Easy Composting – How To Make Compost Simpler

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Easy Composting – How To Make Compost Simpler

Easy Composting – How To Make Compost Simpler

Tawra is the gardener and as I have said before I’m not quite as good but I do love, love my compost pile. I don’t make it fancy or complicated. I just find a spot in my yard and start piling things on it.

I think I like it so much because it reduces the amount of things in my trash. Not only that, there are things I hate to deal with like dead, smelly formerly-fresh flowers. With a compost pile, I just run the vase of them out to the compost pile and dump. So easy.

I also love it because, if I need soil to pot any of my flowers, I just dig some out of my compost pile and never have to buy any soil.

I use the compost when I reseed my yard. I place a thin layer of it down first, then add seed and then another thin layer of compost to help it along. I also sprinkle some around my flower beds just to give them a little boost.

Here are some more ideas about making composting easy:

Here are things you can add to your compost pile (from Tracy in Ohio):

  • Egg shells, coffee grounds and lawn clippings.
  • Dryer lint. If you must dry your clothes in an electric clothes dryer, at least compost the lint.
  • Hair and fur. Hair adds nitrogen and other beneficial nutrients to compost.
  • Fireplace ashes. Wood ashes contain potassium, a major plant nutrient that can be beneficial depending on the soil type.
  • Cotton, wool, and silk clothing and fabric. Worn-out clothing items made exclusively of natural fibers will decompose faster if you shred them before composting.
  • Full vacuum cleaner bags. Paper vacuum cleaner bags and their contents – as well as all species of non-synthetic debris – are welcome in the compost pile.
  • Nail clippings. The byproducts of pedicures, manicures, and even pet nails are all compostable, provided that they’re polish-free.
  • Rope and string. Rope and twine made out of natural fibers (e.g., cotton, hemp, jute, and manila ropes) will decompose in the compost pile.
  • Leather goods and clothing. Natural leather products will decompose (albeit slowly) in the compost pile.
  • Cotton balls and Q-Tips. Just make sure that your cotton swabs like Q-Tips are 100% cotton and have cardboard or wooden sticks (NOT plastic).
  • Seaweed/kelp. If you live on an ocean or other waterway and your shoreline is being invaded by washed up seaweed or kelp, add it to the compost pile.
  • Stale bread and other grain products. Leftover grain-based food products, including pasta, rice, cereal, crackers, pizza crusts, etc., can be composted (bury them in the pile to deter unwanted pests).

Here is a question from one of our readers. She was hesitating starting a composting pile because she had heard they could smell. She also asked if I had to stir my compost pile all the time.

Tawra is the compost expert but I thought I would answer this because Tawra does stir her compost from time to time and does all the “proper things” to hers, mainly because she usually has a huge garden and yard and it is a very important part of her life.

I, on the other hand, am just an average person who does composting on a smaller scale, which I think many of you would like to do. Here is an answer to the reader’s question:

I’m afraid I am a very laid back composter if there is such a thing. I just toss my compostable things in a small corner of the yard, adding to it when I feel like it and never touch it until I need to get some soil from it. I know that experts say you should stir the compost, layer the items in the pile and do a variety of other things to help it along but I never do any of that and I still get compost so I figure, “Why mess with all those things when I get compost without doing them?” (Note from Tawra: you mess with it if you want it to rot faster.)

I have heard people comment about the smell, too but I have never noticed a problem with it. I did once smell my compost pile the day after I put something on it but the next day the smell was gone and that was the only time I have ever smelled anything unpleasant. (I can’t remember where I was living at the time, which could have made a difference.) (Note from Mike: You’re not supposed to put meat in a compost pile and I know if you do, it will stink terribly.)(Note from Jill: I do know better than that.: ) )

I am not really picky with my compost. I will add a few banana peels, egg shells and other things like that every few days or once a week but I mostly just include grass clipping, dead flowers and leaves. Sometimes I will add paper towels or napkins but not large amounts of those things. I am not sure if I don’t notice a smell because I don’t put many different things in the compost pile or not.

