16 Essential Composting Tips for Beginners + 10 Mistakes to Avoid

Person dumping food waste into compost bin

Do you want to ditch the chemical fertilizers and create your very own nutritious finished compost from home? Then you’ve come to the right place! We’re here to offer the best composting tips for all the major composting methods, including indoor composting, winter compositing, tumble composting, worm composting, and more. 

There are so many benefits to composting. Composting doesn’t just reduce your food waste and make you aware of the amount of waste you’re creating. It also leaves you with a valuable resource that can make your plants healthier, if done correctly. If you’re new to composting and are worried about making a mistake, we’re here to assist. To help ensure that your finished compost is healthy and ready to be added to any garden, we’ll be covering multiple informative topics. This includes:


Of course, we don’t need to get into our many composting tips for beginners right away. Let’s first discuss the composting basics of how to start composting at home.


How to start composting at home?

Starting to compost at home is quite simple but requires a little planning ahead. Here are the steps to get you started:

  1. Purchase a compost bin - This compost bin could be an outdoor tumbler, a few wooden pallets for a compost heap, or an indoor electric composter. 
  2. Add a compost activator - Your activator could be manure, healthy soil, alfalfa, or a pre-mixed accelerator. 
  3. Add your organic waste - Maintain a proper balance of brown and green materials when adding your food and yard waste to the pile. 
  4. Turn regularly - If you’re not using an indoor bin or an electric composter, turn your compost regularly to evenly distribute oxygen. 

The way you approach composting will vary depending on the method you choose. By following our detailed tips below, you’re sure to be left with healthy finished compost that reduces your kitchen waste and nourishes your garden. 


Essential home composting tips for beginners

If you don’t love the idea of going outside in winter to turn your cold compost with a pitchfork, don’t worry. There are plenty of indoor composting methods to use year-round, even in small apartments. Here are some simple indoor composting tips to help you begin making high-quality compost at home!


#1 Know what NOT to compost

Woman in garden adding compost to plants

If you want healthy finished compost for your vegetable garden, knowing what not to compost is just as important as knowing what to compost. The household waste you add to your pile will one day be used to nourish your garden, which will then create food that you and your loved ones enjoy. That’s why it’s essential not to try and compost anything that could harm your garden or your health. This includes human waste, cat and dog feces, baby diapers, diseased plants, weed seeds, tiny plastics, or glass. 

For a comprehensive list of what is compostable and what isn’t, check our guide here.


#2 Use an electric composter

Lomi composter next to food scraps

Lomi is easily one of the best indoor compost bins on the market today. Unlike your average compost bin, Lomi is an electric kitchen appliance. It can break down a wider variety of food scraps than most composting methods. It also breaks waste down faster by applying heat and humidity to aid the microbes in decomposing the various organic materials. This leaves you with nutrient-rich dirt, without you ever having to leave the comfort of your home!

 

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#3 Don’t leave your waste exposed

Food waste spilled out onto wood counter

Among all the home composting tips, this one is very very important. You should never leave your waste exposed in a compost bin, as it may attract fruit flies or potentially rodents. The waste will typically begin to emit an unpleasant odor as well. While electric composters like Lomi come with a lid, you may need to purchase a lid for whatever compost bin or bucket you intend on using for your indoor compost. 


#4 Balance your greens and browns

No matter what composting method you use, having a healthy balance of green and brown materials is key. Having too much nitrogen-rich green material in your compost can slow the decomposition process and negatively affect your compost’s texture. For the best results, make sure you’re also adding brown materials like eggshells, tea bags, and straw to your tumbler as needed. If for any reason you need more green materials, you can instead add corn stalks, coffee grounds, or grass clippings.

It’s important to remember that green materials aren’t always green and brown materials aren’t always brown! To learn more about how to balance greens and browns you can check out this article. 


#5 Chop up your kitchen scraps

A person adding kitchen scraps to a bin

Chopping, dicing, or slicing up your kitchen scraps is one of the great composting tips for compost bins, indoor or outdoor. This is an excellent way of making your compost finer, which makes it easier for microbes to break down and speeds up the composting process. Chopping materials like fruit and vegetable scraps or even garden waste can also make it easier for worms to break down compostable material, so make sure to remember this worm composting tip if you try to use a worm composter bin.


