We all know by now that composting is important to the environment. It allows natural waste to return to the earth, while adding a nutrient rich material to our gardens. When you want to know how to start composting, all the advice can seem a little overwhelming. Compost Bins? Temperature? What to put in a compost bin? It can seem confusing, but it don’ts have to be. So let’s learn how to compost with the 3 most common composting techniques for the home gardener.



How to Compost

Hot Composting – Open Bins

Hot composting is the most intensive method, but also the fastest way to get finished compost. It involves building compost piles that have a balance of green material (nitrogen), oxygen, water and brown material. The most common method is a three bin open bin method. Made of open slats to allow the piles to breathe, this option is not a great choice for those with limited space, or who will not keep up with turning the pile…. But for those with a little space in the back of the garden, it’s the fastest way to generate a larger amount of compost, and to utilize a larger amount of scraps. Here’s how to compost using an open bin hot compost pile.

Build or buy three, side by side compost bins. ‘Backyard Feast‘ has a complete tutorial on building the ultimate compost bin.


Bin #1 will be for brown materials…kind of a holding area for things you want to compost.

Bin #2 is where all the action happens.

  • In this bin, layer brown and green materials (green materials include fresh grass, leaves, veggie scraps, etc… browns include dried leaves, twigs, and dead plant material) until you have a ratio of approximately 2 parts brown to 1 part green.
  • Wet the pile with water until moist, but not soggy.
  • Turn the pile regularly with a spading fork to allow air to reach the pile and to mix the nitrogen throughout the pile.
  • Wait for the pile to get hot, and to start composting for you! Basically, the more attentive you are to turning the pile, keeping it moist and not adding any new material until its finished, the faster you will get compost. That gives you a window of 6-12 months. Compost is done when it is warm, not hot, and smells and looks like a sweet soil amendment, and no longer like rotting cantaloupe. :) Move the compost in bin #2 to bin #3 to “settle” and continue to cool until you need to use it. Start another hot pile in bin #2 from all the stuff you have been holding in bin #1! Photo by ‘Trulia‘.

3 Composting Techniques Everyone Should Know

The benefits to having the three bin system is that you can continue to collect brown materials during the season in bin #1, and that once you move the compost to bin #3 to settle, you can start over again with a new compost pile. Moves things along a lot faster!

You can also create a hot compost pile in just one bin if you have don’t have space, or don’t have much material to compost… it just means you can only work on one pile of compost at a time. ‘This Old House‘ shows you complete plans on making a single compost bin.


Hot Composting – Closed Bins or Tumblers

This is a one bin system where you use a closed bin or tumbler, add the same “hot” ratio of green to brown and water, then turn the bin itself to mix the ingredients once a week or so. This saves you from having to deal directly with the compost, and saves a little on your back as well! The downside is that you can only make a small amount of compost at a time. If you don’t want to buy a tumbler, ‘Full Measure of Happiness‘ shows us how to make compost in a DIY compost bin from a plastic garbage can!


A more intensive project will keep you composting like a pro. ‘Urban Farm Online‘ has a tutorial for this DIY compost tumbler you can use year after year.


Cold Composting – Otherwise known as the lazy mans compost pile!

So for all of you groaning out loud because all that sounds like so much work, I have good news. Stuff will compost with or without your help. It’s just a matter of how fast! Cold composting works, but it can take 1-2 years, depending on what kind of materials you have in your pile. Basically, this is the way to do it…

  • Make a pile 3×3 feet of compostable materials, the smaller the pieces, the better, so shred!
  • Add some water, or not, and cover if you want to speed the process along… or not. :)
  • When, and if, you think of it… turn it, water it, and then forget it again.
  • Wait until it’s done. Voila!

This infographic by Well Home (site no longer published) tells your everything you need to know about how to compost with hot and cold composting, and also some less well known (and one icky!) composting techniques.

3 Composting Techniques Everyone Should Know

Where To Buy Compost Bins

So if your schedule isn’t quite conducive to building these compost systems right now, thats ok. Here are some suggestions on where to buy compost bins, for each of the three methods.

Hot Composting – Open Bin Compost Bin

You might want to try this “Stationary Composter”. You could even use several together for using the 3 bin system. Made of cedar, good reviews for ease of assembly.

Creative Compost Bin Ideas

Closed Composting – Tumbler Composters

We think this “Redmon Tumbler Compost Bin” looks like a good choice for tumblers. It looks a lot cleaner and easier to manage than some of those larger ones.

Creative Compost Bin Ideas

Cold Composting – Wire Compost Bins

Want to go at it with the “Lazy Mans” method? Hey, at least you are composting and getting real about the time you have for it! Instead of just a pile on the ground, consider a wire compost bin to just keep it all neat and tidy.

That’s it! Three easy techniques for how to compost everyone should know! It’s not rocket science, and there is no compost police that is checking to make sure you have turned your pile this week. Just remember, the more attention you give it, the faster it will give you a wonderful, organic soil conditioner for your garden! Now jump on over to our post 12 DIY Compost Bin Ideas or DIY Garden Gates!



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  1. mike November 16, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I have a good size yard with lots of grass and several deciduous trees. I also have a neighbor on both sides with similar situations. I have talked one into giving me his yard waste when I noticed he followed my lead in buying a bagging mower last year. Last year I piled my leaves on my garden and used my tiller to turn then when temps got above freezing. This was too much work and poor results because I had too little green to mix in. This year i have four bins constructed with shipping pallets tied and screwed together. I finished 3 full bins over the summer and just filled all four with this years leaves and grass I had been saving during the summer but ran out of halfway through the fourth bin. I should end up with two to two and a half full bins once they settle and compost which will be about 4 cu. ft. of free compost that this year tripled my garden production.

  2. Joe January 13, 2015 at 9:10 am

    I’ve read to add a few PVC pipes with holes drilled (or some type of sticks or poles) through the middle to allow air to reach the center of the pile, no turning. if using poles, you would just leave a few inches (enough to grab) and pick up on it and shake a bit to get air in the pile. Turning a pile in a confined area is no fun. There are better ways to manage your pile.

    1. Cecil September 16, 2016 at 6:38 am

      I was thinking this as well. Also I was thinking that you could use a bulb drill bit or lawn drill bit. They are 12-24 inches long. A couple inches in diamiter. Use a good electric drill or high grade battery drill to drill down through the pile and mix it up loosen the pile. It also would bring air to the middle of the pile.

  3. Martha in Aurora, CO September 20, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    I guess I have a hybrid composting method. I have two open bins. I bag my leaves in the fall and save 12, one for each month. I add all my kitchen scraps (except animal products). I add to one bin for 6 months, then let it sit and add to the other bin for 6 months. I add leaves to both bins and turn them frequently. Both of my bins are FULL of earth worms, and I have great ‘dirt’ to give away or use at the end of a 12 month period.

    1. Kathy Woodard September 23, 2014 at 11:01 am

      Thx for the feedback Martha! We agree, composting isn’t an exact science, once you have the basics you can design the system that works for you…


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