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How to Compost: An Easy DIY Guide

Here’s how to make a critical ingredient for a stunning garden right at home!

Popular Mechanics

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You need a couple of things to create and maintain a successful, flourishing garden—ideal amounts of sunlight and water depending on what you’re growing, some chicken wire to keep pests from eating your crops, and perhaps the most critical of all, healthy, nutrient-rich soil. But how do you ensure that your plants and veggies are getting what they need? Simple: you enrich the soil with compost.

Composting is easy and can be done at home, and isn’t especially time consuming. Here’s what you need to know in order to create robust, rich soil that’ll produce healthy plants and tasty fruits and veggies. Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is compost, anyway?

What Can I Compost?

Compost is a compilation of decomposing organic material such as food and plant scraps—think fruit and vegetable rinds and leaves—which is most often used in gardening because of the benefits it provides to the greenery in your yard.

Composting typically begins in the kitchen. Food scraps and trimmings left over from preparing meals are saved in a small, lidded tub or bucket that’s kept on the countertop. And while there are a wide variety of scraps that can be composted, you can’t use everything. Here’s a list of kitchen scraps that make great compost:

  • Fruits
  • vegetables
  • fresh herbs
  • cooked rice
  • cooked pasta
  • coffee grounds
  • tea leaves (but not tea bags)
  • crushed eggshells
  • stale crackers and cereal and bread
  • pizza crusts
  • oatmeal
  • peanut shells
  • used paper napkins and paper towels
  • animal manure such as that from chickens, cows, horses or rabbits

You can also compost grass clippings, dry leaves, straw, dead flowers, shredded newspaper, plain brown cardboard, clothes dryer lint, and sawdust from untreated wood.

What Shouldn’t Be Composted?

There are several items that you absolutely should not compost. Here’s a list of the most common non-compostables:

  • Meat
  • fish
  • bones
  • cooking grease/oil
  • charcoal ash
  • dairy products (like milk and butter)
  • dog/cat feces
  • twigs and branches
  • sawdust from pressure-treated lumber.

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Now that you know what can and can’t be composted, you can start the process! Once you’ve collected enough material to compost, move it outdoors and pile it into either a composting corral, which you can easily make yourself, or a store-bought composting bin, such as the EJWOX Garden Compost Bin Tumbler or Algreen’s Soil Saver Classic.

To help the compost break down quickly into useable organic material, alternate layers of green matter (kitchen scraps and grass clippings) with brown matter (dead leaves and shredded cardboard).

Spray the compost pile with water every few days to keep it damp, but not soaking wet, and mix it thoroughly every week or so, depending on the size of the pile and weather conditions. Move the decaying matter at the bottom of the pile to the top, so that everything gets a chance to break down over time.

The best time to mix compost is when the center of the pile feels warm to the touch, or when it’s between 130 and 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Within a few months, all that matter will be transformed into rich, organic compost—AKA black gold.

Joe is a former carpenter and cabinetmaker who writes extensively about remodeling, woodworking, and tool techniques. He has written eight books and is a contributing editor to Popular Mechanics. He also appears on the Today’s Homeowner TV show, and co-hosts the weekly Today’s Homeowner Radio Show. Joe writes from his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.

Daisy Hernandez is a reporter, editor, and content creator with a background in print and digital media and has written for Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, and Bicycling magazines. She loves to cook, frequently testing out new recipes on friends and family, and is a big fan of prehistoric science, travel, Halloween, trivia, and dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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This post originally appeared on Popular Mechanics and was published February 12, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.

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