 


 

Garden composting tips if you have compost heaps or piles

Do you hope to create fresh compost for your garden via outdoor open-air composting? You’re in luck! Here are some garden composting tips for anyone who intends on having an outdoor compost pile.


#6 Turn your compost pile regularly

A shovel and rake for turning compost

Remembering to turn your pile regularly is an essential of all the compost heap tips. Turning your compost pile allows oxygen and moisture to be evenly distributed, which can hasten the composting process and help you create finished compost faster. You should turn your pile every couple of days using something like a pitchfork or shovel. 


#7 Compost fallen leaves

Pile of dry fallen autumn leaves

Depending on the time of year, you may have large piles of fallen leaves that you don’t know how to dispose of. Thankfully, you can easily add them to your outdoor compost heap. Fallen leaves offer nutrients and lots of soil-improving organic matter. If you worry that too many fallen leaves will throw off the texture or balance of your compost pile, you can always place them inside a biodegradable leaf bag and add that to the compost pile instead. 


#8 Find the right spot for your pile

A person digging a compost trench

Need some more compost pile tips? Make sure you locate your garden compost pile on bare soil somewhere that’s level and well-drained. This is the area where worms will have the easiest time getting into your compost and breaking it down for you. Remember to place your pile somewhere you can access year-round. If possible, also ensure that your compost pile is located where it will get lots of sun (increasing its temperature and aiding the decomposition process). 


Winter composting tips to speed up the process

Backyard with multiple trees in winter

If you’ve ever assumed that you can’t compost during winter, think again! With these straightforward winter composting tips, you can hasten the composting process and dispose of your kitchen waste during the coldest months of the year.


#9 Monitor the pile’s temperature

If you plan on composting during the winter, you’ll definitely need a few fast composting tips. Cold weather can cause the composting process to slow down considerably. That’s why many do a hot composting method where they closely monitor their compost pile’s temperature and try to keep it somewhere between 90 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimal temperature for fast decomposition and can be achieved partly with insulating layers of brown waste like leaves, dead plants, and straw. 


#10 Try vermicomposting

A handfull of compost with worms

If you’re not interested in hot composting tips, no problem. You can also opt for vermicomposting. This is a composting method in which worms (red wigglers ideally) are added to a bin of waste to break down the materials and accelerate the decomposition. Worms struggle to survive winter temperatures, so it’s important to insulate your worm bins with blankets while still ensuring they get enough fresh air. You can also move the compost bin into a shed or garage where they have more protection from the elements. 


#11 Add yard waste to balance nitrogen

A pile of dry yard waste

When dealing with a cold compost pile, most of the scraps added to your heap will be food scraps. Food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings, are considered green material. They’re distinct from brown material because they’re typically very nitrogen-rich. To balance out the nitrogen-rich materials, be sure to add brown materials as well, including straw and other garden waste. This will help keep the decomposition process running smoothly. 


#12 Consider using a compost tumbler

Single chamber

One of the best backyard composting tips anyone can offer is to consider buying an outdoor tumbler. If you’re set on composting outdoors, a tumbler is a great year-round solution that can help speed things up. A tumbler’s chambers can protect your waste from snow and help keep the pile warm as it decomposes. Despite offering considerable protection, no tumbler can provide 100% water resistance. Thankfully, simply adding dry leaves can absorb most if not all excess moisture. 


Top 4 compost tumbler tips for successful composting

A compost tumbler with several ventilation openings

Outdoor compost tumblers offer a relatively fast and easy way to turn your food and yard waste into successful compost that’s ready to be used! If you’re not familiar with tumbler composting bins, here are some informative tumbler tips to help you get started. 


#13 Rotate your tumbler every three to four days

This is probably the most important of all the composting tips for tumbler owners. By rotating your tumbler composting bin, you’re able to turn your compostable materials and allow heat, nutrients, moisture, and oxygen to be distributed throughout the pile. Doing this every three to four days, or at least twice a week, will help you achieve healthier compost faster. The great thing about compost tumblers is that all you have to do is turn a crank!


