In today’s environmentally conscious world, home composting is a sustainable practice that converts organic waste into rich, valuable compost, helping reduce landfill waste and providing nutritious soil amendments for your garden. If you’re a home gardener or someone looking to make a positive environmental impact, creating a home composting system is an excellent step. This guide will walk you through the entire process of building and maintaining a composting system at home.

1. Understanding Composting

Composting is a natural process that breaks down organic materials into a nutrient-rich soil amendment known as humus. Microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, and insects, decompose food scraps, yard waste, and other organic matter. This not only diverts waste from landfills but also produces a valuable product for gardening and landscaping.

2. Benefits of Composting

  • Reduces Waste: Significantly decreases the amount of organic waste sent to landfills.
  • Soil Enrichment: Improves soil structure, texture, and aeration while increasing its water-holding capacity.
  • Reduces Chemical Usage: Minimizes the need for chemical fertilizers by naturally returning nutrients to the soil.
  • Sustainable Gardening: Promotes healthy plant growth without harmful environmental impacts.

3. Selecting a Home Composting System

There are several composting methods you can choose from, depending on your space, resources, and preferences.

a. Backyard Composting

Ideal for those with a garden or backyard space. It involves creating a compost pile or bin where the organic material is added and decomposed over time.

b. Vermicomposting

Uses worms, usually red wigglers, to digest organic waste and create high-quality compost. Suitable for smaller spaces, like apartments or kitchens.

c. Tumbling Composting

Involves a rotating bin designed to make the composting process faster and more efficient by regularly turning the material for aeration.

d. Trench Composting

Organic waste is directly buried in garden beds, where it decomposes and enriches the soil in place.

4. Choosing a Composting Location

Select a spot that is convenient yet discreet. A shaded area in your backyard, with good drainage and access to water, is ideal. Ensure it’s close enough to your kitchen for easy waste disposal but far enough to avoid attracting pests.

5. Building a Compost Bin

While you can purchase a ready -made compost bin, building one yourself is a rewarding and cost-effective project. Here’s how to do it:

Materials Needed:

  • Wooden pallets (4 for a simple structure)
  • Nails or screws
  • Hammer or electric drill
  • Hinges (for a lid, optional)
  • Wire mesh (for the bottom, optional to keep pests out)


  1. Construction:

    • Base and Sides: Stand three pallets upright to form three sides of a box and secure them with nails or screws.
    • Front Panel: Use the fourth pallet to create a front door that can be opened and closed. Attach it using hinges if you prefer a more accessible design.
    • Bottom and Roof (Optional): Lay a wire mesh on the ground to prevent pests from entering from below. You can add a wooden or hinged roof to keep animals out and retain heat/moisture.
  2. Customization:

    • Drill holes in the sides of the bin or leave slight gaps between the planks to allow air circulation.
    • Consider painting or staining the wood to weatherproof your bin, but ensure you use eco-friendly products.

Alternative DIY Ideas:

  • Plastic Bins: Use a heavy-duty plastic bin with holes drilled in the sides and bottom for aeration.
  • Wire Frames: Construct a circular bin using wire mesh or a metal frame.

6. Collecting Compostable Materials

Greens (Nitrogen-rich materials):

  • Kitchen scraps: fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags.
  • Fresh grass clippings, green leaves, plant trimmings.
  • Eggshells (crush them first).

Browns (Carbon-rich materials):

  • Dry leaves, straw, hay.
  • Cardboard, shredded paper.
  • Wood chips, sawdust (untreated).

Materials to Avoid:

  • Meat, dairy, fats, oils, and bones (attract pests and create odor issues).
  • Diseased plants or weeds with seeds.
  • Treated wood, synthetic or non-biodegradable items.

7. Starting Your Compost Pile

Layering Method:

  • Start with a base layer of coarse material like small branches or straw for drainage and aeration.
  • Alternate layers of greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon), ensuring there’s more carbon than nitrogen to balance the compost.


  • Shred or chop larger materials to accelerate decomposition.
  • Keep the pile moist but not soaked—a damp sponge consistency is ideal. – Turn the compost regularly (every 1-2 weeks) to introduce oxygen and speed up the decomposition process.
  • Monitor the temperature; an active compost pile can reach 130-160°F (54-71°C), promoting faster decomposition and killing pathogens.