If you are concerned with smell, I would find a corner away from the house and place some things in a pile for 2 weeks and see what happens. The worst thing that will happen is, at the end of that time, you will just have to scoop it up and put it in the trash. On the other hand, you might find that it works great.

I do suggest that you have some variety in your pile. Don’t just place all fruit peels and egg shells but pile grass clippings and/or leaves on it too.

Often, people make these things so complicated with rules and specific ways that things must be done. Then it gets so confusing we don’t want to even bother to try. I say keep it simple. You don’t have to start out composting every little thing. Just do a little and, as you get the feel for what you are doing, start doing more. Hope this helps.


photo by: uberculture


  1. Stephanie says

    Jill-I too would LOVE to have a compost pile. My question is, do you have to mess with stirring it much. I have heard they are a stinky mess. And maybe I have only heard that from the people trying to sell me the $300 barrel. Can you let me know more about your composting?

  2. Donna says

    How long does it take clothes to decompose? The reason I am asking is that I live in an urban area, that won’t take too kindly to a pile of junk sitting in someone’s back yard. I have a compost heap, and it is delightful.

  3. jill says

    I don’t know how long it takes for clothes to decompose to be honest but if it is like other things it really depends on where you live and the climate. My folks live in Colorado and it takes longer for things to decompose there because it is so dry, where here in Kansas things do much faster because of the humility and moisture.

    I usually don’t decompose clothes too because I find 101 uses for my clothes other then decomposing them as a matter of fact it is funny we are talking about this now because last week I gave an article (more like a small book) to Tawra for the newsletter telling all the many ways to use old clothes, rags etc. so if you don’t want to put things in the compose you might watch for this article and it will give you some other ideas.

    Hopes this helps some. Sorry I was so late in answering.

  4. says

    This is really interesting. My mom had a compost bin for years (we lived in the country) and she put everything in there – with the exception of meat. And that did stink. But since this doesn’t say all food scraps, I wonder if maybe that’s why our stunk? I have hesitate for a long time (4 years now since I moved out of my mom’s) about a compost pile in an urban area. But lawn clippings and eggs won’t draw the wildlife (or creepy crawlies) I was worried about. Sounds like a great idea! I wish I didn’t share a yard though, I don’t think my neighbor will take kindly to a compost pile. Next house I guess….

    • says

      Susie I don’t know for sure but I wonder if some of the smell comes from it being in a bin compared to a pile in the corner of the yard. I haven’t had problems with critters in downtown Wichita but if that is a concern I don’t know why a person couldn’t just us lawn clippings, leaves and plants (like dead flowers).

  5. Shari says

    The reason piles will stink is there is too little ‘brown’ to ‘green’. The brown being dried grass, leaves, newspaper, etc. This allows Oxygen to get into it and help the smell. I went to a University class on composting and I asked him about shredded paper and dryer lint. He told me not paper b/c the inks used on paper is not safe for compost and could be toxic. Newspapers are ok b’c they use soy oil. Dryer lint he was leery of b/c most of our clothes have synthetic threads which can also be bad in compost. I do not always have enough grass clippings to match my fruit peelings, but add them anyway. The pile is away from my house, so the smell is not a problem. If the pile smells, try to add more browns. (Fresh mowed grass is considered ‘green’. Let the grass dry out a couple days before adding it, for it to be a ‘brown’.) I had never heard of Q tips being added before but interesting, but the cotton balls make sense, although using them for my face toner, probably makes them unsafe. :)

  6. Marilyn says

    This was the perfect time for me to read this article. I have been moaning and groaning about my garden not producing very well.It is my first. I have been watering it every day because we are under drought conditions here in Florida, but not enough mulch to hold the moisture between waterings is some of my problem. Another mistake,I could only afford a little bit of organic type fertilizer. Next garden will definitely have a lot of compost. I like the corner of the yard idea. Thanks.

  7. Busy Beekeeper Mom says

    Florida, I hear you. Mulching saved my beloved gardening from Texas weeds & Inferno season.

