Introduction: Learn How to Compost in Less Than an Hour

Picture of Learn How to Compost in Less Than an Hour

Learn how to compost! You don't have to have a green thumb to successfully create a healthy compost bin in your own backyard.

These instructions will help you learn the basics of the composting process. Composting is a cheap, environmentally beneficial way to enrich soil for gardening and landscaping. It helps prevent pollution by reusing organic materials instead of filling up landfills. Composting replaces the need for harmful fertilizers and pesticides, and also prevents erosion. No experience or fancy equipment is needed to start your own compost pile at home. This is not an exact science - just an easy, hassle-free way to benefit your yard. Just follow these simple steps, and within a few months your compost will be ready to add to your garden!  


The composting process is comprised of four main parts: air, water, browns, and greens.

AIR : In order for fast decomposition, the compost pile must have plenty of air. This means that it is essential for the compost materials to be regularly “fluffed” and turned.

WATER : The pile should always be moist, not wet. As one compost-guide describes, the pile should be “moist as a
wrung-out sponge.” If the pile is too dry, the decomposition will be slowed. If the pile is too wet, air is kept from
circulating in the pile and decomposition will slow.

BROWNS : Dry and dead plant material. This includes straw, brown weeds, autumn leaves, wood chips, and sawdust. These materials often need to be moistened before added to the compost.

GREENS : Fresh plant material. This includes green weeds, fruit and vegetable scraps, green leaves, coffee grounds, tea bags, etc.  

Step 1: List of Materials

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Gather the following materials:
-pitchfork or rake
-chicken wire (24 in x 10 ft)
-zip ties/cable ties
-gardening soil (1-2 bags of 40 lbs)
-hose/watering can
-compost material (refer to table of "What to Compost") 
-4 wooden stakes 3’ - 4’ tall
-mallet hammer
-a friend willing to lend a hand!

What to Compost: 
-coffee grounds
-grass clippings
-shredded paper (omit non-recyclable)
-tea bags (be sure to remove any staples) 
-vegetable and fruit scraps
-wood chips
-yard scraps (old plants, flowers, and small prunings)
-egg shells (be sure they are free from yolk residue)

What Not to Compost: 
-dairy products
-food sauces
-invasive weeds
-non-organics (plastic, metal, glass, etc.) 
-pet feces
-treated wood
-any material containing preservatives/toxins

Step 2: Choose a Location

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Choose a shady location in your backyard, preferably near a water source (e.g., a faucet). 

Step 3: Constructing the Bin

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Fasten chicken wire into a cylinder using plastic ties.
This may require some assistance.

Step 4: Stake It!

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Weave wooden stakes through chicken wire to secure bin to the ground. 

Step 5: Secure Bin

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Secure bin by hammering stakes into the ground until bin is stable. 

Step 6: Add Leaves

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Add approximately 6 inches of leaves into the bin.
Remember you don't have to make it exact. 

Step 7: Add Soil

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Add a layer of soil, enough to cover the leaves. 

Step 8: Water Lightly

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Water lightly.
Don't over water. Should be damp as a wrung-out sponge. 

Step 9: Alternate Layers

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Alternate adding layers of leaves and soil, until the bin is half-way full. 

Step 10: Add Compost Materials!

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Add compost materials to bin. 
Refer to list of "What to Compost" and "What Not to Compost."  

Step 11: Mix It Up!

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Stir to incorporate compost, leaves, and soil together with pitchfork or rake. 

Step 12: Stir, Water, Repeat

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Stir and water lightly a few days a week.  

Step 13: Enjoy Your Compost!

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Continue to add compost materials to your bin, and enjoy this eco-friendly alternative to keep your garden growing! 

Step 14: Troubleshooting

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Why does my compost smell bad?
This could be caused by compaction.
Solution : Aerate! Stir the mixture more often to create more air movement.
Or, this could be caused by over-watering.
Solution: Add dry leaves or wood chips to soak up water and stir often to promote air flow.

