Benefits of Composting for Your Backyard Ecosystem

Benefits of composting for your backyard ecosystem

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Having a thriving ecosystem in your backyard is important for many reasons. It’ll ensure your plants and crops grow well, encourage important wildlife to visit your garden, and much more. The good news is that composting is a great way to improve your backyard ecosystem and in this guide, I’ll explain everything you need to know.

What is Composting?

What is composting?

The word composting refers to a process in which organic materials like garden waste and food are broken down, eventually turning into nutrient-rich soil. Once these materials have broken down they have a dark, crumbly appearance that is similar to humus (the darker parts found in soil as a result of organic materials breaking down.)

But how does this process work? Well, compost has to go through three stages before it is formed; you cannot just throw together a lot of old organic waste and hope for the best. Let’s take a look at the three phases.

  • Mesophilic stage – this is where the process of decomposition speeds up and a lot of heat is created.
  • Thermophilic stage – during this stage the high temperatures cause the waste to break down at a more rapid rate.
  • Curing stage – finally the compost starts to cool down and mature.

In order for the process of composting to happen microorganisms are required to break everything down. But they need four important things; nitrogen, oxygen, carbon, and water. While the microorganisms will do most of the work, it’s important for gardeners to regularly turn over the compost pile to ensure a good moisture.

While composting at home isn’t a difficult venture, you do need to be prepared to input the correct amount of time and effort if you want to be successful.

Benefits of Composting

Benefits of composting

As I have mentioned, composting does require some effort, but the benefits are well worth the investment of your time. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Promotes Biodiversity

Biodiversity is important for a healthy and thriving garden. Composting is a great way to promote this, and you’ll find that your compost heap attracts tons of beneficial insects and other organisms. One of the most important of these is the earthworm since the compost pile provides them with a whole host of food sources.

Earthworms feed on the decaying matter within the compost pile, and as the pile becomes more established and the organic matter breaks down, this is even more nutritious for these beneficial garden creatures. On top of this, the moisture within the compost is the perfect habitat for these critters to live in.

Because of the mere presence of earthworms, more wildlife will be attracted to your garden, like birds, hedgehogs, and other small mammals that feed on worms.

What’s more, insects, including pollinators will be attracted to your garden and they play an essential role in keeping your plants healthy. So you see, a compost pile goes far beyond just disposing of your waste and is vital to a healthy garden ecosystem.

Improves Soil Health & Enhances Plant Growth

If you want your garden and plants to be healthy then this has to start from the ground up. Poor soil means that many plants are unable to grow properly but using compost means that you’re putting loads of amazing nutrients into the soil.

Not only this, but adding compost to the soil helps to improve its texture and structure, which further encourages healthy plant growth. If you’re growing crop plants then this is vital for them to produce a healthy yield.

Additionally, this improved structure means that the soil is better able to hold onto things like nutrients, air, and water, all of which are essential to healthy plant growth. Because of this, any water run-off is greatly reduced, and soil erosion occurs less frequently.

If that wasn’t enough, consider that your compost contains microorganisms that are hugely beneficial to the soil. They help to fight off diseases which could affect your plants so are another factor that promotes healthy plants.

Reduces Waste & Saves Money

Right now, the planet is facing a crisis, with landfill sites becoming overfilled. Eventually, we’re going to run out of space to store waste, so having a compost pile can go a long way in solving this problem. No longer will you be placing your organic waste into your regular bins; it’ll go onto the compost heap and be recycled.

Did you know that every year in the United States, food waste emits as much carbon as 42 coal-fired power plants? We all know that every gram of carbon emitted into the atmosphere is bad news for the environment, so recycling your food waste using a compost pile is one way to reduce your carbon footprint.

But even if you look closer to home, you’ll see that composting has its benefits. For example, since it improves the soil structure and helps it to retain water, you’ll need to water your plants less, which could result in a lower water bill.

On top of this, you’ll save money because compost acts as a natural fertilizer, packed with nutrients and goodness. You’ll eliminate the need to use chemical fertilizers which will not only save you some money but it’s also much better for local wildlife and the environment.

Types of Composting

Depending on the time and resources available to you, there are different composting methods that may be suitable.

