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Homesteading Book Review: The Best Books To Help You Become Self Sufficient

Homesteading Book Review: The Best Books To Help You Become Self Sufficient

homesteading book review

The practice of homesteading can find its way into one’s life in many different ways. For some, being a homesteader looks like producing your own food, making your own clothes, managing a small hobby farm, or generating your own power. For others, the journey towards self-sufficiency might be as simple as adding a vertical garden of climbing peas to your apartment balcony.

I started out by adding chickens next to my small raised bed, then integrated other versions of homesteading into my life gradually. The process was a slow one, but that made it fun and manageable.

Start small. Take baby steps to start your homestead. Pick a skill you’re wanting to learn and engage with a book from that list, then see what happens. Happy reading!

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

Homesteading can be life changing if you give it the chance, but, like anything, the first step is to learn. I’ve compiled a list of what I feel are the most helpful books for those looking to get into homesteading, and sorted them by category.

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Homesteading Books For Beginners

Homesteading Books For Beginners

Homesteading entails many different areas of work and varieties of DIYing, which can all seem a little overwhelming to a beginner. This booklist includes guides that are broken down simply, ideal for someone who wants to start a self-sufficient life but is looking for some guidance on how to get started.

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

The Encyclopedia of Country Living

by Carla Emery

If I had a friend who was getting into homesteading and asked for my advice, this is likely the first read I’d recommend. Carla’s encyclopedia includes detailed instructions for a plethora of important homesteader skillsets, including canning and preserving food, gardening, growing your own food, beekeeping, cooking on a wood stove, raising livestock, milling flour, tapping maple trees, and much more.


New Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency

New Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency

by John Seymour

With the newest version published in 2019, John’s Complete Book Of Self Sufficiency is full of comprehensive information about life as a homesteader. The guide also includes detailed instructions for various elements of the lifestyle, like how to create an urban organic garden or how to harness natural energy.


The Homesteading Handbook

The Homesteading Handbook

by Abigail Gehring

I know firsthand that life can quickly become noisy, chaotic, and overwhelming. This read delves deeper than the mere process of minimization — it’s about what that process can do for you.

Dana elaborates on the reasons why decluttering can often feel difficult. She writes about the ways our emotions get in the way of creating a clutter-free life for ourselves, and ways to combat these mental roadblocks.


Mini Farming On Quarter An Acre

Mini Farming On ¼ An Acre

by Brett Markham

If the self-sufficient lifestyle of homesteading is appealing to you, but you don’t have a ton of land to work off of, this book is for you. Brett walks you through ways that having less land doesn’t have to limit you when it comes to homesteading.

Even if you have never been a farmer or a gardener, this book covers what’s essential for beginners to know, like buying and saving seeds, crop rotation, farm planning, seasonal gardening, crop rotation, and many other basic farming need to knows.


The Backyard Homestead

The Backyard Homestead

by Carleen Madigan

With several different editions including an all-inclusive guide to raising livestock, growing your own food, kitchen know-how, building projects, and a seasonal planner, Carleen’s The Backyard Homestead series is one of the best guides for beginner homesteaders. Each guide includes step-by-step instructions for the topic it covers, along with pictures and diagrams for you to follow.

Homesteading Books On Buying And Managing Land

Homesteading Books On Buying And Managing Land

Owning, managing, tending to, and working off of your land is the first step to becoming a successful homesteader. Without your own land, it’s hard to maintain a self-sufficient life. These homesteading books will help you locate quality farmland and gain tips for keeping it up on your own.

Finding Good Farmland

Finding Good Farmland

Larkin Hansen

Finding Good Farmland covers every aspect you should consider before buying your own farmland, including government regulations, residential concerns from the surrounding area where you’re searching, soil conditions, and ways to budget. This read is a great self-checker if you’re looking for quality farmland and want to ensure you’ve thought through the basics and the details.


Five Acres and Independence

Five Acres and Independence

by Maurice Grenville Kains

Maurice provides an easy-to-understand view of what small-scale farming entails practically. This read helps you evaluate land economically and agriculturally, guiding you in making an informed purchase. You’ll learn suggestions for land management like draining the land or improving soil quality, suggestions for when to grow seasonal crops, tips for raising goats, chickens, and bees on a small-scale farm, as well as marketing tips for farmers.


Land Buying Tips From the Pros

Land Buying Tips From the Pros

by Pat Porter

Pat’s book will give you specific information about different types of land and what to watch for when thinking about investing. No two types of land are the same, and purchasing a plot comes with a lot of need-to-knows about that specific land type.

