Introduction: Home Composting

Picture of Home Composting

Why buy a bin and start Composting?

Composting is an inexpensive, natural process that transforms your kitchen and garden waste into a valuable and nutrient rich food for your garden. It's easy to make and use.

Do your bit to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Even for households that are already composting, new research has found that almost half of the food waste in their rubbish bins could have been put in the compost bin.

Did you know, composting at home for just one year can save global warming gases equivalent to all the CO2 your kettle produces annually, or your washing machine produces in three months?

We're often asked "Why do I need to compost when my waste will break down in landfill anyway?"

When waste is sent to landfill, air cannot get to the organic waste. Therefore as the waste breaks down it creates a harmful greenhouse gas, methane, which damages the Earth's atmosphere. However, when this same waste is composted above ground at home, oxygen helps the waste to decompose aerobically which means no methane is produced, which is good news for the planet. And what's more, after nine to twelve months, you get a free fertiliser for your garden and plant pots to keep them looking beautiful.

Step 1: Getting the Right Bin

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Getting the right bin for your garden is essential. you need to find a bin that will blend in with your garden but at the same time do the job it is there for.

If your in the UK try one of these bins. there are cheaper then anywhere else because a company subsidises the cost.

If you are in the US Wall Mart do good deals.

Step 2: Choosing a Site for Your Bin

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The perfect site for your bin is on soil in a sunny area. If you have to put your compost bin on concrete, tarmac or patio slabs ensure theres a layer of paper and twigs or existing compost on the bottom so the worms and other creatures can colonise. Choose a place where you can easily add ingredients to the bin and get the compost out.

Partial shade or sunny spot?
Placing your bin in either partial shade or a sunny spot can help speed up the composting process.

On soil
The reason you should site your bin on soil is that it makes it very easy for beneficial microbes and insects to gain access to the rotting material. It also allows for better aeration and drainage, both important to successful composting.

On wire mesh
One of the best ways to set up your bin is on a wire mesh base. To do this you need to dig a shallow hole (approximately 1 inch deep) that is equal to the diameter of your bin. Cut a piece of wire mesh to slightly larger diameter than the base of your bin and place it over the hole. Place your bin on top of both.

On paving
If it is possible to remove the paving below the compost bin, then this is the best solution for paved or courtyard gardens but, if not, there are a few things you need to bare in mind.

Some liquid might seep out of the bottom of the bin and stain paving both underneath the bin and sometimes around it. If this is likely to be a problem, then you should consider building a small raised bed filled with soil to put your compost bin on.

Liquid should be contained within the soil in the raised bed and you can always plant up around the bin to make it a feature. If you are putting your bin onto old paving and staining is not an issue, you will need to introduce the soil-dwelling organisms manually.

You can do this by adding a shovelful or two of soil to the bottom of the bin or, better still, get some home compost from a nice mature bin. It may take a little longer for your bin to get started but it will soon be full of life.

On decking
It is best not to put a compost bin directly onto a deck as the liquid that sometimes seep out of the bin will stain it. The only real solution here is to build a raised bed directly on top of the deck.

You can use deckboards to build your raised bed so that it compliments the deck. Seal the deckboards under the bed with decking seal, just to be on the safe side, then line the bottom of the raised bed with plastic to protect the deckboards underneath and cut some drainage holes though the plastic where there are spaces in between the deckboards.

Fill the bed full of soil or peat-free compost and this will capture any liquid that seeps out. Anything you plant in the bed around the bin will be nice and healthy because it will be getting a good liquid feed.

On gravel
You can easily put your bin onto gravel, whether it be in a gravel garden or on a gravel driveway or path. If you have laid a membrane beneath the gravel, you will need to cut a hole or slits in the membrane so that the soil-dwelling organisms can get through.

If you are concerned about compost messing up your gravel when you empty the bin, you will need to lay out a plastic sheet to keep the gravel clean when it is time to empty the bin.

On concrete
If you must place your bin on concrete, remember to add a thin layer of soil to get it started. This will help attract worms and other beneficial organisms.

Step 3: Making Compost

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What can you put in your bin?

Brilliant things to put in your bin are:
Uncooked kitchen scraps
Shredded cardboard and paper
Teabags and coffee grounds
Crushed eggshells
Pet bedding (rabbit, hamster etc)
Soft prunings
Wood prunings
Old plants and flowers
Annual weeds
Horse/cattle dung
Wood chips and sawdust
Grass cuttings

These things take a while longer to turn into compost:
Egg boxes
Scrunched up paper
Fallen leaves
Twigs, branches and bark

Things that shouldn't be put in are:
Cooked vegetables
Dairy products
Diseased plants
Dog poo or cat litter
Perennial weeds or weeds with seed heads

Step 4: Using Your Compost for Your Lawn

Picture of Using Your Compost for Your Lawn

If your lawn is looking a bit parched after the summer months, you can put your home made compost to good use by turning it into a top dressing.

