Ways to Start Composting Kitchen Waste – A Beginners Guide

If you are keen to start composting your kitchen waste this guide will step you through everything you need to know.  I have been composting for years, both on a large scale on acreage to a small backyard compost that I have now. With this guide you will have everything you need to get started on composting your kitchen waste.

This guide will start you off by creating a small backyard compost.  This will be using your scraps from your kitchen and a small outdoor space.

This can then be scaled up from there but this guide will run you through the essential principles you need to know for a successful compost.

You will learn the tricks and tips that I have discovered after years of composting which will help you create amazing compost in no time at all.

I will also discuss other options for those who don’t have a backyard.  There are some really great ways that you can still compost, and avoid wasting those kitchen scraps even if you live in an apartment. I will also mention worm farming and how this is a great way to compost kitchen scraps if you are lacking backyard space.  

If you are an experienced composter, I am sure that you will pick up something new that will help to improve your compost. I know I am always reading books from experts and learning new ways to make my compost even better.

What you will need to start composting

Container for the kitchen scraps

Placing a container on your kitchen bench is the easiest way to collect kitchen scraps as you prepare your food. Choose a small container with a lid to avoid the food going smelly and attracting insects.

It is fairly unrealistic to think that you will dash out to the compost every time you create food scraps when prepping food so having a small container is a great solution.  You can also think about other places you may want to collect food scraps like your workplace or school.

Maybe your workplace won’t mind if you place a container in the kitchen to collect others scraps.  That way you will save their waste from heading to landfill if your office doesn’t have a green waste bin available.

What you use for a container is up to you.  I have used an old plastic container that I have had hanging around in my kitchen for years.  It was a bit broken on the edges but made a perfect kitchen waste collector. You could use an old ceramic bowl, an empty ice cream container or purchase one.  

The good thing about the ones specially made for this is that they come with a specialized lid which allows air flow but traps in any smells. It can sit under your kitchen counter or can be hung on the inside of a cupboard door.  This one will keep in any smells and keep bugs out.

It is important to empty the container as often as possible, aiming for once per day (however I tend to only empty mine every few days.)  Depending on the climate you live in you may need to empty it more or less. The warmer and more humid the climate the more often you will need to empty the scraps into your compost bin. Also if you have a special sealed container you  will need to empty it less often as any smells will be contained.

It is important to remember to keep it out of reach of kids or pets.  The main reason is that if it is knocked over it will make a bit of a mess.  I however let my eldest son reach it to put in his food scraps after eating or when helping me to prepare dinner.  That way he learns to recycle food (and it saves me the job of cleaning off his plate).

A compost bin

There are lots of options for home compost bins that range from completely free to $400 plus including a half wine barrel.

My home compost bin

This is what I am using at the moment.  You can grab these from most garden centres or where you buy garden pots. It is the perfect size for a small backyard which is what I have at the moment.  Don’t believe the stories that you need a certain size compost bin, as long as you use the one third, two thirds method that I will speak about later, you will be fine. Just choose one to suit the amount of compost you want to make.  You can always source more compost ingredients.

Plastic compost barrel

These compost barrels you may be familiar with, the black plastic containers, they come with a lid and a hollow bottom. They come in heaps of sizes so you can choose what size suits your space and the amount of green waste you have.  This type of compost bin is collapsible, with holes for aeration.  This will give you a good start into the world of composting.

Large compost heap

Making a compost bin area yourself might be the way to go if you have some recycled materials.  When I was on my small farm, my lovely husband made 2 amazing compost bins out of old pallets and metal stakes.  If you have a larger area this would be my recommendation. But it this is your first time composting, it is good to start small.  Get an understanding of how the process works and then you can scale up.

Garden fork

You will also need a garden fork or even a good shovel to give your compost heap a turn over. I have always found that a garden fork is the best tool for this job.  The more you mix your compost the more air and more layers you will combine. If you think about a cake you need to give the ingredients a good mix to get them all working together. The same goes for compost so make sure you have a garden fork handy.

