3 Simple Steps to Start Composting

Three simple steps to start composting and why you should want to 3 Simple Steps to Start Composting

[Note from Katie: Today I'm welcoming Kristen to share some simple tips on saving money and improving food quality with composting.]

Enter Kristen…

For centuries, countless cultures have understood that good food is the best medicine. These days, I’m realizing that might not always be the case.

Sadly, this widely available resource is becoming less and less effective. Conventional agricultural systems are depleting the health of the soil (1/3 of the World’s farm land is now barren because of soil degradation) and limiting the availability of vital nutrients to crops, inevitably dwindling our well-being.

Luckily, the solution is right at our fingertips.

Closing the nutrient loop

Compost is what happens when organic material (like food and plant debris) breaks down to become organic, nutrient rich fertilizer for plant growth. By composting food that goes uneaten, left over vitamins and minerals get recycled back through the soil and into the food we grow and eat.

The choice should be easy but many of us don’t have the faintest idea where to begin. Here are 3 easy steps to help you close the nutrient loop.

1. Decide on your method

As the environmental, economical and physical benefits of composting are becoming more well known, communities across the world are encouraging (some even mandating) households to separate their organic waste from other types of trash.

Curbside Collection

Some city municipalities (e.g. Western Disposal in my hometown, Boulder, CO) collect organic waste from homes, businesses, schools and restaurants. They then process it and return the finished product back to local farmers and gardeners. It’s pretty fantastic. To find out if this service is available to you, call your waste hauler or enter your zip code at findacomposter.com.

DIY Composting 

If you don’t have curbside collection, here’s what you need to know to do it yourself.

Select an Outdoor Bin 

Choose a bin that works best for your space and lifestyle. Personally, I like tumblers because they’re easy to maneuver. However, I have to admit, saving money is always appealing too. If cheaper equals better (and you don’t mind DIY projects), you can use retired shipping pallets to build your own compost pile.

A No-Space Solution

Don’t have a backyard? Don’t worry. A worm bin is another method for recycling food waste with limited space. Bonus: kids love playing with worms so making a worm bin is a fun family activity.

Follow a Compost Recipe

Composting is a science but can be as simple or complex as you’d like. From what I can recall, the simple chemical equation would look something like this:

N + C + 02 + H2O ––> Compost  (sans coefficients)

Did your eyes just glazed over? Sorry. Let’s stick with an easy recipe.


Create layers using:

  • 1 part green material (defined below) 4 parts brown material (defined below) A sprinkle of water

Stir occasionally. To “stir” (aka turn) your pile, use a shovel or pitchfork to bring the bottom layer of your pile to the top. Or, if you’re using a tumbler, spin the bin two or three revolutions at a time.

Your compost may take anywhere from 1-6 months to be fully cooked. It all depends on the proportions of your ingredients and frequency of stirring (once a week is good).

2. Know what is compostable

Kitchen Waste

Whichever method you use, the following items are generally* safe to compost.

Green Material

  • Fruits and vegetable scraps Coffee grounds and tea leaves/bags

Brown Material

  • Dead/wilted plants and flowers Paper towels and napkins Soiled newspaper and cardboard Stale bread and crackers Junk mail

*If you have curbside collection, check with your service provider to see if they accept additional items.

Yard Waste

Green Material

  • Fresh cut grass  Weeds (avoid weeds with seeds)

Brown Material

  • Dry leaves and grass Straw Sawdust

3. Establish a method to the madness

Composting food waste is something you’ll do every day and being organized will help solidify your new habit.

From the Cutting Board to the Outdoor Bin

Decide how you’re going to get your kitchen scraps outside. Some people take their food waste out after each meal. Others collect and store their scraps in a small countertop container that gets emptied every other day, or so.

Personally, I struggled with the time commitment of the first and the odors and fruit flies of the second. That’s why my family and I dedicated (years now) figuring out how to make kitchen composting easier. With input from our community, we’ve developed a kitchen compost bin that’s easy to use, clean and odor-free.

The next best alternative, I’d say, is storing your food scraps in the freezer until you run out of space.

Collecting Yard Waste

Curbside Collection

With curbside compost collection you can just toss yard waste directly into the curbside bin after cleaning up. Easy-peasy!

DIY Composting

If you’re making your own compost, find a good place to store yard waste where it’s close to your compost pile but protected from the elements. You might want to use a heavy-duty container or trash bag to keep the brown material dry. Too much (or too little) moisture can impede the composting process. Add your brown material as needed to maintain the recipe above.

