How to Compost 101: A Beginner's Guide

Bev Feldman
June 1, 2017

Families that compost together stick together! If you're thinking about composting but don't know how to get started, here are some basics.



Learning how to compost may seem like it would require a lot of work, but it's actually quite easy. Composting isn't difficult, and you don't have to worry about it smelling up your home or making a big mess, the experts say. Plus, the process is a great learning experience for your kids.

"Kids are very passionate about taking care of the environment," explains Stacey Antine, founder of HealthBarn USA, who's been teaching kids to compost for more than 10 years. "Composting is one way that they can do it." If you or your nanny show enthusiasm for composting, your kids will be excited to do it with you.

How to Compost
First, you need to decide if you want to do composting with or without worms. Ashley Wolff, illustrator of the children's book "Compost Stew," has been composting for more than 15 years. She recommends worm composting for families, calling it easy and gratifying. You'll need a special type of worm called Red Wigglers, along with a bin, she says. Both can be purchased online or at your local gardening store.

Wolff and Antine both recommend a large durable plastic storage bin with a lid. Drill small air holes for the worms in the lid and at the bin's bottom. Then start layering, with brown matter a few inches thick on the bottom. You can use shredded newspaper, ripped cardboard egg cartons, towel rolls, pieces of cereal boxes or dry leaves. Wet that layer a little and "fluff it up," Wolff instructs.

On top of that, put a layer of kitchen food scraps and then the worms. Keep alternating the brown layers with the food scraps and worms, finishing with a brown layer on top, with a few inches of space remaining. Put the lid on firmly. Make sure that the layers are moist so that the worms do not dry out but are also not drowning in too much water. This bin can be either placed outside in a shady part of your yard or inside on something to catch any of the liquid that oozes out.

In the winter, be sure to bring the bin inside so that the worms don't freeze. This compost has very little smell (unless you overload it with food scraps), so you don't have to worry about it stinking up your home. Wolff explains, you don't really have to worry about the worms getting out because they want to stay near the compost. This process takes about three to four months and doesn't require much effort on your part.

If you opt to do composting without worms, do that outside. Antine explains that you can either dig a hole directly in the ground or do it in a bin. You don't necessarily need to buy a specialized bin for this, but you'll need to turn the compost by hand with a pitchfork. If you're worried about it attracting animals, Wolff recommends putting chicken wire around it.

Alternatively, you can buy a specialized rotating barrel compost bin, which is what Amanda Hearn, author of the blog The Eco-Friendly Family, does with her family. Outdoor composting should be done in a sunny area. Similar to composting with worms, you'll want to alternate layers of brown matter with food scraps and will need to turn the layers periodically. If using a rotating barrel bin, Hearn recommends checking the hardware that comes with it. If it is plastic, you might want to buy something more durable. After you start your first compost pile, then you can start on pile number two. Eventually, your first pile will be ready to use in the garden and your second pile will be ready when your first one runs out.

Things to Compost:

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Peels -- cut down to smaller pieces
  • Egg shells
  • Newspaper or paper
  • Sawdust
  • Cardboard
  • Dry leaves
  • Small sticks

What You Cannot Compost:

  • Meat
  • Dairy products
  • Oils
  • Fish

Involving your children can be really easy. Hearn has her children help dump the food scraps into the compost pile. Then when it's time to use the compost, she gets them involved by having them scoop it out. This way they'll see the whole process from start to finish.

Want more eco-friendly tips? Learn about Recycling for Kids.

Bev Feldman is a Boston-area blogger and mom with a background in education and an interest in gardening.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

Please enter a valid email address

Thanks for signing up!

We’ll see you back in your inbox.

Leave a comment

Create a free account with and join our community today.

You may also like

How much should you pay for a babysitter?