Cold Composting

Types of composting: cold composting

For a lot of people, cold composting is an excellent option as it’s a much more natural process. This is because it relies on natural decomposition as opposed to the process being sped up. For this reason, it’s sometimes called passive composting, and the organic waste is left to decay on its own. However, you have to keep in mind that this means the process does take much longer, typically several months.

Cold composting guide


  • Cold composting does not require as much maintenance as other methods, and the pile does not need to be regularly turned or inspected.
  • If you do not have a lot of time or struggle with physical limitations, the low-maintenance nature of cold composting could be a viable option.
  • You do not need any special equipment to get started. At the most basic level, all that is required is a bin or somewhere to place the compost pile.
  • There is the option to add a wide range of organic materials to a cold compost pile, such as dry leaves, food waste, and grass clippings.
  • Cold composting is extremely flexible; even if you don’t have a lot of materials to add, you can simply throw on what’s available.
  • It can be difficult to get a hot compost pile to heat up when the weather cools down, but this isn’t an issue with cold composting so it can be done all year round.
  • During cold weather, many of the beneficial microorganisms can still thrive, so your plants and soil will still reap the rewards.


  • Cold composting can take between 12 and 24 months, so it’s a much slower process.
  • If you’re looking for a highly efficient method then cold composting may not be right for you.
  • You need to ensure that you don’t add any weeds that have gone to seed to the pile as, without any heat to kill the seeds, they’ll continue to grow.
  • Moreover, any pathogens within the compost pile will not be killed due to a lack of heat.
  • If the cold compost pile is not correctly located or maintained, it can attract pests to your garden.
  • Because cold composting takes a long time, you will have to sacrifice an area of your garden for the foreseeable future.
  • Since cold composting does not require turning, this can result in matter sticking together, and this can cause the pile to emit a foul odor.
  • Over the course of the maturing process, it’s possible that elements like rain can wash away some of the important nutrients.
  • The decomposition of the cold compost pile will not be as even as a hot pile.

Hot Composting

Types of composting: hot composting

Unlike cold composting, hot composting relies on a consistently high temperature (115°F (46°C)), which aids the decomposition process, making this a more efficient method.

The good thing is that heat can be naturally generated by making your compost pile at least 4 x 4 x 4 feet (1.2 x 1.2 x 1.2 meters) and only adding pieces of waste that are no larger than 2 inches (5 cm). You can choose to create an open pile or one that’s contained within a bin.

In any case, with regular turning (and note that this is a more involved method), the composting process may only take a couple of months.


  • Hot composting is a much faster process since the heat helps to break down organic matter at a much quicker rate.
  • The level of efficiency of hot composting is far greater than cold composting.
  • Because of the heat and the faster decomposition period, you end up with a much more nutrient-rich and high quality compost that is better for your soil.
  • Again, owing to the quicker process, the risk of pests, odors, and nutrient loss are greatly decreased.
  • The heat generated from your hot compost heap will ensure that any weeds or pathogens are killed off so they won’t affect the quality of your soil.


  • Hot composting is a much more high-maintenance option, and you’ll need to be prepared to turn and aerate the pile in order to keep those temperatures up.
  • This can be a more costly venture as you’ll need to purchase specialist equipment such as a thermometer and a hot composting bin.
  • You need to find a lot more organic material to start your compost pile compared to cold composting and this can be more demanding on the environment.
  • If the weather is particularly dry or windy, a hot compost pile’s extreme temperatures could result in a fire.
  • Since the pieces added to the pile need to be smaller, you may be required to break them up before throwing them on.


Types of composting: vermicomposting

Vermicomposting is another method you may choose to use, and this involves using worms to aid in the breakdown of organic materials.

Unlike the other methods I’ve already discussed, vermicomposting can be done both indoors and outdoors. It requires a special vermicomposting bin which contains bedding for the worms, but this doesn’t take up a huge amount of space. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that only 7 types of earthworm are suitable for this type of composting. The red wriggler is one of the most commonly used.