#14 Add compost activators to your first few batches

Bag of bokashi bran compost accelerator
Image Credit: Bokashi

Tumbler compost bins that haven’t been used are free of the many living decomposers we count on to break down our waste. While biodegradable waste has its own decomposers, it may take more time for your first few batches of waste to break down. That is unless you add compost activators like manure, healthy soil, or an accelerator with lots of live microbes like bokashi bran. Please note, adding an activator to your tumbler compost container isn’t usually necessary after your first couple of batches. 


#15 Make sure there’s sufficient ventilation

No list of outdoor tumbler composter tips is complete without mentioning the importance of proper ventilation! When browsing for tumbler composters online, try to make note of how many openings there are to let oxygen into your compost pile. If you already own a tumbler that doesn’t seem to let in enough air, you can always poke a few extra holes into it yourself!


#16 Add water when necessary

A watering can being used to water something outdoors

Having difficulties with your tumbler compost bin? If your organic material doesn’t seem to be breaking down, it’s likely too dry. Thankfully, you can easily add some water yourself with a watering can or a large measuring cup. You should pour in one to two quarts of water or add some moist food waste. In either case, always spin your tumbler after to help properly distribute the added moisture. If your compost seems soggy afterward, that’s a sign that you’ve added too much water and should probably insert a few carbon-rich brown materials like coffee filters, tea bags, or pine needles to balance things out.


10 common composting mistakes you should avoid

A woman writing the date on soil background

You can have all the best tips for composting in the world and still run into trouble if you make one or two mistakes with your pile. So, here are some composting tips to help you avoid 10 of the most common mistakes people make!

  1. Using too much or not enough water - As we’ve discussed above, moisture is a critical component of any compost pile. That’s why you should check in regularly and take action to ensure that your compost piles aren't too dry or too wet. 
  2. Constantly adding to your pile - If you’re constantly adding fresh material to your pile, your compost will never be fully decomposed and ready to be used. To get around this problem, many people opt to have two composting methods on the go (or a dual-chamber tumbler). 
  3. Trying to compost meat or dairy products - If you attempt to compost meat or dairy products outside of an electric composter or bokashi compost bin, it’s very likely you’ll regret it. These food products can attract pests and tend to smell pretty awful as they decompose. 
  4. Improperly balancing green and brown materials - Any great compost pile will have a healthy balance of green and brown materials. Balancing your high-carbon and high-nitrogen waste helps speed up decomposition and can produce compost with a healthier texture.
  5. Choosing an impractical composting method - When selecting a composting method, don’t choose something that doesn’t suit your lifestyle. For example, there’s nothing wrong with opting for an electric composter like Lomi if you don’t have the property or energy for cold composting. 
  6. Never turning your compost piles - Most composting methods use an aerobic decomposition process, meaning oxygen is essential. If you don’t turn your compost pile regularly, the lack of oxygen could seriously slow the decomposition and kill your worms if you’re vermicomposting.  
  7. Leaving your compost heap open - It’s better to have your compost pile contained in some way, even if it’s between a few wooden pallets. Open compost heaps can be visually unappealing and may even violate municipal laws depending on where you live. 
  8. Adding hazardous materials into the pile - This may seem obvious, but we don’t always know what is considered to be hazardous. Generally, you should never add household cleaning products, human waste, dog or cat feces, or anything containing harmful pathogens to your compost pile.
  9. Adding diseased plants into the pile - Diseased plant materials should never be added to your compost pile, as this could allow the disease to spread to the rest of your garden.
  10. Not covering your food scraps - No matter what composting method you use, you should always cover your various vegetable and fruit scraps with some sort of carbon-rich material after you add them. Even a thin layer of straw or wood shavings can help deter flies and other pests.

 

With all these composting tips and tricks, you have all the information you need to get started. After all, composting for beginners largely comes down to knowing what to compost, what not to compost, and choosing the right composting method.

Whether you opt for an outdoor tumbler or an electric composter like Lomi, you can achieve great results with the tips we’ve offered above. If you’re interested in the latter and would like to reserve your Lomi appliance, you can do so with ease today on our website! If you have any other questions about Lomi or composting in general, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


Written by: E Sawden