Now, go for it! And don’t forget to apply the finished compost to your homegrown plants to make your medicine more effective.

Why are you going to start composting? Do you have access to a compost service or will you be making your own?

About Kristen:

Kristen Hess loves people and nature and is passionate about promoting and celebrating the harmonious wellbeing of each. She is the Co-founder of CompoKeeper LLC, a Boulder-based business that makes composting a more rewarding experience through education and well-designed composting products.

Reader Comments

  1. Clea Willow says

    I live in Telluride Colorado (8750 ft, 6 months of winter). When I lived on a couple acres I could just keep it outside and despite the cold it would maintain enough heat in the center to keep working! Now, I live in town…I have tried worms, my family of 5 with a csa and lots of carrots tops and kale stems overwhelmed them and they now live in my garden. I’ve seen the barrels that I could stash in my garage and I’ve been wondering who to ask!!! Could the barrel work for us?!

    • ImaCompoKeeper says

      Hi Clea, I went to the Blue Grass Festival in Telluride this summer. It was amazing, what an incredible place to live! Which kind of barrel do you mean? If you’re talking about a tumbler (usually an elevated barrel with an easy way to rotate it, like this one for example : http://www.wagle.com/composters/compost-tumblers/black-barrel-compost-tumbler-71-gallon ) that could absolutely work for you. If you have space in the garage that should be a good place to keep the bin warmer, but you’ll want a good way of emptying your finished compost without making a huge soil mess in your garage. By turning the compost a few times a week that will keep the microorganisms working and the contents hot enough. If you’re keeping it in your garage I’d be extra intentional about the balance of green vs brown material because if it’s off the compost could end up smelling bad. I’ve never actually experienced composting in the extreme cold at that elevation, so you might have to do a little trial and error.

    • Katie Flynn says

      you should look into a worm factory or equivalent, they are great for the garage and the worms break down the food quicker than it would compost on its own.

  2. Katie Flynn says

    glad to see this article. i previously lived in south carolina and had a worm factory in my garage. it worked out great, had a few fruit fly incidents though (i was adding food too quickly). now we live in SF bay area and there is curbside pick up! yay! for my worm bin (which is now outside – critters are less of a problem here) i have always kept a plastic container in the fridge and once a week empty into the worms. i will continue this method, but for my street side pickup they take many more things than i would put in my worm bin i.e. greasy takeout boxes, bones, really any leftovers. i havent yet come up with a good kitchen solution for storing those items. suggestions?

    • ImaCompoKeeper says

      Hi Katie, Kristen here. Under the From the Cutting Board to the Outdoor Bin I described a project that my dad and I have been working on for 4 years, The CompoKeeper, an odor-free, fruit-fly free option for kitchen compost collection http://kck.st/19wiB9M Sounds like this could be the perfect option for you!

      • Heather says

        Kristen, are these available at all? I love this idea and would really like to have one in my kitchen!

  3. Jennifer says

    For my compost system, I use a large, tough trash can. I drilled several holes for aireation and drainage–bottom, sides, and in the lid. Twice a week and after a rain I lay it on its side and roll it around a bit to stir it up and/or let excess water drain out. Helps my yard a little bit, too. So far, this has been an easy and effective method. It was a lot cheaper than commercial bins and tumblers; I don’t ever have a smell problem. I plan to buy one more large trash bin to start a second batch while this one turns itself into golden food for my garden beds.

    • ImaCompoKeeper says

      Jennifer, that’s great! I love your cost effective, resourceful method. I think the double system is smart too. That way you can process one batch all the way without adding fresh waste and throwing the chemistry off.

  4. says

    I agree, thank you for your post this really informs everyone that there is something we can do lessen the population even in a little way. Can we also include biodegradable plastics in recycling back to the soil?

    • ImaCompoKeeper says

      Look for the “compostable” label specifically! Biodegradable and compostable are different in nature and in how long they take to break down.

  5. kayle olson says

    Awesome! Just started my own compost bin(trash can)! I am gonna have some fantastic soil for my garden & plants!

  6. Heather says

    Ok- this is the coolest idea ever. I really want one of those compost bins! I stopped saving stuff due to fruit flies. I started keeping my bucket on my deck, but that invited hornets too. Anyway, fabulous idea, I ‘d love one and I would love to see it try again for funding, if it didn’t get any before.

  7. Carolyn German says

    but how do I “build” the greens from the browns in a everyday eating day? do I have to separate the leftover and then throw it in order? afterall they are going to get “turned”

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