Dig out plenty of home made compost from the bottom of your compost bin or heap.

Sieve the compost to remove the lumps  use a garden sieve to break up the compost and shake it into a wheelbarrow or other large container. The compost needs to be fine so it can penetrate the soil.

You can put the bigger pieces of compost left in the sieve back in to the top of your compost bin. They will go through the compost cycle again and break down further.

Use the same volume of sharp sand as compost to make the mixture kinder for your lawn. Sharp sand will even out the mix and more importantly add weight so it can get down into the soil.

Mix together the sharp sand and sieved compost in the wheelbarrow until you have an even mixture.

Use a garden fork to make holes in the lawn. Make your rows of fork holes about six inches apart and about three inches deep over the whole of the lawn. This process aerates the lawn and allows the compost mix to get to the grass roots.

Spread the compost mix across the whole lawn, making sure you cover all the holes you have made.

Using a rake or broom, spread the compost mix evenly across the lawn to a depth of about one inch. Dont worry that your lawn looks grey and muddy. This effect will last about three weeks as the compost works its way down into the soil.

If you have not had any rain two days after you have spread the compost mix, give it a good watering to make sure the compost penetrates the soil.

Your lawn will look untidy for three weeks or so  this is completely normal. Over the following weeks and months you should see a more superior quality of grass and below the surface the soil structure will be much improved for months to come

Step 5: Using Your Compost

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Before starting, you'll probably want to find out if it actually is ready to go! You can do this by making sure your compost is dark brown and smells nice and earthy. It should also be slightly moist and have a crumbly texture.

It probably won't look like the compost you buy in the shops and it's very likely that yours will still have twigs and eggshell in it!
Don't worry... it's still perfectly good to use! Simply sift out any larger bits and return them to your compost bin.

Your fresh compost is nutrient-rich food for your garden and will help improve soil structure, maintain moisture levels and keep your soils pH balance in check while helping suppress plant disease. It has everything your plants need, including nitrogen, phospherous and potassium and it will help beffer soils that are very acidic or alkaline. Compost improves your soil's condition and your plants and flowers will love it!

... on flowerbeds
Help your new plants and flowers bloom by digging a 10cm layer of compost into the soil prior to planting.

If your flowers have already been planted, you simply need to spread a thin layer of compost-enriched soil around the base of the plants. Nutrients will work their way down to the roots and your plants will enjoy the healthy boost compost provides.

It is important that you leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants. enrich new borders
The borders of your garden will also greatly appreciate your compost.

Spread up to a 5cm layer of compost over the existing soil. Worms will quickly like getting to work mixing it in for you! Otherwise you can dig your finished compost into the soil prior to planting.

It is important that you leave gaps around any soft stemmed plants. mulch
Using your compost as mulch is a great idea.

By using 'rough' compost (where not everything has completely broken down) over flowerbeds and around shrubs, helps prevent soil erosion and will replenish much needed nutrients.

A layer of 5cm should do the trick. Make sure that you leave a gap around any soft stemmed plants.

Adding mulch after it has rained will help keep the moisture in the soil.

...around trees
Compost is great for your trees. Spreading a 5-10cm layer around the roots will provide them with important nutrients and can protect against drought and disease.

Avoid the base of the tree and do not spread too close to the trunk. Your trees will also benefit from less weeds growing around them. Doing this once or twice a year will help your trees grow taller and bushier in no time at all. replenish pots
Give your potted plants and containers an extra boost by removing the top few centimetres of existing soil and adding your freshly made compost.

Leave a gap around soft stemmed plants. This will provide food for your plants and flowers and is a great way to make them more healthy and robust. patio containers
You can mix home compost with regular soil or leafmould to create your own healthy potting mixture for patio containers.

Your plants and any new plants from seeds will enjoy the additional nutrients and minerals that your compost enriched potting mixture contains, and outdoor container plants will love it too.

About a third of the mix should be compost, slightly less when you are planting seeds. The reason for this is that home made compost is too strong to use on its own for planting into.

...healthier herbs and vegetables
Compost is excellent for growing herbs such as chives, parsley and mint.

Simply crumble it around the base of the plants for heathlier, leafier herbs. Your vegetables will also grow better with compost added to their soil. Apply compost with each rotation - it's exceptionally good for planting potatoes and carrots.