    Mulching will help IMMENSELY with the watering. Want Free mulch? Newspapers covered by cardboard. Or even just cardboard, but I can sneak a lot more organic matter into the garden with the newpapers, and boy do the worms love them. They also seem to insulate the cardboard paths from the damp ground so they take longer than 1 Texas growing season to break down. July heat & humidity make me lazy…

    I collect newspapers biweekly from several offices. I don’t have time to coupon succesfully, especially now that I notice so many of them expire very quickly. (I make from scratch mostly, and coupons are generally for processed stuff. so I give everything that is slick to grateful coupon gurus. They can sort it. If I see from the pantry I will soon need something specific, I ask them to watch for it.

    Anyway – back to Free Mulch. Collect plain brown AMERICAN MADE cardboard (it will have a circular certification stamped on it). Foreign, especially Chinese/Indian cardboard is allowed to have all kinds of heavy metals/banned fumigants etc etc in it, and USA made cardboard is NOT. You don’t want foreign toxins in your garden!

    See a bunch of brown boxes out by the trash? Just ASK – most stores are more than happy to let you haul away all you can stuff in your car/truck, if you do not leave a mess. If you flatten it first, you can pack in a lot.

    Dollar General & Family dollar are great – but ONLY take the US made boxes. Huge sheets can be obtained from Mattess/furnature stores etc. Collect far more than you think you will use – you will be using several layers, which on garden scale, adds up fast. Use American made.

    As the wood in the newspapers & cardboard mulch break down, they may rob some nitrogen from the soil. In BC years (Before Chickens) I’d spray or scatter a high nitrogen fertilizer under the newspapers. Or if you forget or are broke broke mulching day, just keep in mind, those plants may need a bit more nitrogen thru the year.

    Now, at start of each growing season (January, July and October here) I top up the ditch/sunken paths between my mounded raised beds with composted chicken litter, which will be tilled and stacked on top of next year’s raised beds, so lack of nitrogen is not a problem. Off topic again…and I cover the paths in cardboard, so the last decomposition takes place “underfoot”.

    For paths, I SOAK the ground, SOAK the newspapers, start with a layer the almost an inch of newspapers in whole sections, opened out (If the layers are too thick, it is hard to rototill after fall rains, and you end up raking it, and either composting it, or burning it and raking the ashes back onto the garden.) Then I cover in several layers of DOUBLE SOAKED cardboard & soak again. Tromp down if desired, but be careful,it can be slick. After several soakings a few days or whatever apart, the surface dulls up & is less slick. Do your paths first, so the next day, you can sit on them in sunwarmed, clean comfort to piece your newpapers around your plantings :)

    For the beds SOAK the ground, and SOAK the newspapers & SOAK (twice) the cardboard on both sides to make it limp. this lets you shape it to the beds, and squash edges down so that it will not blow away.

    SOAKNIG everything will also make it a breeze to PULL ALL PLASTIC TAPE OFF THE BOXES BEFORE YOU LAYER THEM. It is not fun cutting old plastic tape off your rototiller tines in the fall…. It can be fun taking it off ahead of time – think of settin’ on the porch, chatting as you shell peas etc….

    Everywhere you do not want plants to grow, or weeds to pop up, MULCH IT, even between plants, once up an inch or 2. Folded soaked newspaper sections are great between plants that require more than 6 inches between them. Overlapped flattened rolls of newspaper on both sides of rows of closely spaced plants work great too.

    Yes, the newspapers look really hideous at this point. I learned the hard way, only newspaper as much as you can cover in cardboard – THE SAME DAY :) Hide them with several layers of plain brown cardboard, soak & press down – the cardboard is very good at keeping the wind from blowing it all around, almost foolproof after several waterings.

    I prefer the look of thick straw/hay mulch and the hay totally eliminates blow-around problems, so after I have everything mulched to keep the water from evaporating, and weeds from coming up, I splurge, and purchase good quality horse hay (WEED & SEED FREE COASTAL HAY- NOT JUST REGULAR PASTURE HAY WITH ALL KINDS OF WEED SEEDS IN IT) that has either not been sprayed, or only sprayed with nothing newer than 2-4-d.

