Composting browns and greens
Compost and Dirt,  Grow

The Best Types of Composting for Beginners and Small Gardens

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Enrich your poor, sandy soil with garden compost you can make for free! Here are the best types of composting methods for beginners, a method that takes food scraps and turns them into garden enrichment.

Explore the different types of composting for beginners!

If you have been gardening for any method of time, or have chosen to be more zero-waste, chances are you have heard of composting in some form or fashion. 

Insert picture of a compost pile from woods with the title this is not composting.

Before we dive too deep, let’s make sure you have a solid understanding of what composting is to begin with.

What is garden compost? 

Composting is as easy as piling all your food scraps and grass clippings and leaving it for 6 months for you to come back to a magical pile of dirt right? While that is the basic method of composting, there is plenty of room for strategy.

What are examples of greens for composting?

  • Grass clippings
  • Weeds (free from seeds)
  • Food scraps such as Lettuce, Spinach, Tomatoes, 
  • Ends of produce
  • Skins of produce like zucchini, squash, potatoes, apples, carrots

What are examples of browns for composting?

  • Shredded paper
  • Cardboard 
  • Leaves
  • Dead plant stems
  • Dried weeds (free from seeds)

The top methods of composting 

The best types of composting methods are compost tea, trench composting, countertop composting  and the good old fashion compost pile.

Each method will be covered in greater detail below, but a general overview of the types of composting methods ensures the best option is being utilized for your space and resources.

For many newbie gardeners, it can be shocking to know there are different ways of composting.

Prepare to have your mind blown as you learn about methods that are good for small spaces, have a low odor, or can be scaled for your big gardens. 

The classic composting method: create a pile

Composting in its simplest and most uniform way is via a hot composting pile. Ingredients are added, turned and left to naturally decompose for a length of time and then redistributed in a garden bed.

Classic composting is the most versatile because you can make a pile in a 5 gallon bucket, plastic container, file along the woods, behind your shed, or invest in a rotating compost bin.

The possibilities for location are endless making classic composting piles the best homestead to go to because it is a no frills kind of composting.

Having said that, composting does not mean throwing your scraps in a heap and in 12 weeks having a magical pile of composted manure for your garden soil improvement.

Composting is still an art that requires air, ingredients, water, and stirring and time.

When you strike your headphones or then the results decompose material that is heavier than nutrients that can be added to your garden to regain strength and the ability to grow food again. 

How to start a classic compost

  1. Classic composting starts with a good location. Choose an area that is partial to fully shaded. The shade will attract insects and creatures that help with breaking down material, but the filtered sun will help keep your compost file from becoming a soggy stinky mess. Be sure to put your compost pile somewhere that you can access easily for the days you are hauling wheelbarrow fools of garden clippings and food scraps.
  2. The next thing you’ll need to do is set up a boundary or perimeter for your compost pile. This could be anything from 5 gallon buckets, plastic bins, old trellises or handmade pallet bins. But I feel free to use your creativity and evaluate what’s on hand to create a collection area. Just keep in mind that air circulation is a big must have. Composting cannot be a plastic bin that is sealed and left. That is how mold, stink and the wrong way of composting is. Many homesteaders will use extra chicken wire and some steaks to create a compost bin or two.
  3. As mentioned before, be sure that air can come through to keep things smelling pleasant and moist, not soaking wet.
  4. The fourth step to creating your compost pile is water. You are going to need to give your compost pile a drink of water to speed along the decomposing process. Plan to give your compost pile a good soaking every week or every other week depending on rainfall in your area. A good sign your compost pile needs water is by taking a shovel or pitchfork and doing a quick evaluation of the middle of your compost pile. If the middle is dry it’s time to water.
  5. The fifth step is stirring your compost file. This is a big area for possible mistake because most gardeners do not stir their compost pile which results in a very uneven decomposing process. Stirring your pile brings the hot section generally done in the middle of the compost bin where all of the bugs, critters and bacteria are hiding out and brings new nutrient dense material to them rather than asking them to seek out. Do not skip turning your pile. How often you should turn your compost pile really depends on how big it is but generally speaking at least once a week.
  6. The last step to your composting pile is the patience of waiting and allowing time for your compost pile to do its magic. You’ll want to build up a good compost pile over the course of several weeks, once you’ve reached the top of your compost pile area you’ll need to leave it for at least 12 weeks before having a good breakdown of soil, but typically it will take 3 months. Depending on the material you add such as leaves that can take a full year to 2 years to decompose. It may sound like a lot of labor for a little reward, but it’s actually rather hands off when you think about it. A typical classic compost pile only requires you to build the frame once, file in your Greens and browns, water, stir and leave.
Here a repurposed portable animal pen is used to create bins for compost pile rotation.

The different type of composting that uses compost tea

Compost tea is a rather phenomenal and perfect solution for the small space gardner. Making compost tea has several different methods but if you are on time, patience and space this may be your new best friend.

How to make compost tea for immediate use

Making compost tea that you can use immediately requires very little equipment, and can be done with any kitchen blender.