...feeding your lawn
Dressing your lawn with compost helps young grass take root and can make your garden heathlier and greener.

First, you'll need to sieve the compost and remove any large twigs or any other items that have not quite broken down. Next, mix it with an even amount of sharp sand to compost as this will allow it to spread more easily. You will need a layer of about 2.5cm.

Mature lawns can really benefit from this little extra kick of nutrients but be aware that newly seeded or turfed lawns can be scorched by it.


ThomasP5 (author)2015-01-13

If you are into composting you should checkout

roulopa (author)2014-11-07

have a look at keyhole gardens on the net. a much better way to have composting tower and raised permaculture beds around it at the same time.

HelenaTroy (author)2013-11-05

IN the UK, some local authorities sell cheap composters to encourage people to start: mine was £5, devliered to the door - but of course you don't get much choice - you get what they've got. Maybe people could check their local Recycle organisations to see if they do similar bargains.

NaturalCrafter (author)2011-04-18

Thanks for sharing your tips.

lemonie (author)2009-03-28

Is there any part of this which you haven't copied from


NuclearGreyhound (author)lemonie2009-03-28

no not really.

I didn't copy the "good things to put in the bin". :)

lemonie (author)NuclearGreyhound2009-03-28

Well done you! Have you got a composter? L

NuclearGreyhound (author)lemonie2009-03-28

YES. me and the misses try a lot to recycle the most we can. that is how we found the instructables website.

lemonie (author)NuclearGreyhound2009-03-29

I've got plenty of material to compost, but the garden is so tiny I'd have nowhere to put it... L

NuclearGreyhound (author)lemonie2009-03-29

look around the internet. you can get compost bins for indoors that use different methods of making the compost. or you could get a kitchen sink "gobbler". this turns veg, meat and other food wast into a liquid that goes down the drain.

lemonie (author)NuclearGreyhound2009-03-29

Er - "waste disposal" units? That's not in line with composting. I don't have a problem with organic waste, I just don't have a use for compost. L

NuclearGreyhound (author)lemonie2009-03-31

yeah wast disposal is good is it not? it doesn't fill a land site up.

lemonie (author)NuclearGreyhound2009-03-31

It fills up the waste water system - what happens to it once it's been flushed down the drain..? L

twocvbloke (author)lemonie2009-07-15

it gets processed at the local waste water treatment plant, the solids, once collected, used as a farm fertiliser, and the water, now cleaned, is discharged into a watercourse, simple... :) But composting is more useful for the home fruit and veg grower, what you don't use or if left over, chuck it in the composter, and garden waste can be composted too, so it's a win-win situation... :)

pao pao (author)twocvbloke2010-12-25

Sadly, not all local waste water treatment plants are prepared to treat water this way. It would be ideal though!
And even better, it would be great if everybody composts their kitchen scraps and garden trimmings.

lemonie (author)twocvbloke2009-07-15

Using direct as I think you're suggesting is preferable to waste disposal units (70's get rid-of stuff "it's not my problem anymore" technology) Appreciate the comment L

twocvbloke (author)lemonie2009-07-15

No waste disposal system here, waste of electricity, just a pair of kitchen collector buckets and a compost bin, like the pictured one, outside that deals with the work... :) Actually I'm planning to get a second bin, as they are giving them away for free here (one per house through RecycleNow), I got my current bin in my last house, so the net one would still be free... :)

rickysmissus (author)lemonie2009-06-27

It becomes fish food...

awang8 (author)lemonie2009-06-30

Try a in-vessel system like one from Nature Mill, which you can win in the "Get in the Garden" contest.

mrsthursday (author)lemonie2009-06-14

I have a tiny balcony but do composting and with the help of my husband, cultivate a jungle of veggies. I'm no expert but I haven't bought soil or fertilizer for a long time. I got a plastic bucket about five gallons. made holes in the bottom, placed a few rocks in for drainage.put a larger tray with sides to catch runoff underneath. (it makes a great compost tea) filled the bottom 6inches of the bucket with shredded non-colour newspaper, and mixed in some 'starter' already completed compost from a friends garden. repeated the layers but started to mix in veg and tea, coffee more paper, etc. I think the trick is give the contents a good mix once a week. keep it on the moist side but not soaking or it will smell. I've never emptied the container completely just kept adding to it. I did once add some red wiggler worms but I felt bad 'cos I think they died. but I don't seem to need 'em the bacteria in the soil seems to break down the contents. anyway this is my long way round saying lemonie you're great, but nobody has an excuse to NOT compost.

lemonie (author)mrsthursday2009-06-14

Interesting, can you take some pics and create an Instructable out of it? "Tiny balcony" and you manage it would be of interest to people. L

mrsthursday (author)lemonie2009-06-14

loved to but my camera is from digital age 1. but i'll try and borrow one.

If a you have a picture taking cell phone you can use that (that's what i use)

no phone, no camera I feel so inadequate. But I do have lots of lovely compost. lemonie did you try composting this summer? I remembered something I used to do when I had a real garden and not just my balcony to grow plants on and it may suit you. Keep your healthy veg and plant trimmings for a few days and dig a hole in a quiet spot and toss in the veg etc and replace the soil. The worms love it and where you've got compost loving red wigglers you've got healthy soil. Just take the labels off the fruit 'cos they don't rot at all.

Pizzapie500 (author)2010-11-05

How about for pumpkin patches? BTW love your instructable!

trampart (author)2009-06-11

In order to recycle, i use used tires stacked one on top of another to a suitable height (depending on how tall you are). When one is filled, I start another. To access the finished compost, I simply disassemble. Should I do a tutorial, or is this self-explanatory?

yogadavid (author)trampart2010-07-20

It would be great for you to do a tutorial. Not because it is difficult, but because it will showup in searches and create a forum for discussion and the birth of new ideas. I just happened to see your tire idea by accident. I wish I had seen it sooner, before my neighbors chucked thier tires in the trash that had been sitting on thier property farming mosquitos for four years.

mrsthursday (author)trampart2009-06-14

hi trampart. Could u do an instructable? I need pictures to understand most things!?!

hav2sing (author)2010-07-11

Brilliant advice; love the detail! Thank You for taking the time!!

the rural independent (author)2009-12-27

I use a very similar bin.  Mine has air vents on the side which bees used for entry. I epoxied some screening to keep them out.

For a really quick and easy worm composting bin idea, visit:

overlandpark4me (author)2009-12-12

LOL, he said global warming.....

richarpo (author)2009-10-23

Why bother with a bin, just throw it in a heap and put some burlap over it to keep the rain off. No worries about getting oxygen to it that way, and it's interesting to watch your food decay, and to see little animals crawling about in it. 
You can put cardboard on your heap, this encourages woodlice and helps prevent the green soggy mass problem.

ManifoldSky (author)2009-07-29

Sorry, but I have to strenuously disagree with your do not put list. This is a BIG peeve of mine.
1) Meat: There really is no reason for meat not to be put in a bin, especially a covered one such as in your post. For uncovered bins, burying meat at least 12" under fine particle carbon matter, like saw dust, greatly reduces the likelihood that your bin will be raided by animals. As for the issue of meat decaying, it breaks down very quickly, and does not smell if processed as above.

2) Cooked vegetables, I am at a loss about this one. There is not a single thing wrong with cooked vegetables. Now, perhaps if you put a lot of salt on them, that might be problematic (though not a deal breaker) but certainly there is no need to exclude them from a compost pile.

3) I hear this one a lot. Again, the central stated issues are the same with meat. And again, the remediations are the same. Bury for odor control. NOt that it is particularly necessary, as it loses any odor quickly in a pile, often within hours.

4) Diseased plants all depends on the disease, and the type of pile. If it is a hot pile, pretty much any plant matter can be used, even ones with serious infections, as the disease organisms are killed in the pile. WIth a cold pile, a 1 year retention often kills the rest.
For common diseases like molds and powdery mildew, these are not going to be transfered by compost anyway.

5)This one is the most common one, and the most misunderstood. It is often rephrased more generally as "carnivore feces." However you phrase it, its prohibition from the pile is not based on any scientific foundation. The oft-cited cause (which seems reasonable on the surface) is disease, especially E. coli. The response to this is manifold. First, the PRIMARY vector for E. coli poisoning is NOT animal feces at all, but rather plants. Think of all the major national E. coli events. 100% have been due to plants, tomatoes, jalapeños, spinach. Also, cow dung has huge amounts of E.coli. so allowing cow manure and not dog manure is simply silly on this basis.
Now on to the big one. Cat poop. The (unfortunately) common response here is the dreaded toxoplasmosis. However, this is really NOT an issue. First, the parasitic disease organism only is expelled in cat feces in the first two weeks after initial infection. As most cats contract their TP infection as kittens, this is almost never a concern. Second, most people with cats have already been exposed, and are immune. Third, the only people who are in any kind of danger are those with very weakened immune systems, or women in a three week window during pregnancy. At all other times, it is impossible to transmit the organism to the fetus. A major study was done about TP, and initially they used cats as a vector to examine TP infection. But what they found surprisingly was that they found NO evidence that ANYONE ever transmitted the infection through this route, so they were forced to redesign the experiment. Interestingly, one of the most common vectors for transmission is pica, often in the form of eating dirt. Surely you are not proposing to ban dirt from what is essentially, dirt.
On to diapers (I am in the US afterall.) Certainly disposable diapers, with all their plastic, would be a problem, as would be cloth diapers, as well as being stupid and wasteful. But there are disposable varieties that compost well, and I can't think of a single serious reason for banning them from a pile.
As for perennial weeds, that is such a waste of great OM. While you might want to avoid the seed heads if you are not hot composting (heat kills them fine) or the untreated roots of such things as binweed, they are easily treated by just letting them sit out in the sun for a day or two. Then just compost them as usual.