My garden fork is always close by to turn the compost over

What to put in a compost bin

A good way to think of what goes into your compost bin is green and brown.  The green is anything that is literally green or fits into the food waste category this includes:

Green Materials

Food scraps (vegetables and fruit)

Any whole fruit and veg (cutting these into smaller pieces will help them break down quicker.

Green leaves (soft leaves work best, palm leaves for example will take a long time to break down)

Brown materials

Brown materials are the other part of what goes into your compost.  When compost bins get smelly or too wet, it is usually because there isn’t enough brown material in the bin.  Brown materials are so important because they add the carbon to the bin or the structural part of the soil. They are also a really dry material so help to keep the balance of dry to wet.  If you only put food scraps in your bin it will end up a soggy mess

Best brown compost materials

The absolute best material you can put in your compost bin and actually, if you added only these you would have amazing compost in a very short time and that is autumn or fall leaves.  Never throw fall leaves into a green bin, they are the most amazing compost material. They have a great mix of nutrients are perfectly dry.

Other brown materials include hay or straw and shredded newspaper.  But my compost is made up of only 2 ingredients, kitchen scraps and autumn or fall leaves.  What I do is collect up all the fallen leaves from the front of my house and fill the compost bin to the top.  Then I just place the food scraps on top, mixing them in each week.

How to put coffee grounds in your compost

One of the most amazing things you can add to your compost is coffee grounds.  Due to my love of coffee our compost bin has heaps of coffee grounds. If you grind your own coffee at home or even use filtered coffee, the grounds can be put straight into your compost bin.

This amazing ingredient has been explained as as close to humus as you can get. It is almost like a broken down soil substance itself. It is rich in carbon and nitrogen and is great for your compost. So if you have coffee grounds in your house, add them to your compost, they will make a great addition.

Some cafes are also willing to share their used coffee grounds.  If you want this amazing substance in your compost then ask around, you might get lucky and find a local cafe who is willing to share theirs for free.

You will find lots of advice about what to put in your compost.  For now I want you to stick with the 2 main categories of food scraps and soft brown fall or autumn leaves.  This method means I have created an amazing compost in 3 short months, with no smells and no flies.

What not to put in the compost bin

Do not put chemicals, garbage, plastic bags or any other plastic materials in your compost bin. When it comes to kitchen waste, the only things I avoid are animal products such as meat and dairy.  Other than that I put all kitchen waste including citrus, egg shells (just crush them up) and tea bags.

The one third, two thirds method of composting

The best way to think of your compost is like ingredients of a cake.  You need to keep the correct ratios so that it will all work together.  This is where to one third, two thirds method comes in. That is, for every one third of food scraps you put in two thirds of brown material. This will keep a good mix of dry, wet as well as nutrients. If you put too many food scraps it could become too wet, with the balance of one third two thirds you should be the perfect balance.

One other thing to note is that if you are using autumn or fall leaves you could actually have more brown than ⅓ and still end up with a great compost.  There is something so fantastic about fall or autumn leaves that means they are the perfect compost material. If you think about it in nature, fall trees drop their leaves down to make their own compost.  They break down under the tree returning any extra nutrients back to the ground.

What will happen is that over time the plant material will break down and get smaller and smaller, you will fill your compost up at least 3 times before it fill up to the top.  This is because waste breaks down to at least ⅓ its size, especially if you are using brown autumn leaves which I recommend as your brown material.

Step by Step guide to making compost

Step 1 – Get a container for your kitchen to collect scraps

Get a container to keep in your kitchen, that way you can collect your kitchen scraps as you create them preparing meals.

Step 2 – Find a compost bin

Find a compost bin for the outdoors.  I have used a half wine barrel but you could use a specially made compost bin, most are made from recycled plastic or you could make one.  Choose one that is the correct size for you and your family. You can always add a second compost bin when the other gets full. It is actually a great idea to have 2 bins eventually so you can allow one to break down while you fill the other up.

Step 3 – Collect fall leaves

If it is around autumn or fall time, collect up as many autumn or fall leaves as you can and fill up your compost bin.  If you don’t have fall leaves then try straw or hay. You could add a bit of shredded newspaper but don’t go overboard. Try to have a mix of other brown materials if you are not using autumn/fall leaves.  