How do I know when my compost pile is ready to be mixed into my garden?
If the pile has:
- shrunk significantly (up to half its original volume) OR
- the original organic materials (the leaves in Step 5) are no longer recognizable OR
- the compost pile is more crumbly than solid
the compost pile is ready. This can take a few months, be patient!

There are flies around my compost bin - how do I get rid of them?
Flies should not be attracted to your compost pile if the food scraps are stirred under the soil and leaves.
Dumping food scraps on top of the pile will attract flies.

Why are there ants in my compost pile?
Ants are a sign that the compost is too dry. Remember to lightly water the compost pile regularly.  


pfiddle (author)2011-03-07

Actually it's fun to add potatoes that are 'seeding' to the compost when it's nearly ready (say early spring) and in a few months when the compost is ready to be spread out over the veg-patch one gets loads of fresh (small) potatoes.
Par-boil - cool and freeze. Then deep-fry. Great with quiche and a fresh rocket salad.
Alternatively surround the upper wire with clear or at least translucent-plastic (to keep out vertically challenged carrot flies and such) and grow carrots, parsnips or other root-crops. Poke a stick in moist compost fill with good earth mixed with sand and top with young plant. The root-crop will grow straight and look, clean and chop better/easier.
This will also keep your growing season going longer as the rotting compost emits heat and a light translucent 'lid' will keep out frost and one can have crops well into winter. Surround the basket with black(covered) containers filled with (rain/shower)water to keep heat for even longer season.

behrang_a (author)pfiddle2013-05-06

is it possible that it drain the compost nutrient to produce potato ?

NaturalCrafter (author)pfiddle2011-04-07

I am interested in knowing more about carrot flies. Not sure how you say to place the plastic..and why vertically challenged. I love learning new things.

bahaminb (author)pfiddle2011-03-29

awesome tips. i think i will try the potatoes.

maji1108 (author)2012-10-08

Why in the beginning do you layer then mix? Doesn't mixing defeat the purpose of layering? And also, if there is a heavy rain, should i cover it?

dim20 (author)2012-07-30

you can also compost dog poop lol

thecoonskin (author)2012-05-16

Why are bones in the "don't compost" list? Wouldn't they provide useful nutrients like calcium? Bone meal is considered an organic fertelizer and that's just crushed up bone.

RoBear613 (author)thecoonskin2012-06-12

Bones typically still have some meat on them and meat will rot (p.u.) and attract flies.

if you boiled the meat off the bones, you could probably add them, but it'd probably be a lot easier to pick up some bone meal.

csantiago3 (author)2011-06-03

Hi! I am looking for ways to compost,etw said throwing banana peels, left-over veggies, old fruit etc.. Can anyone tell me if it would harm my plants?

LULUBUG53 (author)csantiago32011-08-29

Sorry I did not add it will not harm your plants, I water my plants with leftover coffee and some water diluted, and also sprinkle coffee grinds in their surrounding soil, year round. They seem to like this indoors or out. Just don't put anything cooked in oil or butter. Hope this helps. Does seem to take a while, do not understand how some are quicker at making compost then others. Still learning.

LULUBUG53 (author)csantiago32011-08-29

I purchased a canister with a lid, and throw egg shells, coffee grinds, tea bags and filters, fruits and veggie peelings in. Anything in raw state. So it is not so unsightly on the kitchen counter. I think the one I purchased cost $1 at a yard sale and may have been an old canister. with the clamp on lid. It is black. Then when it is full I take it outside to my homemade from an old bathtub Composter.
I have a very heavy metal cover for it. I am getting compost, however, it needs a lot of churning and turning, and find that adding a few containers of worms does a really good job. If things are large like banana peels, cantaloupe skins,
corn cobs, I cut them down to smaller pieces, either through the food processor, or with the cobs, I let the worms take what they want and bury the rest in the
garden. It seems to decompose over the winter months. Grass and leaves helps also. Thinking of just doing one with grass and leaves this year, to see what
works best. Also think that worms do a great job, so would like to do worm farm. (author)2011-08-22

My dog likes to do her "business" either close to or a lo of times in my flower garden. I have a seperate area on the back side of my home for veggie gardening. Is the dog business going to end up being unhealthy if the only thing I plant in there is flowers? The plants seem to love the doggie doo fertilizer. I would never put it on my veggies though that's why the 2 are completely seperated.

vincent7520 (author)2011-03-06

very helpful … thanks for posting.

I have 2 questions though ::
1) the compost bin seems quite small regarding the time it will rest before being usable. True is is meant to shrink, but as one will also add almost daily some fresh stuff, it may be a lot for such an (apparently) small volume…

2) why some organic materials are excluded from the compost ?
I understand that anything that contains, or may have contained contaminants such as chemical / industrial fertilizers, treated wood, etc… must be discarded. But what about toxins ? They are naturally all over the place !!!…
Then why not ashes / charcoal ? They are used as natural fertilizers in many places : the first fertilization process humanity invented was to burn fields before ploughing them and mixing ashes with earth by the same process…
Same question for dairy products, food sauces (for instance homemade ketchup is only grounded tomatoes and spices) …
It seems quite clear to me that bones should be written off the list as they take so long to decay, but why meat, fish, poultry (unless the reason why is that you don't want to attract animals such as dogs, foxes, forage cats rats, etc…) should be too ?…
Same question for pet feces : animal manure is still the best manure / fertilizer on earth (remember a 3 decades ago the Chinese used human manure to fertilize their fields !…), so why discard them ?…
The last thing that somewhat puzzles me me is is egg yolk residues : are they so toxic that they won't decay properly and / or ruin the whole process ????…
I would be very happy if you could answers us (if you got time and patience, of course… otherwise, no harm done !…).
Cheers !…

Tazo (author)vincent75202011-06-01

There are many reasons why you should not put sauces, fattys or high protein stuff (meat, eggs, feces) in your compost many thay have already mention but the main reason is simple.
You want to be friendly to the neighbours all around you.
Fatty acids and proteins will make the compost STINK really really awful.
Throwing oily or greasy food scraps into the compost is the first mistake many people do and they never go back to composting after that happens.

vincent7520 (author)Tazo2011-06-01

Thank you … That explains why my neighbor's wife doesn't want to befriend me !!… OK, only joking, but still don't want to loose my neighbors nice friendship.

marcintosh (author)vincent75202011-03-06

"but why meat, fish, poultry (unless the reason why is that you don't want to attract animals such as dogs, foxes, forage cats rats, etc…) should be too ?…"  Fatty materials don't compost, they rot.  Composting is not the same as rotting.

"pet feces : animal manure is still the best manure / fertilizer on earth"   Not necessarily, there are things like worms that dogs and cats get and all sorts of pathogens that jump the species barrier.  So, no, not "the best stuff on earth" 

Egg yolks? Dunno perhaps related to fats and will rot- you'll have to google it sometime.
Here's a linkey-


pfiddle (author)marcintosh2011-04-07

I've no problem with putting a scrap waste-pipe buried into the ground and partly filling over a year with doggie-doo doo and then (carefully) lifting the pipe cover the poo with some soil and then plant a tree/shrub on it..
If you can burn the bones (in a wood-burner) and use the ash on your veggies - potash it's called. Don't use coal-ash on vegetables - all sorts of heavy metals (quiet kind) in it - but again fine for shrubs and trees - in small amounts - you don't want your garden to be a toxic dump - and always remember what you put in the flowers this year gets on the veggies next year. Shrubs and trees usually last a few years - at least.

vincent7520 (author)pfiddle2011-04-08

Well this turns into an above-my-level conversation and I don't want to make a fool of myself. So I'll leave it at that.
But keep posting : that makes me learn more.

