Composting the Easy, Cheap Way

Composting is all the rage right now, and while I hate to be so trendy, I must admit I'm a huge fan of turning garbage into something useful for the garden. If you compost, you can turn tons of stuff you'd normally throw in the trash or put down the disposal into soil that's so rich you'd pay quite a sum for it at a gardening center. Composting is also super-duper easy - and you don't need an expensive composter to get started.

Composting on the Cheap

The cheapest method of composting is also the original method: Set aside a corner of the yard and pile waste there. Eventually, it will turn into compost. There are things you can do to speed up the decomposition process - I'll discuss them in a later post - but for now, you can just start piling compostable materials in your yard. (Don't worry about smell; if you compost correctly, your pile shouldn't smell disagreeable.)

If you'd like the pile to look a bit more tidy, you can create an actual bin to throw waste into. Pound four wooden or metal stakes into the soil and tie chicken wire to them with zip ties. Or make the bin round by using more stakes. It's a time-honored method. Just make sure the bin isn't too small or too large. Optimally, it should be no more than four feet - and no less than three feet - in diameter. Remember, too, it needs to be short enough you can easily throw a bucket of "garbage" into it and stir the contents of the pile. Three feet is a good height for quick composting.

If you have any old garbage cans laying around, you can easily turn those into composters, too. Just drill holes all over the bottom and sides of the cans (for air circulation). Dark colored cans works best, since they will get hotter faster, aiding the decomposition process.

If you're willing to spend slightly more, the Internet is full of nice-looking plans for larger wire and wood compost bins. Popular Mechanics also offers ideas on making your own tumbling compost bin, and here are some similar plans. Tumbling composters are a bit easier to use than ordinary piles because you don't have to stir heavy contents with a fork or shovel; this means you should get finished compost sooner.

I recently upgraded to a ready-made tumbling composter, pictured above. I shopped carefully for something affordable that I thought would be better than the old-garbage-can composter I already had, and so far I'm loving it!

Location Matters

Where you put your composter can make a big difference in how quickly you get finished compost from it. Make it close to the house, if you can, so you'll be more apt to carry scraps there using your kitchen composter. The compost pile should also be in a sunny location (because it will get hotter faster, thereby decomposing its contents faster).

Not EVERYTHING Should Go Into the Composter

Although one of the perks of composting is that it's the ultimate in recycling of "garbage," not everything should go in the compost pile.

The following are terrific in the composter:

Fruit and vegetable scraps
Coffee grounds
Coffee filters
Tea grounds (including tea bags without metal staples)
Egg shells
Corn stalks and cobs
Nut shells
Popcorn without butter or other flavorings on it
Grass clippings (dry them out first)
Dry brown leaves
Weeds that haven't gone to seed
Garden clippings
Wood chips or sawdust
Wood ashes
Shredded paper and cardboard (avoid paper with colored ink)
Pine needles
Manure (horse, cow, rabbit, pig, goat, or chicken, preferably aged)
Paper napkins (as long as they don't have offensive materials on them)
Cut flowers that have died

Do not put the following into the compost pile, or you will attract pests, an icky smell, and a slow-to-decompose mass of garbage:

Table scraps (because it's too easy to toss in bits of not-good-to-compost things)
Coal ash
Colored paper
Diseased plants
Weeds and other plants that have gone to seed
Pet droppings
Human waste

Next week, I'll type about how to get that compost bin really cooking, making you ready-to-go composter every few weeks.
Bookmark and        Share


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I've been putting composting off for some time. It's one of those things that's always on the back of my mind, but I never get around to doing it. Today may be the start of my composting journey! Please read my blog on sustainable pastures: