consider burying your compost pile at least 8 inches under the ground and covering it with a wire mesh. As the pile heats up and starts breaking down the materials over the next few months, it will produce a dark, crumbly soil full of good bacteria, fungi, earthworms and plant nutrients to nourish your vegetable garden or flowers.
The most effective way to keep pests out is to invest in a proper compost bin or compost tumbler. Tumblers will aerate the contents every time you turn them. Compost bins, which should be at least 2 by 2 feet, use sealed lids or wire tops that will also deter hungry animals.
You can reduce the smell by mixing food waste with wood chips and other materials. Brown materials provide carbon and include things like woody clippings and paper, pine needles, dry leaves, pruned shrubbery, soiled paper, newspaper and wood chips. Greens produce nitrogen and include fruit and vegetable waste, grass clippings and coffee grounds. A 50/50 ratio is just fine.
How to Make Compost at Home
There are really only three steps to making your own compost at home and you will need the following to get started:
- A sunny corner of the garden
- An equal mix of nitrogen and carbon rich waste
- Compost bin
Step 1: Stand your compost bin directly on the soil – worms and other micro-organisms will speed up the composting process. You can use a wire mesh at the base to help keep the rodents out. Add an equal mix of green and brown materials. Use a 50/50 ratio of green and brown materials as mentioned above.
Step 2: Turn your heap often to aerate it, mixing the outside ingredients to the inside, and the inside ingredients to the oitside.
Step 3: Once the mixture turns brown and crumbly and slightly sweet smelling, the process is complete. This will take around six months but you can use the steps above to quicken the process up.