To all of those who read this post : have a nice week-end !.
Spring is here, at least in the northern hemisphere, and I hope you all have happy moments ! …

cheftpm (author)marcintosh2011-03-10


vincent7520 (author)cheftpm2011-03-10

Ah OK !…

Thank you so much for the information.

best wishes8

wendilane (author)marcintosh2011-03-06

It is true ... without applying the proper amount of time for the breakdown process to complete, you could run into problems. However, understanding how this process works is key to ensuring safety.

The Humanure Handbook breaks down the science of composting fecal matter, and would be a good read (not to mention, it's kind of fun to have a copy lying around when first time guests stop by, just to see the reaction on their faces ... HA!).

BtheBike (author)marcintosh2011-03-06

thank you . to say composting is just rotting material is to grossly oversimplify . One can also take into account future use of the material . Many folks who compose for food production are very aware of the difference and details .

The improper use of fecal matter has been the demise of large groups of our ancestors . A similar lack of understanding dirt can make us relive that scenario today . One should know the amount of time it takes for earths systems to break down the bad stuff we shouldn't be ingesting .

vincent7520 (author)marcintosh2011-03-06

Oh well …
Guess I'll stay on top of my mountain where the air is pure and the trouts are fresh …

kalithenowhereman (author)2011-05-31

My compost pile is coming along nicely, regardless of the fact I rarely water or turn it. However, the last time I mixed it I was horrified to find it was filled with ants. Is there anyway I can get rid of them without having to destroy the pile? I had previously noticed maggots and beetles, which I assumed were okay and did most of the composting, but was I wrong in thinking this?

Tazo (author)kalithenowhereman2011-06-01

ants are OK they help composting also earthworms and few other insects, it is beetles the ones you dont want there (beetle larvae -maggots- are pests in gardens) also make sure you dont´t have cockroaches.
If insects overall are geting out of control spray the surface of the compost with insecticide just to keep the population from exploding

kalithenowhereman (author)Tazo2011-06-01

Thanks for the information! Are there any natural things I can do to get the insect population down? I would like to keep the pile free of chemicals, such as insecticide. (author)2011-04-25

I would truthfully like to know if grass clippings is a green, brown, or a don't

jrobich89 (author)jj.inc2011-05-26

Grass clippings are considered a "green," and they can definitely be used in your compost pile.

sosogood313 (author)2011-03-17

How long does it take for the compost to become of use for garden soil?

pfiddle (author)sosogood3132011-04-07

How long is a (useful) piece of string??
The conditions of what you put in - dampness - aeration (cardboard - some wood ash and sawdust helps) and heat generated will all make a difference - too damp and aeration stops and stinky goo results. Too dry - little happens at all. There are pages of info on this - go seek.
One tip I'd give is to consider using charcoal - ground up if possible -to add to the compost - firstly it'll help aeration greatly and secondly it will help you rediscover Terra Preta ( a way that the original peoples of middle and South America created a super soil to grow extraordinary amounts of food in tiny allotments. We use it here at Glenribbeen to dramatic effect in our raised beds.
Compost is like life what you put in and how you behave determines the quality of the return and indeed the speed of the return.

gemjunkie (author)2011-03-07

Nice info! But, how about composting in a cold climate ? Want to keep it going all year around. Any help here?

JimPlaysDrums (author)gemjunkie2011-03-27

You can stack hay bales around your bin to keep the wind out and insulate the pile. You can also cover it, I use come clear plastic to keep the snow and cold rain out.

gemjunkie (author)JimPlaysDrums2011-03-27

OK--the hay bales are a good idea. Thanks for the suggestion!

caarntedd (author)2011-03-04

Wouldn't a teabag staple just rust away?

fenris (author)caarntedd2011-03-10

Indeed it would, and the garden can put a small amount of iron to very good use. You need a small amount of iron in your diet, as well, and if it ain't in the ground it won't be in your vegetables either.

johnny3h (author)2011-03-06

I'm not a compost professional, but have been composting for over 37 years and I agree with ETW, AND add a few more comments. First, in spite of all the 'hoopla,' compost is nothing more than ROTTED ORGANIC MATTER, just like occurs naturally on the floor of a forest.

Composting is just a fancy word for the rotting of organic material. IF one just piles the organic material and leaves it alone, it will still eventually make compost.

Composting is accomplished by the action of living bacteria eating/breaking down the organic materials. The composting action will occur WITHOUT any special work, but the variety of materials, layering, watering, and turning [aeration] will create more optimal conditions for the bacteria, and thus speed up the process.

Just like other living organisms, the bacteria require a hospitable environment. The ‘good’ composting bacteria are ‘aerobic’ and need AIR to breathe. This is why experts recommend ‘turning’ of the pile. The bacteria also need a moderate to warm temperature in order to live and propagate well. And finally, the bacteria need adequate moisture. That is why the entire pile should be kept moist [not ‘wet’]. IF your compost pile ‘stinks’ and you haven’t added animal products, that is a sign that the pile is too wet, and only ‘anaerobic’ bacteria are surviving, AND anaerobic bacterial action does create noxious odors.

The IDEAL compost pile will develop an internal temperature of about 160oF which enhances the bacterial environment, and will kill weed and other undesirable seeds. Heat generation occurs naturally in a compost pile as the result of the metabolism of the bacteria. The larger the pile, the better the heat is contained [self insulating], allowing the temperature to maximize. In this ‘ible, the compost containment [chicken wire] cylinder appears to be only about 24 to 30 inches in diameter, and thus will loose too much heat which will slow down the process, and in very cold climates, would inhibit, if not totally stop the bacterial action.

The recommended MINIMUM dimensions for the most effective compost pile is roughly 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, and this is not meant to require a perfect cube. Ideally it would be a hemisphere of at least a 3 foot radius.

Another point is that this Instructable indicates the use of a bag of store bought soil [DIRT] which is not necessary. The purpose of adding dirt to the pile mix is to introduce [inoculate] the pile with bacteria to 'start' the decomposition process. Just using ordinary dirt from your yard will do the job without having to buy anything. Even worse, SOME store bought soils have been ‘sterilized’ [baked] to kill all seeds and organisms and thus kills the beneficial bacteria we WANT in our compost pile. Sterilized soil is totally useless for inoculating a compost pile.

I mean no disrespect for the ladies' laudable effort to provide a basic ‘ible on composting, and the above suggestions are only intended to enhance the learning experience.

cheftpm (author)johnny3h2011-03-10


bwaller (author)2011-03-10

Can anybody help me? i had compost bin but my mom chuck too many vegetable which become too soggy should, plus its in wheel bin and sweats all lot should i have outside compost bin?

cheftpm (author)bwaller2011-03-10


NachoMahma (author)2011-03-04

.  What am I doing wrong? The title says less than an hour and I've been waiting three - still no compost. :P
.  Great job. Keep up the good work.

domino88 (author)NachoMahma2011-03-08

Good one! :-) LOL

speedhump (author)2011-03-07

Greetings from Canada!

I'll keep the idea in mind - - for a few months time. Digging through 18 inches of snow to rock hard soil would be a waste of time right now!

pfiddle (author)2011-03-07

As a string-instrument player - I'm always looking for ways to re-use old worn strings - They're great for stitching chicken wire here or building a hen-coop. The ons with the loop still intact are best.

pfiddle (author)2011-03-07

A good article - but i feel I have to take issue about not adding charcoal. Not only can charcoal be added - it's hugely beneficial as proven from studies into Mid and South American cultures.
Biochar or Terra Preta (black-earth) has a hugely positive influence on a garden as I've seen for myself and later found loads of studies to back this observation. See for a starting point (pros & cons)

Here's a link to a Treehugger video on same;
We use clean timber-cut-offs from building sites and use gasification to hat water ( to make our beverages during work in the garden.

I wouldn't however use ash from a fir where coal had been burnt - I mix that with sand and cement to make a foundation for garden paths and such.

seefriek (author)2011-03-06

@vincent7520: I don't really understand your "toxins are everywhere" query other than to say don't compost anything with toxins persistent enough to be retained in whatever you grow in your compost.

