Composting A Step by Step Guide

Discover the eco-friendly magic of creating your own organic fertilizer through simple tree mulch composting. Are you looking to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden? Making compost is the answer! Composting is not only an eco-friendly way to dispose of food scraps and yard waste, but it also produces a natural fertilizer that can enhance the health of your plants. In this article, we’ll guide you through the process of making compost step by step and unveil how easy and rewarding it is to turn the free mulch into a limitless source of nourishment for your plants

What is composting?

I love love, love Spring-the promise of new life, the beginning of beauty in the gardens, and a hint of warm, sunny summer days. Spring gets me excited about getting out and getting dirty in my gardens.

Composting is the process of decomposing organic materials, such as food scraps, leaves, grass clippings, and other yard waste, into a rich, dark substance called compost. Compost is often referred to as “black gold” due to its numerous benefits for soil health and plant growth. This natural fertilizer provides essential nutrients, improves soil structure, retains moisture, and supports beneficial microorganisms.

To start composting, you’ll need to gather the right materials and create the ideal conditions for decomposition. Let’s explore the benefits of composting and why it’s worth considering for any gardener.

Benefits of composting

Composting offers a range of benefits for both the environment and your garden. Here are some key advantages:

  1. Waste reduction: Composting diverts organic waste from landfills, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and methane production. By composting your kitchen scraps and yard waste, you can significantly decrease your household waste.
  2. Soil enrichment: Compost improves soil fertility by adding organic matter, essential nutrients, and beneficial microorganisms. It enhances soil structure, increases nutrient availability, and promotes better water retention and drainage.
  3. Plant health: When you use compost in your garden, it provides a balanced and slow-release source of nutrients for your plants. This helps them grow stronger, resist diseases and pests, and produce more abundant flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
  4. Sustainability: Composting is a sustainable practice that supports a closed-loop system. By recycling organic waste and returning it to the soil, you contribute to the natural cycle of life and reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.

Now that you understand the benefits of composting, let’s explore the different methods you can choose from to start making your compost.


My early spring garden is not impressive in the least. It’s still empty and messy. It’s full of old dead leaves, weeds, and dormant plants. However, there are tiny hints of new life here and there, and to the trained eye, there is great promise of all the bounty to come in the upcoming weeks and months.

Composting methods

There are various methods of composting, each with its own advantages and considerations. Let’s explore three popular methods: hot composting, cold composting, and vermicomposting.

1. Hot composting

Hot composting is the most common method and involves actively managing the decomposition process. This method requires a balance of green and brown materials, moisture, and aeration to generate heat and accelerate decomposition.

To start hot composting, you’ll need a compost pile or bin that is at least 3 feet high and wide. The pile should be built by layering green materials, such as kitchen scraps and fresh grass clippings, with brown materials, such as dried leaves and twigs. It’s important to maintain a ratio of roughly 3 parts brown materials to 1 part green materials.

2. Cold composting

Cold composting, also known as passive composting, is a more relaxed approach that doesn’t require as much effort or monitoring. This method involves piling up organic materials and allowing them to decompose naturally over time.  This is the method Farmer Fred uses for our gardens.  We have plenty of space and live in a rural wooded area.  The local tree trimming companies know that when they are working in our area they can bring their truckloads of untreated woodchips and dump them in a designated area on our farm land.  It takes several years for the piles to rot down into the rich organic compost you see in the pictures.

To cold compost, you can simply create a pile of organic waste in a designated area of your yard or use a compost bin. Unlike hot composting, cold composting doesn’t require specific layering or turning of the pile. However, it may take longer for the materials to break down without the added heat.

3. Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting, also known as worm composting, is an excellent option for those with limited space or who want to compost indoors. This method uses special composting worms, such as red wigglers, to break down organic waste into nutrient-rich castings.

To start vermicomposting, you’ll need a worm bin or vermicomposting system. This can be a simple container with bedding materials, such as shredded newspaper or coconut coir, and a population of composting worms. You can feed the worms with kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and other organic waste. The worms will consume the materials and produce worm castings, which are highly beneficial for plants.

The foundation of a vibrant and productive garden is proper soil preparation in the spring. Let’s dig in now and get the garden ready to receive all the seeds and plants that will be planted. 

I hate weeding. When I was a kid, one of my chores was weeding. UGH. No more weeding for me. I cover my garden with a professional-grade weed block fabric. This weed block fabric allows the rain and moisture to penetrate through it while preventing weed growth. It is guaranteed for five years. However, I have had mine in the garden for ten years now! Every three years, I pull back this fabric and expose the soil so that I can add nutrients in the form of compost to the ground.  

Choosing the Right Composting Material

Regardless of the composting method you choose, it’s important to use the right mix of materials to ensure proper decomposition. Composting materials can be categorized into two main types: green and brown.

Green materials

Green materials are rich in nitrogen and provide a source of moisture and nutrients for the compost pile. Examples of green materials include:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Coffee grounds
  • Grass clippings
  • Plant trimmings
  • Seaweed

It’s essential to balance green materials with brown materials to avoid a smelly or slimy compost pile.

Brown materials

Brown materials are high in carbon and provide a source of energy for the decomposer organisms. Examples of brown materials include:

  • Dried leaves
  • Straw
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Wood chips
  • Twigs and branches

By combining green and brown materials in the right proportions, you create a balanced environment for decomposition to occur.