Step 4 – Add food scraps

Start adding your food scraps,  Throw them in and if you have time, grab a garden fork and give them a bit of a mix.

Step 5 – Water it in

Add water if needed. If your compost heap looks a bit dry add a good spray of water from your garden hose.  It will help with the breakdown process.

Step 6 – Repeat and mix the compost

Keep repeating this process.  As your compost breaks down add more fall leaves or brown materials, then add your kitchen scraps on top then mix them in.

What to do with compost once it is made

This is the great part, once you have made your compost you will have a dark, sweet smelling humus. This is a rich soil like substance that is like gold for your garden. You can do any number of things with this mix.  You could dig it into a garden bed that you are about to plant it. Any area where you have cleared of plants or haven’t been planted in for a while would benefit from this amazing humus.

You could also sprinkle it around your existing plants.  Just move back any mulch and sprinkle it around the root zones of your plants (that is the bit underneath the leafy area).  Being careful not to disturb the roots of your plants if you are raking it in.

You can also use the compost as an amazing seed raising mix.  Just run it through a sieve if it looks a bit coarse and plant your seeds straight in.  What a wonderful way to use up food scraps and save money on seed raising mix. I know that mix is expensive from garden shops so save money and use your own compost.

How long will it take to make compost?

Following this method I have made rich wonderful compost in 3 months.  This is a really good time frame for making compost. I made my last compost over winter winter which is a slower time of breakdown for composts. The warmer the compost the quicker it will break down.  

As we in Australia head into spring I can expect this process to speed up. If you don’t want to keep filling your compost to the top you could do the process once, then take out the compost, add it to your garden and start over.  It doesn’t matter either way, completely up to you.

Mix your compost

Mixing or turning over your compost is one of the other keys to a successful compost heap.  The more you turn or mix your compost the more air gets in which allows the microbes to thrive and break down the material.  Composting in a bin is like speeding up the natural process that happens on the ground under all trees, in forests or anywhere there is rotting plant material.  By mixing the ingredients they are spread more evenly and will break down quicker.

Where to place your compost

You will find lots of advice about the best place to put your compost.  I have always found that the best place is one that is out of the way. My  compost gets full sun most of the day but I have also had compost bins succeed in part shade, it doesn’t seem to make a lot of difference.

One of the most important things however to consider is placing your compost heap on earth.  I don’t mean planet earth, I mean deep earth or soil. That is because it will allow microbes and creatures such as garden worms to work their way up into the compost and break it down.  If the soil microbes and creatures can’t reach it, it won’t break down effectively. It also allows effective drainage, allowing excess moisture to soak in into the ground.

Should I cover my compost?

You will  see many conventional compost bins with lids or covers.  I have never covered my compost but it is completely up to you.  The main reason why you would is to keep unwanted critters out. Meaning dogs, possums, squirrels or whatever else might be around who would want to snack  on your compost contents. I really haven’t bothered to do this but have often found some scraps which have been pulled out and snacked on by our neighbourhood possum.

The other reason people cover composts is to keep unwanted smells in, however I haven’t ever had to do this because, using my method your compost won’t smell.  Keeping the perfect mix of autumn/fall leaves and food scraps your compost will only have a sweet earthy smell at most. Sometimes covering can help to keep moisture in, however it is up to you.

When to water compost

There may  be times when your compost heap may need a bit of added water.  I found that like my garden, over summer my compost was a bit dry.  The simple solution is just to give it a quick hose down when you are watering your plants.  Composts need to remain moist (not too wet) so that the good microbes can do their work and break down the material.

How composting reduces waste

Composting reduces waste because it can make use of the green waste or food waste that comes from our homes and even on a larger scale can turn spoiled food into carbon rich humus.  So whether we are composting veggie peels from our dinner or composting food waste on a farm sized scale. Composting food scraps returns the carbon, nutrients and structure back to our soils, making them more fertile therefore better for growing plants, flowers, fruit or veggies.

How to compost kitchen waste in apartments

Green bins

The first idea that most people turn to when in apartments is to put their food waste in their green waste bins if they have them.  As long as your council accepts them, these food scraps will be composted on a large scale and can often be sold back to households to use in their garden.  Check to see if your council accepts food scraps in your green waste bin. This is a perfect solution if you don’t have the space for an outdoor compost bin.