  • Simply load your food scraps, browns and greens into your blender, add some water and make a compost tea that resembles a smoothie. You are essentially making a smoothie for your garden early in the morning.
  • Now take your garden smoothie outside and by the side dress your plants. Side dressing is when you add nutrients or fertilizer to a growing plant without disturbing the root system by spreading within the top soil only.
  • If you have bigger plants you can dig a small tunnel in the middle for plants, that resembles the five on a die, and for your compost tea into that reservoir and cover with dirt.

Boom! You are done and your garden is fed. 

The method of trench composting

Trench composting is the idea of using a section of your garden, designated for crop rotation, as a garden bed under improvement.

During the time of “rest” your garden plot is focusing on self improvement, rather than giving of its resources to grow plants.

Instead of having a compost pile to rotate, the trench composting method utilized a hole, trench or ravine to collect your food scraps, greens and browns over time (and through the season) to slowly breakdown.

Trench composting is best for those with medium to large gardens since it requires enough space between rows or beds to dig, stock and rot. Trench composting can be one of the lowest in odors because you are layering (much like lasagna gardening) but not turning.

As with any composting pile, a foul odor is an indication of an unhealthy compost pile. 

How to start a trench composting area in your garden

By far the easiest of all the methods, trench composting requires the least amount of equipment, effort and smells the least! Trench composting is as simple as digging a trench, or hole, in your garden alongside your plants. Layer food scraps, browns and greens as normal.

Since the earthworms are already in the areas you can rest assured knowing as the trench is filled, you are encouraging more beneficial bugs to come to help the decomposition process.

Once the trenches are full you can cover with a layer of dirt and leave to rot.

Next season use this plot as your planting bed. 

Countertop composting

Composting on kitchen countertops that have become an increasing trend for people wanting to make the most of their food scraps while in apartments, cities or dorms.

As long as you are purchasing a compost starter, compost bin with aeration holes, and follow the proper ratio of greens and browns you are able to achieve this process by the same method as classic composting.

Small bins can be easy to shake to keep your ingredients moving around and stirring. Compost starter introduces microorganisms that would naturally flock to your compost pile in nature, but since you are inside the extra microorganisms are needed to be introduced.

Some of the best countertop composting games can be found on Amazon and are very economical and budget-friendly.

You could also make one by repurposing an old tub from your protein powder or cheese balls.

Just be sure to add aeration holes in the top and on some of the sides. Be certain that these holes are not near the bottom because some liquid will fall to the bottom and you don’t want that leaking on your countertops!

Composting books

Books are the lifeblood of gardening because you can refer back to them over and over again, each time gleaning a new tip or way of doing things. Here are a few different books that will make all the difference for learning how to compost when you are a beginner or struggling veteran.

Composting equipment 

The best composting equipment will never guarantee success, but rather a tried and proven support system for composting. So before you think you have to spend hundreds of dollars on composting equipment take a look at the resources you have on your homestead, Mimi farm or it’s suburban backyard that can be converted into a compost resting place. Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised by compost success that requires little to no investment which makes it easier to eventually make the investment into the cute rotating compost bin.

In general the composting equipment you will need consists of:

  • Containment (of some kind)
  • Water 
  • Tool for stirring such as shovel or pitchfork

Signs your compost pile has spoiled 

  • Foul smell
  • Soupy 
  • Flies 
  • Gnats
  • Visible mold 

5 tips on how to fix a smelly compost pile 

It is a sad day when you have put in the effort of waiting for your compost pile to mature, only to find that it is a soggy stinky mess. But before you think that composting is a first process, here are a few tips to help fix your compost pile!

  1. Air to soggy compost piles and add some more dry ingredients to help counter the presence of too much
  2. The presence of flies means your compost pile is too wet and has some ingredients that have grease or food remnants in them. Be careful of adding cardboard that has greasy and dairy food scraps on them as these can attract the bad bugs such as flies. Try to remove any greasy, dairy or meat food remnants from containers before adding to your compost pile
  3. Always stir your compost pile. When in doubt, stir your compost pile and Ensure all ingredients are going from the outside to the inside. When you are stirring instead of pushing your shovel into the center and coming up and turning, take the edge pieces and put them to the middle of the pile stirring from the outside in. 
  4. Add compost starter powder to introduce good microorganisms if you are not seeing the presence of earthworms. 
  5. Evaluate your compost location. If you have a smelly compost pile it may be in too much shade and attracting all the bad things such as bacteria and algae back there in the dark. If you have a smelly compost pile, bring it out into the light and let the heat of the sun kill off the bad bacteria and dry out any wetness. This will also help with the smell. 

Finding the right method of composting as a beginner will take some trial and error, so be patient with yourself and the process.

Starting a compost pile is one of the best feelings once you get the hang of it, because you are taking scraps and turning them into the best soil enrichment your homestead Garden can have!

Be encouraged and don’t forget to come back and share any successes or pitfalls so that future gardeners can have inspiration. 

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One Comment

  • MARY

    i hava large plastic compost been i bought a few years ago and finally i’ll give it a try. it has air vents a lid and away to take out compost at the bottom, my questyio is how do i stir it is almost 4 ft tall.

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