Vermicomposting guide


  • Vermicomposting is a very quick and efficient method of composting because the worms are able to speed up the process.
  • This type of composting can be done indoors and outdoors, so it’s ideal for those with more flexible needs. Moreover, you don’t need a lot of space.
  • Vermicomposting produces a very high-quality type of compost that is packed with beneficial organisms and is high in nutrients. If you’re growing crops in your garden then this might be the best option.
  • Unlike cold composting, vermicomposting does not cause a bad odor, which is another reason it is suitable indoors.
  • Vermicomposting reduces the risk of nitrogen loss. In fact, it’s reported that, compared to other methods, there is a 20% decrease in nitrogen loss when using vermicomposting.
  • If you’re looking to get your children involved in composting then this can be one of the most fun and engaging methods.


  • There is an initial investment with vermicomposting, and while it isn’t overly expensive, you will need to purchase some specialist equipment.
  • Vermicomposting is a more involved process, and your compost bin will need to be regularly inspected.
  • In very hot weather, the worms may struggle to survive, so it’s important to place the bin in a shady spot or somewhere cool.
  • Without proper management, your vermicomposter may begin to attract pests like fruit flies.
  • While vermicomposting does typically produce fewer odors, it can still create a stink if you add the wrong type of materials, such as dairy or meat. This means that you aren’t able to compost as much waste as other methods.
  • If you’re looking for a way to break down large amounts of organic waste, vermicomposting will not be suitable as it’s a much smaller scale project.

Bokashi Composting

Types of composting: bokashi composting

The word bokashi comes from the Japanese language and translates to mean fermented organic matter. Knowing this, it’ll come as no surprise when I tell you that this method involves fermenting your organic waste, and this is done using a mixture of microorganisms. 

What’s more, the type of compost you end up with when using this process is visibly different to traditional dark compost. It’s much lighter in color and is known as bokashi tea.

Unlike other types of composting, this method does not require oxygen.

Bokashi composting guide


  • Bokashi composting is a process of anaerobic fermentation that doesn’t require oxygen. Because of this, your compost will produce less carbon dioxide, so it could be better for the environment.
  • The process of bokashi is much quicker than other methods, and you may be able to achieve results within just a couple of weeks.
  • If you are limited on outdoor space then the great thing about bokashi composting is that it can also be done indoors.
  • Bokashi composting does not produce as many bad odors as other methods, which is ideal if you’re going to be doing it indoors.
  • Unlike vermicomposting, where you need to be very mindful of what you add, bokashi composting allows you to use a much wider range of materials, including meat and dairy products.
  • The final compost result is of a very high quality and is packed with essential microorganisms, so it’s very good for your plants and soil.


  • There is a small chance that something can go wrong with your bokashi and this can result in a bad odor. In this case, you’ll need to add some bokashi bran to try and rectify the problem.
  • Following from the above point, bokashi composting does require a lot of input from you, and you’ll need to ensure the matter is correctly layered and that the container is properly sealed.
  • Additionally, the fermented waste cannot be directly added to the soil and must be buried or added to an outdoor compost pile, which can mean more work.
  • Since this is a smaller-scale operation, bokashi composting may not be suitable for those looking to compost large amounts of organic matter.
  • You will need to invest in some initial equipment, and there are ongoing costs involved with buying bokashi bran, so this isn’t the most affordable method.

Getting Started with Composting

Understanding the benefits of composting and how simple it can be, I imagine that you’re eager to get started. However, there are a few things I’d urge you to keep in mind, so let’s take a look at these now.

1. Choosing a Compost Bin

Before you get started with composting, you will need to decide on the right method for you. You’ll need to consider factors such as space and whether you’re going to compost indoors or outdoors.

If you’re going to compost indoors then you’ll choose between bokashi and vermicomposting, whereas those looking to work outdoors can choose either vermicomposting, hot composting, or cold composting.

The next thing is choosing the right compost bin, and while it is possible to make your own using an old trash can or a bucket with a lid, there are plenty of products that you can purchase. It all depends on how much you want to invest and what you already have available. Let’s take a look at some of the most common types of compost bins.


Types of compost bin: tumbler

A compost tumbler, sometimes called a turning unit, is one of the more expensive options. However, it is very efficient as you’re able to turn the compost with very little effort. These containers are designed to be spun and turned which promotes aeration.

