The Best Composting Methods

Creating your own compost is an easy activity that will help teach children and adults how nature works. The valuable lesson of creating compost is that as plant materials break down and decompose, they form a rich soil-like medium, which is good for growing and fertilizing plants. When you have your own compost, you will also save money that you might have spent on chemical fertilizers. Both you and the environment will be winners.

Piles on the Ground

"Heap" composting is an easy method of creating compost that does not require you to build or purchase a container for your yard waste, food scraps and other organic materials you add to a compost pile. Typically, a heap compost pile is approximately 3 ft square by 3 ft high. Begin your heap compost pile by layering several inches of dry, brown plant material such as fallen leaves on the ground. Then add a smaller layer of fresh, green plant material or food scraps. Continue piling layers of brown and green materials until your pile is 3 feet high, and then sprinkle it well and cover it with black plastic or a tarp. You can choose the active or passive method of composting: with the active method, you will turn your pile every two weeks or so and composting happens faster than with the passive method, where you do not turn your pile.

Purchased Holding Units

Purchased holding units are compact, convenient and attractive in back yards where appearance is important. Purchased units are usually made of heavy black plastic and contain a snug-fitting lid, vents on the sides and a removable panel at the bottom where you can dig out your finished compost from the bottom of the unit. The University of Illinois reports that compost does not happen as quickly in a purchased unit as it does in a "heap" that you regularly turn.

Rotating Units

Rotating compost units are composters that you can turn, giving an easy solution to turning your compost pile. These units are usually a rotating barrel or a rolling ball, according to the University of Illinois. With this type of system, you'll be turning your compost every 10 days or so, resulting in finished compost in about two months. Rotating units don't hold as large an amount of materials as do other types of units, but for ease of use and speed, it's a good method.

Worm Bins

You can keep red wiggler worms in a special box, feed them your food scraps and wait a short time for your box or bin to generate "worm castings," which are the worms' rich excrement. But worm castings are nearly odor-free and are a very rich source of plant nutrients you can use to fertilize all of your plants---from houseplants to fruit trees. An easy method of building a worm bin is to use three plastic storage boxes, such as the kind you would use to store a sweater. Drill small holes in the bottoms of two of your boxes and nest them on top of the third box that has no holes. Place food scraps and moist newspaper strips in the top bin, along with some purchased worms. When the top box starts to accumulate worm castings, switch it to the center location and then add fresh food scraps and moist newspaper strips to the top box: your worms will migrate upward through the holes, leaving only castings in the middle bin. When all worms and food scraps have left the middle bin, use it as fertilizer by mixing about 1 tbsp of castings to 1 gallon of water. Water your prized plants with this solution just as you would use any other liquid fertilizer.

Keywords: composting methods, heaps rotating, worm bins

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hiā€˜iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Barbara wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, and She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.