Worm farm

A really cool thing you can do if you have a balcony space with all day shade, is you can have a worm farm.  These vary in size from small to quite large and will break down your kitchen scraps without the need for a compost heap.  You can set this up on your balcony and the worms will break down your scraps. This is great for kids to learn how food breaks down and the worms are pretty cool to watch too.

The important thing to remember with worm farms is that they do need care.  They need to be kept moist, which is why I recommend all day shade and they need to be fed regularly.

Doing these things will keep your worms happy. You will also get worm “juice”. That is the moisture run off from the worm farm.  This amazing mix of nutrients is rich so you only need about a cup full in a whole watering can full of water to put on your garden or potted plants to give them an amazing boost.

Your worm farm will come with instructions.  Get the ultimate worm factory here. This is the worm farm I used to have.  As you fill up each layer, the worms head up to eat the scraps on higher levels.  What you will find is rich worm castings left for your soil. When we moved house we left our worm farm behind.  I might look at getting another one for the kids to learn from soon.

My chickens helping me out cleaning out the yard

School compost bins and local community gardens

Another great option if you don’t have time for an outdoor compost heap is to collect your food waste and bring to your kids school or a local community garden.  Most schools have gardens and composts and would be happy to accept your food scraps, just ask before you bring them along. The same goes for community gardens. All community gardens that I have worked with had a great composting system and were happy to accept scraps from the local community.

If you go with this system, you will just need a container to collect your food scraps in your kitchen.

Benefits of composting at home

The biggest benefit of composting at home is that you will reduce the amount of waste leaving your home.  Even better you will be using your food scraps to most the most valuable, carbon rich substance you can add to your garden, humus.  Humus is an amazing soil substance, it traps carbon, adds structure to soil and will help your soil in your garden hold moisture. It also holds lots of nutrients trapped from the food scraps it was made from. Humus is the best thing to add to any soil.  You can also use it to grow seeds like a store bought seed raising mix, but better.

If we can prevent green waste or food scraps heading to landfill we can prevent the potent methane, a greenhouse gas released from the rotting of food scraps from entering the atmosphere and adding to the warming of the globe.  Keeping food scraps out of landfill is so important.

Top 8 reasons why you should start a compost

Hopefully by now you are convinced that starting a compost is a great idea.  This guide will give you all of the information you need to get you started. There is so much information around about how to create compost but if you just follow the information in this guide and you will be on your way to a great compost.

  1. It will give you something amazing to do with your food scraps.  If these end up in landfill they rot and create a terrible greenhouse gas called methane.  Add this to your eco family life and help the planet.
  2. Kids love this process. Composting helps them to learn about how food is broken down by worms and microorganisms in the compost.  Kids love watching this process so let them help out.
  3. You create this amazing substance called humus which is magic for your garden.  It helps to improve the nutrient content, water holding ability and structure of your soil.
  4. You can make amazing seed raising mix with compost.  Just sift it out and plant your seeds straight in.
  5. You reduce the waste going in your bins.  If you are heading towards being a no or low waste household, recycling your green waste will help towards this goal
  6. It is fun, it gets yourself and the kids outdoors and you get a bit of exercise when you turn your compost.  Make this a daily routine and it is a really healthy activity.
  7. You will have a new hobby.  Once you start composting and see the amazing results and watch the fun process, you will want to keep going.
  8. You will discover something new.  The cool thing that I love to watch is what grows in my compost when I’m not looking.  I often come to turn my compost to see a little seed sprouting. It is fun trying to work out which fruit or veggie is growing.  In the picture of my compost you will see that pumpkin seeds are sprouting through.

I hope you have enjoyed this guide to composting.  Whether you are a beginner or experienced composter, this guide has hopefully provided some new tricks and tips to help you on your way to amazing compost.

Remember, saving kitchen scraps going to landfill and is one of the most amazing things you can do for the environment, and you get the added benefit of amazing compost for your garden. So trap that carbon and compost on!