Building a Compost Pile or Bin

Once you have gathered your composting materials, it’s time to build your compost pile or bin. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Choose a location: Find a suitable spot in your yard that is easily accessible and receives partial sunlight. Avoid placing the compost pile too close to your home to minimize any potential odor.
  2. Prepare the site: Clear the area of weeds or grass and ensure proper drainage. You can lay down a layer of twigs or straw to improve airflow and drainage.
  3. Layer the materials: Begin by creating a layer of brown materials at the bottom, around 4-6 inches thick. Add a layer of green materials on top, around 2-3 inches thick. Continue alternating layers of brown and green materials until you have used up your composting materials.
  4. Moisten the pile: Water each layer as you go to maintain a moist but not soggy environment. The compost pile should be as damp as a wrung-out sponge.
  5. Cover the pile: To retain moisture and heat, cover the compost pile with a tarp or compost bin lid. This helps prevent excessive drying or waterlogging.

Maintaining Your Compost

Proper maintenance is essential to ensure your compost pile decomposes efficiently and doesn’t develop any issues. Here are some key tasks to keep in mind:


Turning the compost pile is crucial to provide oxygen and mix the materials, which promotes decomposition. Use a garden fork or compost turning tool to gently lift and turn the materials every 2-3 weeks. This helps distribute heat, moisture, and microorganisms throughout the pile.


Maintaining the right moisture level is important for the composting process. If the compost pile becomes too dry, decomposition slows down. If it becomes too wet, it can become anaerobic and develop a foul odor. Water the pile as needed to keep it consistently moist, like a damp sponge.


Regularly monitor your compost pile for any signs of problems or imbalances. Look out for excessive moisture, foul odors, pests, or slow decomposition. Adjust the materials, moisture, or aeration if necessary to maintain a healthy composting environment.

Troubleshooting Common Composting Problems

While composting is a relatively simple process, you may encounter some common problems along the way. Here are a few troubleshooting tips:

  1. Foul odor: If your compost pile smells bad, it may be too wet or lack sufficient airflow. Add dry brown materials and turn the pile to improve aeration.
  2. Slow decomposition: If your compost pile is not breaking down as quickly as expected, it may need more nitrogen-rich green materials. Add some fresh grass clippings or kitchen scraps to boost the decomposition process.
  3. Pests and flies: To deter pests and flies, avoid adding meat, dairy, or oily food scraps to your compost pile. Cover the fresh kitchen waste with a layer of brown materials to discourage pests.
  4. Excessive heat: If your compost pile becomes too hot, it may be due to an imbalance of green and brown materials or inadequate aeration. Add more brown materials and turn the pile to cool it down.

SIS Tip - Simple is Smart Tip for Adding Compost to Your Garden

  • Roll back the weed block fabric. 
  • Add the compost. Farmer Fred hops on his Kubota tractor and brings me enough compost to cover the whole garden with about 4 inches of rich, rotted-down compost.   
  • Rake the compost evenly over the surface. 
  • Rototill it all in. The plants are saying “YUM” already.
  • Put the weed block fabric back and your are ready to plant your plants.
  • Put the weed block fabric back in place. 
  • Time to get planting. In case you didn’t notice, I just fertilized and weeded my garden for the next three years, and it is all organic. Now that is the SIS way to get an organic garden ready. Wait, did I hear you say how does that compost last for 3 years?

Using Compost in Your Garden

Once your compost has fully decomposed and resembles dark, crumbly soil, it’s ready to use in your garden. Here are some tips for using compost effectively:

  1. Amending soil: Mix compost into your garden soil to improve its fertility, structure, and moisture-retaining capacity. Incorporate compost at a ratio of 1 part compost to 2 parts soil.
  2. Topdressing: Spread a layer of compost around the base of plants to provide a slow-release source of nutrients. This helps improve plant health and encourages strong root development.
  3. Mulching: Use compost as a natural mulch to suppress weeds, conserve moisture, and insulate plant roots. Apply a layer of compost around plants, leaving a small gap around the stem to prevent rot.
  4. Compost tea: Create compost tea by steeping compost in water. Use the resulting liquid as a nutrient-rich foliar spray or soil drench to boost plant growth and ward off diseases.

Composting Resources

To further expand your knowledge on composting, here are some recommended resources:

With the knowledge and practical tips provided in this article, you’re ready to embark on your composting journey. Start turning your organic waste into black gold for your garden and enjoy the benefits of composting for years to come!


In conclusion, composting is a rewarding and eco-friendly way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can successfully make your compost and enjoy the numerous benefits it offers. Remember to choose the right composting method, balance your materials, and maintain the ideal conditions for decomposition. With a little effort and patience, you’ll be rewarded with “black gold” that will nourish your plants and promote a thriving garden. Happy composting!  For more gardening information stop by my blogs on Growing Vegetables,   Growing BerriesGrowing Flowers  and I also have lots more gardening Tips and Techniques.

Pop on over to my social media sites where you’ll find exclusive Doctor Jo’s daily pictures of what’s new in my gardens or what new recipe I’m creating in my kitchen.  Make sure you click the like button, share and subscribe. I love your comments, so let me know what you think.

In conclusion, composting is a rewarding and eco-friendly way to reduce waste and create nutrient-rich soil for your garden. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can successfully make your compost and enjoy the numerous benefits it offers. Remember to choose the right composting method, balance your materials, and maintain the ideal conditions for decomposition. With a little effort and patience, you’ll be rewarded with “black gold” that will nourish your plants and promote a thriving garden. Happy composting!

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