A guide to composting for beginners - Ecobuy

If you’re looking to do your part in combating climate change, the solution might be beneath your feet. Welcome to the world of composting: the practice strips back sustainability to its core.

While soil health and its impact on the health of our planet and has recently entered the mainstream environmental conversation, there’s no better time than the present to get your hands dirty with composting.

Here’s something shocking: up to half of the waste thrown out by Australian households is organic material. While there’s no shame in leaving your organic waste to the council bins, there’s an abundance of opportunity for your scraps. 

Put simply, composting breaks down organic material and recycles its nutrients back into the earth. The process enriches the soil by helping its structure, retaining its nutrients and attracting critters like earthworms. Whose presence aerates the soil and contributes to the decomposition of organic matter. Composting also triggers the presence of beneficial bacteria, lowers your carbon footprint and keeps your food scraps out of landfill. You save money on products like fertilisers and manure and reduce methane production and allows your home garden to flourish. 

If a thriving soil ecosystem sounds groovy to you, here’s a quick guide to composting for beginners.

     1. Choose a set-up and a location

A good structure and location is key to successful composting. For small backyards or areas, your best bet is a compost bin. This can be found in any good nursery or garden centre. If you’re handy you can even build a structure yourself using a plastic bin, pallets or a trough. For those with more space to play with, you can opt for a compost heap, pile or bay.

Your compost space should be placed in a semi-shaded spot. This way, it won’t dry out on super sunny days or stay saturated on wet days. It’s also worth thinking strategically about your location: the spot should be accessible for mixing and adding. Compost can also get a little smelly if it’s not sealed in a container, so keeping it away from entertainment areas is a must.

The final key to strategic positioning is to place it directly onto the soil. While it might be tempting to keep it clean on concrete, it’s vital that worms, insects and soil-dwelling microbes have access to the container or heap. While it does work off the soil, you’re bound to see better results placing it directly onto the soil. 

A shovel in the compost


     2. Get to know your waste and how it works

The next step is to get to it! Get educated on what you can and cannot compost, and take the time to understand the roles of each waste material. To make things simple, there are two broad categories of waste that can go into your compost: green waste, which promotes nitrogen and brown waste, which promotes carbon. 

Green material consists of fruit and vegetable scraps, crushed eggshells, green plant cuttings, flowers and used tea and coffee grounds. Brown material consists of things like straw, paper, cardboard, dry leaves, sawdust and newspaper.

While most organic matter can be composted, there’s a few items you should always keep out of your pile. Including, meat, dairy, fat, oil, diseased plants, human waste (or carnivorous pet waste) and charcoal. Another important thing to remember is to keep non-organic matter out of your composting pile if your home garden is purely organic.

It’s recommended to treat composting like a lasagne at the beginning: layering green and brown materials creates a pungent and powerful composting environment. The first layer should consist of bulkier, denser material, so it’s usually best to begin with brown waste. Lay down a layer of sticks, twigs or brown leaves, and top it with green waste like grass clippings or kitchen waste. Continue to fill your container or heap with alternating layers of green and brown waste until you reach the top, lightly watering each layer as you go.

Waste should be the size of your pinky or smaller, and each layer should be no thicker than 10cm. 

Vegetables and a compost bin


      3. Stir and wait

Now that your compost container or heap is layered like a lasagne, the waiting begins. The aim of the game is for your waste material to completely decompose and become mature. This can take anywhere from eight weeks to one year, depending on your environment. You’ll know your compost is mature when it’s dark brown and smells deliciously earthy.

While compost is something you can forget, you’ll get more out of it if you give it some love and attention. To speed up the process, you’ll want to turn and aerate the pile every three to seven days. The microbes in your compost trigger decomposition and need oxygen to get the job done: if there’s no oxygen (in other words, if your compost is not aerated and turned), the microbes die off and slow the decomposition process.

To aerate, simply toss the compost like a salad. There’s no strict rules, and the method is entirely reliant on your environment and the progression of your compost.

Covering the compost with a lid is also a great way to speed up the process. Heat and moisture trigger decomposition and create a flourishing environment for compost.

     4.Use your black gold for good

When your compost is ready, it’s time to return it to the earth. There’s a huge range of ways to use mature compost. For example, using it as a soil conditioner and amending the soil ecosystem, growing flowers, fruit and vegetables, replenishing the soil in pots or plant boxes, maintaining shrub and tree growth and even rejuvenating turf and lawn.