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How To Compost at Home | Ask This Old House

In this video, This Old House landscape contractor Jenn Nawada explains why she loves composting and how to do it at home.

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Landscape contractor Jenn Nawada shows host Kevin O’Connor what he needs to know to start composting at home. Jenn shows Kevin how to make nutrient-rich, organic compost to feed a garden and create a better yield by starting with basic ingredients like leaves, food waste, water, and air. She even breaks the proper ratio down and shows Kevin a handy bin that makes the job easier.

Composting is a Multi-Part Process
Composting is breaking down organic materials with the presence of air and water. There are also tiny microorganisms, bacteria, fungi, and insects involved to help break things down. Whether composting is occurring in the wild or a backyard, all of these ingredients have a role to play.

Composting is Full of Benefits
There are a lot of reasons to start a compost pile. For one, compost strengthens the soil and provides plants with the nutrients they need to grow strong and resist disease. Also, composting reduces waste in landfills, as the typical landfill contains up to 30 percent of food waste.

There is a Formula to Follow
“Greens, browns, air, and water” are what it takes to start a successful compost pile at home. Greens include food waste from vegetables and fruits, and they provide the nitrogen, bacteria, and microorganisms required to start composting. Browns include the leaves and twigs that provide carbon. Air is necessary for all living things, which the compost pile becomes, and water to keep things moist for the microorganisms, bacteria, and insects.

Follow a ratio of 3:1 browns to green, and keep the pile moist like a well-rung sponge.

Layer Ingredients like a Lasagna
When starting, it’s best to layer ingredients like lasagna. Following the 3:1 ratio, place a bed of browns approximately 3 inches deep on top of a 1-inch-thick pile of greens. Add a bit of soil, and don’t be afraid to shred the leaves a bit first.

Spray a bit of water between the layers and let the pile sit for 3 to 4 days. After a few days, add air by flipping the pile with a fork or shovel. You’ll know when composting begins because the pile will emit warmth while flipping it over.

A Compost Bin Will Simplify the Process
A compost bin will speed up the process, as it contains heat, moisture, and bacteria, allowing the breakdown to occur faster. Also, most actual bins have doors at their bottom that will enable the user to remove the rich composted soil at the bottom without disturbing the composting process occurring at the top.

What Can (and Can’t) Go in a Compost Pile
Certain things can and can’t go into a compost pile. First, any fruit, vegetables, nuts, coffee and coffee filters, tee bags, and eggshells are perfect for a compost pile. Just be sure that any egg cartons and other containers are biodegradable and safe.

Organic items only! Don’t put any types of meat, dairy products, or fatty oils into the compost pile. These will cause odors and attract critters. Also, don’t put any plants in a pile sprayed with insecticide or plant poison.

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About Ask This Old House TV: (If applicable) From the makers of This Old House, America’s first and most trusted home improvement show, Ask This Old House answers the steady stream of home improvement questions asked by viewers across the United States. Covering topics from landscaping to electrical to HVAC and plumbing to painting and more. Ask This Old House features the experts from This Old House, including general contractor Tom Silva, plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, landscape contractor Jenn Nawada, master carpenter Norm Abram, and host Kevin O’Connor. ASK This Old House helps you protect and preserve your greatest investment—your home.

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How To Compost at Home | Ask This Old House

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