8. Maintaining Your Compost

A well-maintained compost pile requires a balance of material types, moisture, and aeration. Here’s how to maintain an effective compost system:

Balancing Materials

  • Greens: Provide essential nitrogen for microbial growth and heat production.
  • Browns: Supply carbon, a necessary energy source for microbes and structural integrity for aeration.

Moisture Control

  • Regularly check the moisture level. If it’s too dry, add water or green materials. If it’s too wet, add browns to absorb excess moisture.


  • Turning the compost introduces oxygen, necessary for aerobic bacteria to work effectively. Use a pitchfork or compost turner to mix the materials.

Temperature Monitoring

  • A hot compost pile is an indicator of microbial activity. If the pile is too cool, add more greens, and ensure it’s adequately aerated and moist.

9. Troubleshooting Common Issues

Odor Problems

  • Ammonia smell: Too much nitrogen. Add more browns (carbon-rich materials).
  • Rotten smell: Anaerobic conditions due to excess moisture or poor aeration. Turn the pile and add dry browns.

Slow Decomposition

  • Pile might be too dry, missing nitrogen, or poorly aerated. Check and adjust material balance, moisture, and aeration.


  • Avoid adding meat, dairy, or oily foods. Cover food scraps with brown materials to minimize smell and attractants.

10. Harvesting Compost

With proper care, your compost will be ready in 3-6 months (hot composting) or 6-12 months (cold composting). Here’s how to know it’s ready:

Signs of Ready Compost

  • Dark, crumbly texture.
  • Earthy smell.
  • Most original materials are unrecognizable.

Harvesting Methods

  • Screening: Use a compost screen to sift out undecomposed materials, which can return to the compost pile.
  • Shoveling: Collect the finished compost from the bottom or center of the pile.

Home Composting System

11. Utilizing Compost

Now that you have rich, dark compost, use it to enhance your garden and home plants: ### Soil Amendment

  • Mix compost into garden beds before planting to improve soil structure and fertility.
  • Spread a 2-3 inch layer of compost over your garden soil and work it in to a depth of about 6-12 inches.


  • Apply a thin layer of compost around the base of plants as mulch to help retain moisture, suppress weeds, and slowly add nutrients to the soil.

Top Dressing

  • Use compost as a top dressing for potted plants, lawns, and garden beds. Spread a thin layer on the surface and lightly work it into the soil.

Potting Mix

  • Create a nutrient-rich potting mix by combining compost with other ingredients like peat, perlite, and sand in appropriate ratios for different plant needs.

12. Composting Do’s and Don’ts


  • Do chop or shred large pieces of material to speed up decomposition.
  • Do maintain a healthy balance of greens and browns.
  • Do keep your compost pile moist but not soggy.
  • Do turn your compost regularly to aerate it.
  • Do use finished compost to improve garden soil health.


  • Don’t add meat, dairy, or fatty foods that attract pests and create odors.
  • Don’t add diseased plants or weeds with seeds, which can spread in your garden.
  • Don’t let your compost pile dry out or become waterlogged.
  • Don’t add pet waste or human waste to compost, as it can contain harmful pathogens.

13. Advanced Composting Techniques

For those who wish to delve deeper into composting methods, here are a few advanced techniques:

Bokashi Composting

  • A fermentation process that uses a special inoculated bran to break down all organic matter, including meat and dairy.
  • Requires a Bokashi bin and bran, but decomposes materials faster than traditional methods.

Hot Composting

  • Speeds up the composting process with higher temperatures, but requires careful maintenance of the pile’s carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, moisture, and aeration.
  • Produces compost in a few months if managed correctly.

Compost Tea

  • A liquid fertilizer made by steeping compost in water, which can be used to provide nutrients directly to plants and improve soil microbial life.
  • Brew compost tea using a porous bag of compost, a water-filled container, and an aquarium pump to aerate the mixture.


Building a home composting system is an impactful way to reduce waste and create a powerful soil amendment for your garden. By following the steps laid out in this guide, you can transform household and yard waste into nutrient-rich compost, benefitting both your plants and the environment.

Composting is more than just a method of waste management; it’s a sustainable practice that nurtures the soil and promotes healthy plant growth. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or just starting out, the benefits of composting are numerous, and the rewards are substantial. Dive into your own home composting system and witness how your efforts can lead to a greener lifestyle and a more vibrant garden.

Happy composting!