How do I start composting?

Some municipalities have regulations about composting. Therefore, checking with your particular town before installing a composting system is a good idea.

No matter what sort of composter you choose, it requires a little know-how and work to keep it from smelling like something that has been in the garbage for too long. Because of this potential for odor problems, there are actually places that do not allow composting at all, which is unfortunate. I think that composting is one of the most satisfying activities in the garden. You will actually be making something that not only feeds your plants but also improves the very structure of your soil. Before you begin to compost, you will need to consider your specific needs. Will you just be composting kitchen waste? It could be that a vermicomposter would suit your situation.

If you have a yard full of leaves and flower or vegetable garden waste that you need to compost, you’ll need something structural in your yard. It can be as simple as a structure made with wire fencing and posts or a more involved structure using wood planking or other materials. If you would not like the concern of building a compost, many ready-made structures are on the market for as little or as much as you would like to spend. But the bottom line is that they all do about the same thing. It just depends on how much work you would like to do. Some of the common items that you would put in the compost are leaves, grass, and spent garden plants. Less common are coffee grounds (ask your local coffee shop) and beer that sat out for too long.

Among the several things you will not want to compost are meat, bones, dairy products, mayonnaise, cooking oils, pet or human feces, and diseased plant material. If you include vegetables and vegetable waste in your compost, you must make sure to dig it into the compost pile about a foot. If you use these sorts of things in your compost, you will attract flies and rodents. I include vegetable waste, but we are judicious about digging it into my compost bin and we turn our compost regularly. I would encourage you to take a look at the following Web sites for details about getting started, then begin with a simple system and upgrade from that if you desire to.

To learn all you need to know to get started composting and to look at plans for composters, see the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection website. If that is not enough for you, check out this website, edited by Mary J. Tynes, a Master Composter in Texas for a very comprehensive list of what you can and cannot compost and how to best compost or recycle each item.

Contact Information

Kathy Kelley
  • Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management
Phone: 814-863-2196