Ashes are typically highly alkaline. Adding significant amounts of ashes can negatively impact soil chemistry and kill beneficial bacteria. A modest amount of ash can add important minerals, but I wouldn't just pour a winters worth of fireplace ashes into my compost and expect anything to grow.

Things with animal protein and fats go rancid and rot; they don't compost. Not only does this smell bad, attract vermin and make you unpopular with your neighbors, animal pathogens can persist and grow making it decidedly unhealthy.

Similarly with feces...there is a huge risk from pathogens (think things like salmonella and e. coli) and parasites. Most back-yard compost heaps don't typically get hot enough to kill those things. Yes, many cultures have used human feces as fertilizer...right up till they figured out that this practice was the reason large numbers of them died from feces-borne maladies. Do not do this. Seriously.

Your homemade catsup might only be tomatoes and spices, but it's often made with vinegar (strong acid, effects soil chemistry) and sugar (smells, attracts vermin). Judgment call, I suppose.

Egg shells...well, yes, you probably should wash out the shells because it's an animal protein. I confess I don't do that...:-) N.B. - egg shells are a very important part of a compost heap...those minerals are not optional for good plant growth. sum it up, yes, there are really good reasons why there's a list of things not to compost.

nitrozoom (author)2011-03-06

Came for the pictures of hot compost groupies, stayed for a great alternative to leaf burn pile

marcintosh (author)2011-03-06

If you really get into composting in a big way you should check out this guy Jean Pain. Sadly he's left us and way too early too but he left behind a legacy of brilliant work. Here's some of it-

Composting   .   .   .   who'd a thunk it?


kharper-2 (author)2011-03-06

@etw your method is good too, and glad you don't have problems with critters... I like your method of tossing everything that rots (except toxic stuff) in with the pile.

Mine is a hybrid between the instructable and etw's... I have two 3' tall x 7-8 ft diameter hardware cloth "bins" and the first year filled up one bin, halfway through the year "turned" that bin into the second... and a few weeks ago turned it back into the first bin. (to get it "cooked" faster)... next year's piles will be more like etw's and just left on their own to rot. It's a lot of hard work with that size of a pile, but I need it for my 28'x40' veggie garden in clay soil.

I also had some leftover black landscape fabric (that I discovered is useless in my garden for weed/grass control, the weedgrass rhizomes poke through it and "staple" it to the ground and it just shreds) that I used on the outsides of the bins to help hold in the moisture, protect against the strong winds drying it out, and for some solar gain... a much better use of the landscape fabric!

Since it varies between torrential rain and drought here, for the first year pile I needed a "breathable" cover so the pile didn't get drenched - and would hold in the moisture if I had to add water - I just used old paper seed sacks with stones on top to keep them from blowing off, and they rot down into the pile eventually as well.

etw (author)2011-03-06

Great tutorial, but I use a far easier way to compost, basically as mother nature does it. I just throw it on a big heap, I hardly ever turn it and rely on the rain to keep it wet.
I include dairy, fish, meat, bones and charcoal if I have it. Invasive weeds I first throw in a bucket with water and let them rot there for a while before I put them on the compost heap. I leave it for about 1-2 years and it is great compost.

I have 2 other methods as well:
I just bury scraps in the garden
I throw scraps and waste in my green container and make sure it is very very wet so it rots. After 1 year I throw that on my raised beds and top it of with leaves. Ready for planting

No turning or airating whatsoever and my plants do fine.

I know everybody has their own method and I think your method may render compost very fast, but I am just a bit lazy and time is my friend. As it is a continuous process, I usually have a lot of compost at the beginning of the season, eventhough it might have taken 1 or 2 years.

Smaller amounts of kitchen waste (banana skins, old fruit, veggie leftovers), I just throw in between my plants.

No problems with rats or other vermin, or at least not that I noticed

1stVillager (author)2011-03-06

Nice. Simple, straightforward, usable. Thanks

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