    It is VERY IMPORTANT to ASK & KNOW WHAT THE HAY HAS BEEN SPRAYED WITH. Newer exotic PASTURE & HAYFIELD herbicides will destroy your garden. As they rot, they release the herbicide, which lasts for 5 to 7 YEARS….ie- Aminopyralids or clopyralids. DO NOT ACCCEPT OR BUY hay or straw treated with Vitax Lawnclear 2, Verdone Extra, Charter, Forefront and Pharaoh. Those Herbicide residues will kill your garden. I have a bare area, victim of a bale I bought from an unknown source before I knew this, to remind me. It’s been 3 years, and I suppose I should just make the bareness useful, and put a sitting/table area there…

    If you have a neighbor or are even just buying, you can also ask if they have any “spoiled” or “old” hay back at the barn. It will often go for $1 to $2 a baleI (rather than $6 or more for fresh), or even free -if you will take it off their hands.

    I have a neighbor who had been giving me “spoiled hay” for the garden- bottom bales etc – once he realized I was actually BUYING hay. He did this because he is a great guy, because as a gardener himself, and a hayfarmer he knew of the residual herbicide dangers (which I had yet to witness – as I did that year (above) And he had just been burning the old hay to make room for new…

    But with the 2 year drought down here in Texas, he has sold all he had so fast, nothing had time to go stale or get damp. Luckily I found another good supplier of square bales. Round bales won’t fit in the hatchback :)

    Add as much hay or straw as you want, and top up mid summer, because it breaks down, and the sun is strongest then.

    Well, it’s time to round up the chickens for the night. Happy FREE mulching!

  8. Sandra says

    I find I have a “formal” and an “informal” compost pile. My regular compost is at the side of my garden for ease of use and I try to do some turning etc with it. It works very well and I have had no problems with smells. When we built this house 20+ yrs ago the back fence was placed on the property line and there is about a 3 ft. embankment and about 6ft. of space from where the house lot was leveled back to the property line. This has become our “informal” compost pile. Everything from sticks, branches, cut bushes to grass clippings, fall leaves. weeds. etc go into this ditch. Although it takes longer to decompose, guess where the riches soil in my yard is? You got it! the ground is now 1.5 ft higher than when I started and anything taking root back there quickly grows to massive size if not cut.

  9. Alison says

    This site is a great resource!! I love it. A lot of great comments filled with knowledge, wisdom and last but certainly not least, common sense.

  10. Elizabeth says

    I am a freak about composting stuff – I even run it through the food processor before putting it in the compost container. There are only the 2 of us, and we don’t have much compostable stuff. I keep my compost in a big patio plastic plant container with a lit on it. I stir it up when I add things. I’m getting a 1 gallon ceramic container for the kitchen. I haven’t noticed any smell except good earthy humus smell. The only smell I’ve noticed is when I’ve put in a bunch of eggshells without washing them first. But I don’t have that much time and energy to devote to eggshells.

    My husband is supposed to put together a 50-gal drum for composting when he recovers from an illness. My question is, what do I put in the BIG compost bin to get things started? We just don’t have much compost around here!

    • says

      You can put pretty much put anything in there. Grass clippings, veggie scraps, paper napkins, egg cartons that are made of pressed cardboard, paper plates etc.

  11. Mary Jane says

    I have composted for over 30 years now, and I am afraid that I am one of those laid back composters. We started with a piece of metal culvert standing on end, at one end of the garden. I just toss all food scraps and biodegradable stuff in there. The culvert keeps it contained. There is no reason that you can’t put meat scraps in (except bones) from a compost point of view, but you run the risk of attracting wild life and neighbourhood pets. We add to the culvert/compost pile all winter, then rototill it all into the garden come spring. All spring and summer we add to the pile, and then rototill it all in at the end of harvest. Because we have a colder climate, for sure not everything is totally broken down when we do this, but by rototilling it in twice a year, that takes care of it. I did learn that it is best to leave the top of the culvert uncovered, or to water it regularly if you feel the need to cover the pile. We have rabbits, so there is lots of manure to add as well. However, corncobs, pits from tree fruits and some vines do not break down in a reasonable time for me, so I avoid adding them to the heap. I love how I have a handy, productive option to dispose of vast quantities of peelings and veggie waste during canning season. I now have two gardens, and a compost heap in the corner of each one.


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