I have been composting for decades, ran a little, homemade humanure composting toilet, and ran several large and small bins in the middle of a large, urban area, and other than a few misinformed city officials, I never had any problem, other than WAY too much compost to really use on the small garden I had on my roof.

For a good source of more accurate information, you might want to try reading Joseph Jenkins' "Humanure Handbook." It is even available free online from here: .

Propagatrix (author)ManifoldSky2009-09-25

Composting cat poop also depends on the sort of litter used. Pine, wheat, and corn litters all compost well. Sand- and clay-based litter aren't very good bets for the bin (large hunks of stinky clay -- eeeuw!).

ManifoldSky (author)Propagatrix2009-09-26

Personally, I use pine pellets, in the form of stove fuel in 40lb bags for $4.00 (as opposed to 7lb bags of the identical Feline Pine® for $9. However, I am assuming that people use scoops, so the variety of litter is not really relevant. If it is clay, sure, just scoop out the valuables, and discard the litter. If the litter is compostable as well, have at it. But that is a different issue.

treesneedtobehugged (author)2009-08-07

I don't live in the U.K but the U.S are there any rebate programs in the U.S?

romaine (author)2009-04-14

Don't put potato peel into the bin, potatoes are usually treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting, if you sow in the resulting compost your seeds won't germinate.

If you wash off the potatoes you usually get most of the chemicals off.

Corporate American (author)2009-04-03

I like to tread as lightly on this world as I possibly can, but I could honestly not get past the part where the author of this instructable was talking about the evils of the methane coming out of our landfills. I would like to share another perspective on that. BMW's U.S. plant is located Spartanburg, SC, where I live. Here is a brief statement, straight from their website, about how they are putting landfill methane to good use and I commend them for it. "Spartanburg Landfill Imagine the energy needed to drive a car around the globe 4,300 times - over 100 million miles. That's how much energy we save each year by using methane gas from the local landfill at our Spartanburg plant instead of natural gas. As a result, the atmosphere is spared thousands of tons of greenhouse gases - 17,000 tons to be exact. Ever since we started construction on our Spartanburg plant in 1993, our plan consisted of the efficient cogeneration of electricity and hot water. Specifically, our plan called for building a 9.5-mile pipeline from the Palmetto Landfill to our facility where we build the BMW Z4 and the BMW X5. The recycled methane gas that we get as a result of this pipeline not only provides energy for 50% of the plant's total energy, but it also helps us reduce energy costs. While we're proud of our energy savings at Spartanburg, we know they're just part of the larger picture. BMW's global production network has reduced CO2 emissions by 30% in the last 10 years, for example, and we continue making inroads in such important places as hydrogen technology. We believe in doing things differently at BMW, and we believe that includes committing to sustainable business practices. And, as an independent company, we have the power of putting our money where our mouth is in order to share our beliefs with the world. " Before you ask, I am not now, nor have I ever been, employed by or otherwise affiliated with BMW.

That's funny and a great point. Methane is a natural by-product of organic (anaerobic) decomposition. The Earth itself releases tons of methane annually. Knowledge is POWER!!!

d2j5 (author)2009-05-21

i know that grass clippings compost fast and are a good weed blocker for like a food garden

nutsandbolts_64 (author)2009-05-13

how about south east asia ?

awang8 (author)2009-04-07 Although this is mostly copied from that website isn't it? Anyway, my preferred composter is the "Geyde Composter". It doesn't have one of those hatchy things, but when the compost is mature, just lift off the bin (it's light!) and you'll get a really nice pile of crumbly compost.

DottieM (author)2009-03-28

Great idea, BUT I couldn't keep the bears & raccoons out of the bin. DM

About This Instructable




Bio: I love DIY and I would rather try invent or make something then buy it. I have just started playing around with Arduino and loving ... More »
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