Composting 101: How to Compost At Home or In an Apartment

August 26, 2021

According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste make up more than 30 percent of what we throw away. So, if you're looking to minimize your footprint on the environment, one easy way is to learn how to compost.

To get you started, I’ve compiled a simple list of Dos and Don'ts for composting and have even explained a little about the process of composting. So, keep reading to learn everything you need to know to begin!


What is Composting?

If you’re interested in being less wasteful and minimizing your footprint on the earth, you’ve likely heard of composting. Maybe you even have a garden that would provide the perfect place for a compost, but you’re not exactly sure where to start.

So, what, exactly, is composting?

In short, composting is the process of recycling certain matter or plant-based materials often regarded as “trash” into usable fertilizer that can actually support the nutritional value of plants, including homegrown produce.

This material can range from grass clippings and leaves to certain plant-based food scraps.

The bonus? When you learn how to compost, you also cut down on your waste, meaning less trash in landfills. Talk about a win-win!

How Does Composting Work? 5 Steps on How to Compost

Composting does require some effort on your part, but it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. Here are five of my top steps for how to compost.

1. Build a Base On Bare Earth.

The first thing you need to know about how to compost is how to set up your base.

By building your base on bare earth, it will be naturally exposed to more microbes. And this means your compost pile will break down faster. Plus, the worms in your soil will be able to carry the nutrients from the compost pile to your other plants more easily.

Make sure to set up a clear area for your compost with small twigs and sticks at the bottom. Then, move to your next step.

2. Add Layers of Dry and Moist.

The next step in how to compost revolves around making sure you have a nice mix of dry and moist layers.

The reason is simple: When you mix wet matter and dry matter, the wet matter helps the dry matter to break down faster.

So, consider having a layer of food such as fruit, cooked veggies, and/or coffee filters or tea bags followed by a layer of yard trimmings or paper. Then repeat.

3. Add Nitrogen.

When you’re learning how to compost, one important lesson to learn is the balance between carbon and nitrogen. The truth of the matter is that all composting matter is made of one of two elements: carbon or nitrogen.

While there are certain compostable items that naturally emit nitrogen, such as certain lawn clippings and foods such as coffee grounds, fruit pits, or eggshells, many opt to include manure, which is a great nitrogen source, to really get their compost going.

In fact, there are many nitrogen-rich fertilizer sources available for purchase that are marketed as “compost starters” for this very reason.

4. Maintain Moisture.

While step four in my guide or how to compost is optional, consider covering your compost to avoid oversaturation or quick drying out.

By covering your compost with something, be it wood scraps or even a protective sheet, you’ll protect your compost and help it achieve the optimal balance to support its breakdown.

Check it periodically and remove the cover as needed to allow more moisture into the pile.

5. Stir Your Compost.

Finally, the last step in learning how to compost is to remember to aerate your compost by stirring the pile with a shovel. This needs to happen every few weeks or so.

The process of stirring your compost pile introduces oxygen, which is needed to help the material break down.

What to Include and What to Avoid in Your Compost

Now that you know how to set up your compost, let’s take a closer look at the Dos and Don’ts of composting. There are certain elements to include that will compost well and others that won’t. Take a look at this simple guide to get started.

Do Compost:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Coffee grounds and filters; tea bags
  • Nut shells and eggshells
  • Paper and cardboard
  • Yard trimmings, clippings; leaves
  • Hair and fur
  • Fireplace ashes

Don't Compost:

  • Meat or fish bones/scraps
  • Fats, grease, and oils
  • Dairy products; whole eggs
  • Black walnut tree leaves/twigs
  • Yard trimmings with pesticides
  • Pet wastes
  • Coal or charcoal ash

How to compost - Dr. Pingel

How To Tell If Your Compost is Working

Depending on all of the elements above, your compost could work in as little as a couple of months, or it could take a couple of years!

When I want to know if my compost is working, I turn to this quick checklist from Make sure to check it out and read it thoroughly, but here’s a quick overview of yes/no questions to ask yourself:

  1. Is my compost too wet?
  2. Does my compost smell?
  3. Is there anything not breaking down in my compost?
  4. Is the size of my compost staying the same?
  5. Is my compost clear of worms?

If you answer “no” to each of these questions, then congratulations—your compost is working! Remember that your compost shouldn’t smell, the size should be going down over time, and there should be plenty of worms!

Continue to be patient and check on it every week or two to maintain it, and you’ll be well on your way to having a successful compost. And then, whenever someone asks you for advice, you’ll be able to instruct them on how to compost as well because you’ll be a pro soon enough!

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