In pursuit of a simple, fabulous, imperfect life at home.

A Simple Guide to Composting for Beginners

Composting for beginners

Aside from creating nutrient dense soil for your yard and garden, composting also helps to detoxify the soil, protect land from erosion and, of course, diverts food waste from a landfill where it won't have the necessary conditions to decompose properly.

I love compost.  Just the either day I brought a bag of pineapple peelings home from a friend's house because she didn't have a compost pile and I couldn't bear to throw the scraps in the garbage. Seriously. The fact that I can turn kitchen waste into nutrient dense soil for my garden  appeals to my trash-to-treasure heart.

It's also a great way to teach our kids about our planet's beautiful systems of regeneration!

What you need in order to start composting:

Composting is easy and you really only need two things to begin:
1. A place to put the scraps when you are in your kitchen.  You can buy fancy lidded compost pails, but those aren't necessary and are generally far too small for a family.  We use a white kitchen trash pail and we fill it nearly every day.  It doesn't need a lid, because it doesn't stink, because we dump it outside every evening. We keep it next to our garbage pail under the kitchen sink.

2. A place to dump the compost in your yard.  This could be as simple as a ring made out of chicken wire, or as complicated as a store bought tumbling barrel composter. We have a three bin system made out of scrap lumber and hardware mesh.  At any given time one bin holds fresh compostables, one has compost in them making, and one has finished or nearly finished compost.  Whenever we empty out the finished compost we start using that bin for our fresh compostables so that the other two bins can finish breaking down. 

(I built my compost bin with my own two hands and my hubby's power tools while he was at work one day several years ago.  I built it using the plans from a book called "Crockett's Victory garden", but it is similar to this tutorial here.)

What you can compost:
Aside from fruit and vegetable scraps, here are some of the other things we compost:
  • coffee grinds and tea bags
  • egg shells
  • stale bread
  • floor sweepings and the contents of my vacuum canister
  • dryer lint
  •  leftover porridge or rice that didn't get eaten
  • little paper cupcake cups
  • nail clippings and hair trimmings
  • facial tissues
  • the occasional half eaten pickle found under the sofa (true story) 
  • paper bags, when I have one that would otherwise be recycled (I like to line the bottom of my can with them!)
  • Lawn and garden clippings
Basically anything except meat or bones. I never, ever, ever compost meat because it can cause a whole host of problems like slow decomposition, pests, and maggots. If there were maggots in my compost I would cry.

What about all this talk of nitrogen rich materials and carbon rich materials? 

Some books and websites are going to stress you out with all sorts of talk about nitrogen rich materials (such as vegetable scraps) and carbon rich materials (such as leaves and newspaper) but it is really as simple as this: if the pile smells bad or is slimy, add some carbon.  Give the whole thing a little turn with a pitchfork every now and then. Easy, right?  

Does it stink?

Compost shouldn't smell unpleasant. Occasionally it smells a bit sweet and citrus-y, but generally it just smells like fresh lovely garden dirt! If it stinks, add leaves, newspapers, or torn up cardboard.

To Recap:
  • Take your kitchen compost out to the compost heap often.  Because composting is great, but not if it's happening under your kitchen sink.
  • Don't put meat in your compost. 
  • If it smells, add carbonaceous material. 
  • Relax, this is something nature has been doing for pretty much forever without your'll do fine.
Thanks so much for visiting The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking.  


  1. Thanks Kelly, this is just perfect for me who is totally lacking in green fingers but really wants to do better in the garden. You've made composting feel like it is something I CAN achieve!!

  2. Hi Kelly, you have described composting so good. Easy to understand and enjoyable!! Thank you so much for sharing and I love the idea of three bins. Mine is only two and I can see the need for three. Blessings and smiles, Emilou :-) Love your new photo.

  3. Do you feed your chickens any scraps and do you put the waste from their run/coop in your compost? Thanks for sharing!

  4. The highlight of this post, for me, was seeing your fly-swatters on a command hook inside your cupboard door. Brilliant idea! We generally store our fly-swatters on top of the fridge... and they have a tendency to wander away. I know where they'll find a good home now. :)

    On to the real reason for your post, I love it. :) I have been wanting a composting system for several years, maybe this summer will be the one? We have plenty of scrap lumber around!