While they do produce compost much more quickly, once you have added materials and the turning process has started, you cannot add anything new.

Holding Unit

Types of compost bin: holding unit

A holding unit is a simple type of composter that’s much smaller in size so it’s ideal for indoor use. The organic matter is placed inside and does not require turning. However, you should consider that, because of this lack of aeration, the composting process can take much longer.

Portable Compost Bin

Types of compost bin: portable compost bin

Portable compost bins are very similar to a holding unit in terms of how they are used, but you can add a greater range of organic materials. The main difference is that they can be taken apart and moved around, which makes them ideal for outdoors. You can buy plastic ones or make them using wood.


Compost heap

There isn’t always a need to contain your compost in something, and a lot of people merely opt for a heap in the garden. One of the main problems with this is that there is the potential for odors, but you’ll save money not having to purchase any equipment.

How much work you put into your heap is up to you. It is possible to leave it unturned, although this does mean that the process will take much longer.

2. Choosing the Right Location for Your Compost Bin

Choosing the right location for your compost bin

If you want your compost to be successful then choosing the right location is a must.

  • For outdoor composting, you’ll need somewhere that has good exposure to sun, as this provides the best conditions for the microorganisms and helps them to work more efficiently.
  • Make sure to place your compost bin in a sheltered location where it won’t be disturbed by strong winds. If it is exposed to wind, this could dry it out.
  • Choose a location that’s not too close to the house. Since compost can sometimes attract pests and create odors, you want to keep these things as far away from your living space as possible.
  • Don’t place your compost on concrete as this can stain the surface. What’s more, while compost does require moisture, it also needs to be able to drain, and this isn’t possible when it’s placed on concrete. Decking is also not ideal, as the weight of the heap may damage the structure, and the moisture could cause the wood to rot. The best option is to place a compost heap onto a gravel surface, which provides much better drainage.
  • If you don’t want your compost bin or heap to be on show, then it is worth purchasing some privacy screens or installing it behind some shrubs or other foliage.

3. Composting Materials

How to compost: Browns & Greens

What you can add to your compost may vary depending on the method you have chosen. For example, it’s not a good idea to use food waste that could cause odors when using an indoor vermicomposter. But generally speaking, you can include the following items:

  • Green waste such as fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, grass and plant clippings. These ingredients are high in nitrogen.
  • Brown waste such as dried leaves, cardboard, and twigs. Although keep in mind that large pieces of wooden waste could take a very long time to break down. These items are all high in carbon.

Similarly, there are some things that I wouldn’t recommend including in your compost pile. One of the most obvious is anything synthetic, such as metal, glass, or plastic.

It’s also advisable to avoid adding food waste like meat, fish, or dairy products, as these can cause strong odors. What’s more, the same problem may occur when using pet waste.

If you’re adding plants to your heap then be sure that they’re only healthy remains. Adding plants that have been infested with pests or diseases will only transfer these problems to the heap, and then into your soil. With cold composting, you should never add weeds that have gone to seed because the lack of heat means they won’t be killed off.

Once you have all of your ingredients, it’s time to start building your compost pile and this involves a process of layering. You cannot simply throw everything on and hope for the best.

You’ll need to use small pieces of organic material that are no thicker than your finger, then place these in layers with layers of soil in between, watering each one as you go. It’s also a good idea to place some sort of base at the bottom of the heap, such as branches, as this will improve aeration from the bottom of the pile.

As you add material, take the time every two to three layers to mix the previous layers using a pitchfork, as this will again improve aeration.

When starting your compost pile, it’s important to use three times more brown materials than greens. Also make sure that the bottom layer consists only of brown materials.

4. Using Your Compost

Getting started with composting: using your compost

Once your compost is ready, it’s time to put it to good use. However, the length of time you’ll need to wait largely depends on the method you have chosen. Other factors, such as the size of the pile and what materials have been added will also affect how long it takes your compost to mature. However, on average you can expect it to take somewhere between 2 and 6 months. Cold composting could take up to two years in the most extreme cases and is generally considered to be the slowest method.

