Composting 101

Hi again folks!

I was giving a lecture last week and a lovely lady asked me a question at the end about composting and how one should go about starting! I was a little lost for words since there are quite a lot of methods, however, here I have pulled together quite a few and even created small info-graphics about the very basics of starting your own compost! I give all the credit to the absolutely amazing book “The Urban/Suburban Composter” by Mark Cullen and Lorraine Johnson. I highly recommend checking this out at your local library if you’re looking for a very in-depth view on composting methods!

I only cover how to build a holding unit, however, there are many types of composting methods that work.


What happens when composting takes place? Bacteria grows and feeds off your scraps thus producing heat that kills them and creates the ideal temperature for another type of bacteria. This happens until the Thermophiles die off completely from the intense heat or from the lack of food. When this is complete, the pile cools down and allows the psychrophilic and mesophilic bacteria to come back and finish off what the thermophiles may not have gotten around to! This stage is called the maturation period and during it you may notice bugs and worms starting to inhabit your pile! When this phase is done, your pile should resemble a very dark sweetly-scented soil! This is called Humus or completed compost.


Now that you know what happens during compost, let’s take a look at some of the facts around composting in general!


Ah, the carbon to nitrogen ratio. This is the part of composting that does actually require a bit of effort on your part. Think back to that high-school chemistry or biology class for a moment. Carbon and Nitrogen can be found in any material you will be composting. However, the amounts in which they are found will differ. Take, for example, wood chips which range have a C:N ratio of anywhere between 500:1 – 700:1 as compared to food scraps which typically have a C:N ratio of 15:1. You want your compost to have a C:N ratio between 20:1 and 30:1. This means that for every nitrogen rich material you add in, you want to add in twenty times the amount of carbon-rich materials such as dry leaves. Now before you check-out mentally and say that this is too complicated to keep up with, it’s not an exact science (well, at least it doesn’t have to be in your home). What you’re trying to do is have quite a bit more carbon rich or “brown” materials than nitrogen-rich or “green” materials as it’s been termed. Experiment around. Compost is very easy to salvage. After all, it is just rotten materials. Too much nitrogen and it gets slimy. Too much carbon and it will be brittle to the touch. You’re aiming for your compost to feel like a well-wrung out sponge: damp, but not too damp.


Here’s an easy-to-make compost bin using the holding unit method. This is taken directly from “the urban/suburban composter”

Ok, so maybe you don’t really want to build your own composter- what can you do?

There are dozens of  composters all set up and ready to go available online or at home-improvement stores such as Home Depot and local hardware stores.  This is a wonderful link for those of you who are aiming to just go out and purchase a Composter:

Keep in mind, though that you don’t necessarily need the most expensive Composter on the market to do the job. Any container with a lid will do. Heck! You don’t even need a container at all if you dig a deep enough hole outside and layer it properly!

I, personally, own a tabletop composter to collect scraps of food from the kitchen in before taking it outside to toss into a rather large compost tumbler. The tumbler is a good option for those of you with patio/backyard space that plan on mainly composting food scraps. This is a minimal-maintenance approach to composting. You toss in your nitrogen, top it with 20x more carbon and close it. Then, once a week, you turn it. That’s all.

I do want to give an honorable mention to vermicomposting which harnesses the power of worms to compost in a fast and efficient manner. I will be starting this process here soon and will update you with how it goes!

Here are a few excerpts from the book that you may find useful! 

I want to leave you all with a quote I found in (you guessed it) The Urban/Suburban Composter.

“My passion for compost stems from observance of a very basic rule of life- put things back in their place after you’re finished with them”- Mark Cullen

Send me an email at if you have any questions on composting or would like more information on the methods not covered here!

Stay Green!