If you have a yard
Having a yard and a garden makes composting much more convenient. But limited space is only one potential roadblock that could stand between you and your composting goals. Busy schedules, along with fears of rodents and icky smells, can lead many homeowners to put off setting up a composting system. Have no fear, aspiring composter! You could have your system up and running with a little education and a weekend’s worth of work.
Standard backyard pile
Best suited for: Homes with large yards and few pest problems.
How it works:
According to the EPA, backyard, or “onsite,” composting is suitable for converting yard trimmings and food scraps into compost that can be applied on site (read: in your garden or backyard landscaping). This method should not be used to compost animal products, including meat, eggs and dairy.
As with all types of composting, there are two types of waste you’re dealing with: green and brown waste. Green waste is rich in nitrogen and includes all food waste and anything green from the yard. Brown waste is more carbon-based and includes any paper, wood materials and anything brown from the yard. The key to successful compost in any scenario is a balance of brown and green waste.
The conversion of organic material to compost can take up to two years in a standard backyard pile, but manual turning and aerating can yield fresh compost in as little as six months, according to the EPA.
PROS: Standard backyard compost piles require very little maintenance or equipment. Once you set up your pile, it becomes as easy as adding food scraps and yard waste every few days and manually turning the pile every few weeks.
Climate and seasonal variations don’t present major challenges to backyard composting because this method typically involves small amounts of food waste. When conditions change, the process can be adjusted accordingly without any major complications. To keep your pile healthy all year round, check out our tips for composting in the spring, summer and winter months.
CONS: Improper maintenance of your backyard pile can cause odors or attract unwanted pests like insects or animals, but most of these troubles are avoidable. If you’ve noticed funky odors or pests, consult our handy guide for troubleshooting your backyard compost pile. If pests are a persistent problem in your area, you may want to consider another method to keep unwelcome critters away from your compost.
Slow decomposition is another problem you may encounter with standard backyard piles. Turning your pile every few weeks and making sure it has an equal balance of green and brown waste will hasten decomposition, but expect to wait at least six months before your pile yields fresh compost.
Best suited for: Homes with small yards; homes or apartments with shared yards.
How it works:
Worms will eat almost anything you’d put in a typical compost pile, including food scraps, paper and yard trimmings. To put it simply: When worms eat organic waste, it is excreted in the form of nutrient-rich fertilizer.
“Vermicompost,” a mixture of decomposing food, bedding and castings (worm manure), is the highest quality compost you can make. The process also produces “worm tea,” a high-quality liquid fertilizer for house plants or gardens.
Vermicomposting requires little maintenance and equipment. Ready-made worm bins are available at many retailers and garden centers, or if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also build a worm bin yourself to save on cash. Then, simply add your worms and bedding to get the composting process started.
PROS: Vermicompost is much more fertile than products of other composting methods. Vermicomposting is also extremely cost-effective: Worms can eat about half their body weight in food scraps each day and have a life span of up to 20 years. Once you get your worm bin started, maintaining it will only take about five minutes each day.
Worm bins also take up very little space and, if maintained properly, shouldn’t smell – making them a viable composting option for homes, condominiums and apartments with shared yards. Just remember to talk to your neighbors, homeowners association or landlord before getting started.
CONS: Since this method requires you to deal with more than 1,000 live worms, vermicomposting is definitely not for the squeamish. Keeping your worms alive can also prove to be challenging, as these composting critters are highly sensitive to variations in climate. If you plan to keep your worm bin outdoors, set it up in a shady spot to keep the interior temperature between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal range for vermicomposting, according to the EPA.
Best suited for: Homes and apartments with small or shared yards; areas with frequent pest problems.
How it works:
Decomposition can take a while in standard backyard compost piles. Manually aerating, or turning, your compost pile accelerates decomposition, but that can often mean a lot of work in the yard. If you’re pressed for time, consider opting for a compost tumbler system instead.
Simply place your food scraps and yard trimmings into a rotating barrel the same way you would a standard compost pile, keeping a balance between green and brown waste. When it comes time to turn your compost, simply rotate the barrels rather than manually aerating with a shovel or pitchfork. To keep pests at bay, avoid tossing animal products, such as meat, eggs and dairy, into your compost tumbler.
Compost should be turned once every few weeks, and water should be added about once each week. Pre-made tumbler systems are available for purchase at most garden retailers, but you can also make your own to save on cash and virgin resources.
PROS: Compost tumblers makes it quick and easy to aerate your compost pile, accelerating decomposition and controlling other common composting problems. Since barrel composting systems are elevated off the ground, they do not attract pests like standard compost piles do.
Compost tumblers are also much less intrusive than a standard pile, making them fantastic options for shared yards. Just remember to talk to your neighbors and landlord before setting up your system.
CONS: Compost tumblers can often become too moist, as the vessel is sealed and water cannot seep out as it does from standard compost piles. If your compost gets too wet, it will often develop foul odors – even if you don’t toss animal products into the bin.
If you start to notice a funky smell coming from your tumbler, stop adding water for a few days to allow the unit to dry out. In rainy and humid seasons, add less water to avoid a stinky situation.