  5. I was always under the understanding you needed worms for proper composting. I think I read they add air and help speed up the process. You didn't mention worms. Are they unnecessary?

    1. Hi Michelle. The addition of worms in composting is called vermicomposting. It's a great thing, but not entirely necessary. Earth worms will find your compost on their own! I sometimes pay my children a nickle for every earthworm they find in the yard and put in the compost heap....that's as close to vermicomposting as we get! :)

  6. This is something I've been wanting to do for a while now but I have one concern. Rodents. Does the food attract mice to or near your house?


    1. Hi Monica. The only animal I've ever found in the compost is a family of moles burrowed inside in early spring. We picked them up with a shovel and moved them to a safe place. And that only happened once in years of composting. We haven't had a problem with mice at all.

  7. how sunny or shady should the composting site be?

    1. Depending on where you live it shouldn't be at a really sunny place, because it has to be kept somewhat damp. Otherwise you would have to water it regularly in summer.

  8. Ah! I KNEW it didn't have to be as complicated as some websites make it seem. I'm from a little farm in IL where the soil is fabulous for growing things and where we relied on composted horse manure for fertilizer. However, I recently married and moved to SC where the soil is red and better for making BRICKS. We're preparing to downsize from his large bachelor home and find a little cottage home with enough space for at least a garden and a compost pile! Thanks for your matter of fact way of simplifying the carbon/nitrogen issue!

  9. Just and FYI. My family is vegetarian and there is never ANY meat or bones in our compost. We DO however get maggots. I guess it's a semi-normal thing depending on your area and climate, according to my panic-driven internet seach. I got rid of them by watering the compost less often and adding more "browns". The few weeks of flies all over the backyard was terrible though.

  10. I really want to start composting but I live in the country... like we have bobcats, raccoons, deer, tons of mice, squirrels & chipmunks, bunnies, porcupines, and the occasional cougar or bear- I don't want to be attracting these animals... do you know how this could work for me?

    1. You could get thermo compost bins. Just google it, they work just as well! I would also recommend not to used any cooked or baked leftovers, such as boilt potatoes or bread. Those attract rodents and others a lot more than uncooked vegetable or fruit peelings.

    2. Thank you so much for the advice! I will do some research on those bins :)

  11. I really enjoy how you simplified the composting process for the average person. Amazing how we humans can over complicate such simple processes the earth has been maintaining for thousands of years! I'm sure you are aware of simple recycled shipping pallet compost bins. I think I will use a combo of those plans and your plans to finally construct my compost bins this summer.

    Thanks for all your great content! Sure do love your blog but definitely miss your 'Year of Less' ideas. Having less really is more, and I really appreciate you bringing that to light to me and my family!

  12. Just wanted to share that you can add bones to your compost that have been used to make broth/stock, as the meaty parts are usually all gone, leaving the nutrient dense bones, and won't attract the yucky stuff like maggots.


  13. Thanks for the information. I really like the 3 bin system. Also, I have only used kitchen scraps - I never knew about using cardboard. All this time, I've just been recycling my cardboard with the city and I could've been recycling it right in my compost! Great info!

  14. I live on a military installation and we aren't supposed to have a compost pile, but I'm gonna see if I can get away with it! About the bones, I've heard that if you throw them into your fire pit and then smash them with one of your nice rocks that line it, its great to throw in your compost for bone meal. I don't see that this would be a problem because the small pieces will compost much more quickly and the burning has also sped up the process. I don't want to ruin my compost pile before I start it, so do you have any thoughts on that?

  15. This is wonderful! Thanks for the advice. My husband has been wanting to compost but I've been the one holding back because I don't want a stinky yard. This showed me that, that doesn't have to be a problem.

    One question, Do you compost with chicken poo?

  16. I ran across your blog trying to find out about your drying rack, read some homeschooling things, and now this. We started composting back in the spring and so far have only been throwing food scraps and the occasional newspaper in there. Thanks for this list, I'll be adding those cupcake papers and dryer lint.

  17. You've mentioned that you use paper bags for draining bacon & fried foods, but I'm guessing you don't compost those. You could, however, add the grease soaked paper to your fire pit because the oil-soaked paper will act as a kind of kindling to help get the wood or charcoals burning when you're making outdoor fires. Don't store them in the house because of the attraction to ants or worse! I think just putting them into the firepit with a large rock for a weight would work, until you get ready to make a fire.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...