compost pile | composting methods

Composting is an incredible way to add a level of sustainability to your homestead. Creating your own compost “closes” the nutrient loop that begins with your garden. You can use your compost to reduce your dependence on outside resources, recycle organic materials, nourish your soil, and reduce your environmental impact all at the same time. In this post, we will discuss different composting methods that you can use to build nutrient-rich compost for your garden. 

Benefits of Composting

Building a compost heap is a beneficial practice on a homestead for several reasons:

  • Increases Sustainability

Creating your own compost ramps up your sustainability levels by allowing you to nourish your soil with nutrients directly from your homestead instead of relying on an outside source.

  • Reduces Waste

When you place your food scraps (and non-carnivorous animal droppings) into a compost bin, it keeps them out of the landfill and gives them a new use instead of letting their nutrients disappear into a pile of trash. 

  • Feeds the Garden

Compost helps to improve soil structure, soil fertility, and moisture retention, and plant growth. It also facilitates the movement of earthworms that aerate the soil and continue to recycle nutrients throughout the garden.

pallet open air compost bin

4 Common Composting Methods

Each of these composting methods fall under one of two categories: hot composting or cold composting.

Both categories have an ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1.

Hot composting consists of a pile of organic matter that has the right carbon:nitrogen ratio to increase the temperature between 120-140 degrees F. High temperatures within the pile optimize the activity of bacteria within the organic materials and this microbial activity speeds up the composting process. Composting with high heat can also kill off weed seeds and diseases.

A hot pile will need to be turned periodically to keep the temperature from rising above 155 F. 

Cold composting is a lower maintenance method of composting. The C:N ratio and temperature do not have to be monitored as closely because you aren’t relying on heat for decomposition. The downside, however, is that it can take much more time for a pile to breakdown this way. 

1. Open Air Composting

To create an open air compost pile, you simply add your organic matter into a pile or an open compost bin. I put all of my compost materials into a DIY pallet compost bin. That has worked well for 5 years now and I don’t plan to change it anytime soon.

If you want to utilize hot composting, then be sure that you maintain a proper C:N ratio (about 30:1), check the temperature regularly, and turn the pile as needed. 

For cold composting, just add materials as you have them and wait for decomposition to happen. It is best for an open air compost pile to be kept away from the house because it can get smelly and attract pests since the food takes longer to break down. 

pallet open air compost bin
open air composting method

2. Closed Container Composting

Some homesteaders prefer to compost in closed containers to accelerate decomposition. A closed container could be a closed bin with sides & a lid, a tumbler, or even a bucket. This composting method is considered hot composting because being enclosed caused the temperature to rise quickly. 

compost tumbler

Closed container composting can help to retain moisture & heat within the pile as well as reduce the attraction of pests. 

3. Trench Composting

The trench composting method is done by burying compost directly into the ground to decompose naturally. You will need to dig a hole or a trench, add compost materials, and cover it up when it is full. The cool thing about this composting method is that you can plant your garden directly on top of the buried compost!

trench composting method

4. Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting sounds fancy, but it simply means that worms have been added to the compost. Worms (usually red wrigglers) help to aerate the compost materials and break down the organic material more quickly. 

You can add worms to your outdoor compost pile or create an indoor / small-space vermicompost bin. To create a worm bin you will need to grab a container of some sort (storage containers & buckets work great), add ventilation holes, fill it will moist bedding (shredded paper is a good option), add the worms, and start adding food waste. 

Worm composting bins can be made simply with just one container or they can be stacked and rotated so you can also collect the compost tea and worm castings. 

vermicompost pile

Each composting method has its own advantages and drawbacks. Think about your unique situation to decide which one will work best for you. 

For example- I need a very low maintenance, basically hands-off, composting method during this season of my life so I use open air cold composting. I have a bin made of pallets and I toss food scraps, leaves, and other organic bits in as I have them available. 

If you can handle a more high-maintenance approach and need your compost to be ready faster, then hot composting in a closed container may be best for you.

 There isn’t a wrong way to compost, just different ways to reach the end result. Which one are you leaning towards?

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Common Composting Methods for Homestead Gardeners
4 Composting Methods to Turn Kitchen Scraps into Garden Gold