Home Composting Methods

Composting is nature's way of recycling, turning organic waste into nutrient-rich soil. You can help the process along by creating the perfect conditions for composting to take place, using various methods according to the amount of space and time available to you. Once you've found the best method, it's a cinch to create organic, natural fertilizer for your yard, lawn or garden.

Anaerobic Container Composting

"Airless" composting requires very little maintenance. It relies on anaerobic microorganisms ("anaerobes") which break down organic waste via putrefaction, the same process that goes on in swamp mud. The process is smelly because its byproducts include methane and hydrogen sulfide. The simplest method is to toss all your nitrogen-rich kitchen waste and grass clippings (but no dry leaves, sawdust or other carbon-rich "brown" material) into a bucket and completely submerge the contents with water. The water will help control the odor by dissolving the gasses. A lid on the bucket will help further to maintain airless conditions, control odor and discourage insects from breeding. Allow at least six months to a year to ensure that all pathogenic organisms have died.

Aerobic Composting in a Heap

Aerobic composting is quicker and less stinky than anaerobic methods. The microorganisms ("aerobes") break down organic material via oxidization, generating heat and carbon dioxide as byproducts. Heat sterilizes the compost by killing off pathogens, fly larvae and weed seeds. The finished product is a crumbly, soil-like substance called "humus" with which you can enrich your garden. Five feet wide by three feet high is the ideal size for a compost pile to retain heat. The ideal ingredients are one part nitrogen-rich "green" material (vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, green clippings) to three parts carbon-rich "brown" material (dry leaves, sawdust, newspaper) and just enough moisture to resemble a wrung-out sponge. You can add kitchen and yard waste directly to the pile as you accumulate it, but you should bury food scraps well to avoid attracting wildlife. Turning the compost heap every few days will help aerate the material and thus speed the process, but once the heap reaches the ideal size and begins generating heat, you should leave it alone.

Aerobic Container Composting

If you don't have enough space for a heap, you can compost in containers just about anywhere. Use the same mix of green and brown material as in heap composting. Add a handful or so of soil to jump-start the process; soil contains about a million of the aerobic microorganisms you need per gram. Container composting takes a little maintenance to keep the process aerobic. Use a couple small trowels or other tools to stir up the contents every few days. If you're using a round bucket, you can lid it tightly and roll the bucket on the floor or pick it up and shake it. Or you can ventilate it by drilling 1/16" holes through the container walls or into a length of 1" diameter PVC pipe stuck down the middle of the contents.

Aerobic Composting with a Tumbler

A tumbler is simply a composting container designed to be easily turned and aerated. A common design involves a barrel installed lengthwise on an axle. Other barrels or compost balls are intended to be rolled freely on the ground.


Add worms to your aerobic compost mix and you're "vermicomposting." Worms eat both brown and green material, breaking it down by use of grit in their gizzards. They excrete a soil-like substance known as "worm castings" which you can use like composted humus to fertilize your plants.

Keywords: aerobic compost, anaerobic compost, compost tumbler, compost pile, compost heap

About this Author

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little is a freelance writer, blogger, and web designer from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a graduate of the professional SF/F workshop Viable Paradise (2006). Recent published work appears at TwilightTales.com and Pangaia.com, with a short story forthcoming at Ideomancer.com (March 2010).