But even after a set amount of time, you’ll still need to check your compost to make sure it’s ready to use. The most obvious sign that the compost is ready is its smell; if you store some in a ziploc bag for a few days and it has a putrid smell, then this tells you that the decomposition process is not finished. However, if it smells earthy and pleasant, it’s ready to use. You’ll also want to check for visual cues, such as whether there are any food scraps left over.

When you’re confident that your compost is ready, there are several ways you can use it in the garden.

  • Mix your compost in with ground soil to add nutrients.
  • Spread the compost on your lawn (only apply a ¼ inch (0.6 cm) layer).
  • Mix it with potting mix.
  • Use your compost as mulch.
  • Add the compost to the soil around crops and fruit trees.
  • Use the compost as a feed for potted plants.

In order to get the most out of your compost, you want it to be as pure as possible, which is why sifting the mixture through a ½ mesh will help to remove any leftover scraps. Moreover, if your garden is going to reap the benefits of compost, then this is something you’ll need to apply annually.

5. Maintaining the Compost Pile

Getting started with composting: maintaining the compost pile

Even once you have started your compost pile, it’s important to pay close attention to it and perform regular maintenance. If you don’t, then the decomposition process won’t occur, and you’ll be left with nothing but a rotting heap of organic material that smells bad and never fully breaks down.

For starters, you must ensure that the pile contains the right amount of water. Initially, you’ll want to ensure that the pile has around 50-60% water content, and you can do this by watering each layer as you build the heap. Be sure to stay on top of the pile’s water needs otherwise it’ll dry out, and the microbial activity will cease. However, if it’s too wet, the water will take over the air pockets in which these organisms live, and it’ll start to emit a foul odor.

It’s also vital to turn your compost pile regularly to ensure good aeration, to distribute moisture and nutrients, and to release any trapped moisture. Not turning the pile regularly will mean that it takes much longer for the compost to mature. Generally speaking, you’ll need to turn your pile every three to four days.

It’s also really important to ensure a good carbon/nitrogen balance in the pile by adding the right amounts of green and brown materials. You need around 30 parts carbon for every one part nitrogen, and you’ll know if it’s out of balance because of the smell the pile gives off. If this happens, you’ll need to add more brown waste to restore the balance.

Compost Troubleshooting Guide

Composting troubleshooting guide

For the most part, composting doesn’t require a whole lot of effort, but from time to time, you may find that you run into problems. But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with my compost troubleshooting tips.

Problem: compost pile is producing a bad odor

Sometimes, your compost pile may start to emit a bad odor and this means one of two things. It could be that there is too much nitrogen, in which case, you’ll need to add more carbon-rich materials like dry leaves and twigs.

On the other hand, the problem may be caused by a lack of aeration, so you’ll need to turn your pile and continue doing this every few days.

Problem: compost pile is attracting rodents

While microorganisms and worms are great for compost, rodents are not, and nobody wants them in their garden. If your pile is attracting rodents, it could be because of several issues.

  • Adding meat and dairy products could attract rodents, so avoid these.
  • If the compost pile had food scraps that are not covered, this could attract pests.
  • When using a bin, it’s a good idea to use a secure lid so that rodents cannot get inside.
  • If there is not a good carbon/nitrogen balance, this could attract rodents, so make sure you add plenty of brown materials.

Problem: compost pile does not heat up

With hot composting, temperature is one of the most important factors in decomposition, but if your pile is not heating up, it’s likely that there isn’t enough nitrogen. One of the easiest ways to solve this problem is to add some green waste, like grass clippings. But be careful not to add too much, as this could upset the balance.

Problem: compost pile is attracting flies

Flies are a common problem with poorly maintained compost piles, and the most common reason for this is because products like meat and dairy have been added. If you have included these, do your best to remove them and avoid adding them in the future.

Problem: there is undecomposed items still in the mix

Some items like twigs can take much longer to decompose, but these can be sifted out of the mix when it’s ready to use. However, if other materials are taking too long to break down, it’s likely to do with one of three issues.

  • A lack of aeration – turn the pile more frequently.
  • A lack of moisture – ensure the pile is kept moist but not too wet.
  • A lack of nitrogen – be sure to add the correct amount of green materials.

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