The bulk of this book is a compilation of tips from experts on budgeting for rural land based on phone calls Pat had with these eight different experts.

Gardening Books For The Homesteader

Gardening Books For The Homesteader

Growing your own produce from a garden is a huge aspect of homesteading. For me, working in my yard and garden is super cathartic, but it’s also a huge undertaking. Wisdom from expert authors about the best times to plant each crop, tilling and fertilizing methods, tips for crop rotation, and much more will be extremely helpful when creating your first garden.

Organic Gardening For Beginners

Organic Gardening For Beginners

by Lisa Lombardo

Organic Gardening For Beginners opens with an overview of the most popular types of organic gardening, as well as the benefits and setbacks to each. This section is helpful for beginner gardeners to decide which method works in their space.

Lisa also provides explanations to several natural growth methods like controlling pests without chemicals, and a crop-by-crop inventory that tells beginners what they need to know about each plant and vegetable to start growing.


Growing Vegetables The First Time Gardeners Guide

Growing Vegetables:

The First Time Gardeners Guide

by Jessica Sowards

Jessica’s YouTube Channel, Roots and Refuge Farm, is filled with wisdom for the first-time gardener, and so is her book. I would recommend this quick read to anyone who is looking for the most basic information when it comes to growing your own food in a garden. Conversational in style, Jessica delves into common questions like where to put your garden, how to prep your soil, and how to keep pests and critters out of your home garden.


The Flower Gardeners Bible

The Flower Gardener’s Bible

by The Flower Gardener’s Bible

The ultimate flower gardener’s handbook, Lewis walks readers through everything from what to think about when choosing your growing site to increasing the lifespan of your flowers. The books includes many helpful tips on how to improve soil, fight off pests, make informed decisions about seasonal planting, and specific information about each type of flower.


Vertical Gardening

Vertical Gardening

by Derek Fell

Don’t let space limit you from becoming a homesteader. Derek’s book on vertical gardening is made for those who want to start a garden but don’t have a ton of space. The growing up and not out method is not dependent on having land to plant on, anyone can do it! With over 100 colorful pictures and diagrams to help with the process, Vertical Gardening showcases ways to grow perennials, shrubs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits no matter where you live.


A Seasonal Gardeners Handbook

A Seasonal Gardener’s Handbook

by Donna L. Long

The biggest key to knowing when to plant each crop without wasting seeds is to pay attention to seasonal crop patterns. Take it from Donna, knowing when to plant what is an intricate process. Her guide will have you creating your own seasonal gardening calendar and planting by the natural signs of the Earth in no time.

She teaches you everything you could ever want to know about seasonal gardening, including when and when not to prune, creating a simple compost pile, hardening off, tips for plant’s chilling hours, planting by the phases of the Moon, and when to plant each type of annual.

Preserving Food On Your Homestead, Best Books

Preserving Food On Your Homestead, Best Books

Preserving, canning, cooking for yourself, managing your food storage – these are all key aspects of the homesteader’s life. These books will take you through what you need to know to bake, save, and store all your own food stuffs.

The Ultimate Guide To Preserving Vegetables

The Ultimate Guide To Preserving Vegetables

by Angie Schneider

Angie’s ultimate guide gives readers access to charts, colorful pictures, and step-by-step instructions for all kinds of preservation methods like canning & pickling, fermenting, freezing, and dehydrating food. It’s a very helpful book for beginners because the instructions are highly detailed.

Her book also includes many of Angie’s family recipes to try on your homestead, like canned dilly asparagus, fermented corn salsa, dried scalloped potatoes, and dried pumpkin pie.


The Ball Book of Canning And Preserving

The Ball Book of Canning And Preserving

by Ball Test Kitchen

The Ball Book of Canning And Preserving is a classic for homesteading and food preservation. It shows up frequently on best of lists when it comes to food prep. Why? It includes over 350 recipes for the beginner to the experienced homesteader, ranging from jams, fruits, butter, jellies, jerkies, pickles, and salsas.

The instructional section of the guide covers water bath and pressure canning, pickling, fermenting, freezing, dehydrating, and smoking with detailed instructions and step-by-step photos to make the process simple and efficient.


The Complete Guide To Pressure Canning

The Complete Guide To Pressure Canning

by Diane Devereaux

Pressure canning is one of the most popular methods for preserving cooked meals. Diane’s The Complete Guide To Pressure Canning is a step by step resource to teach you the art of pressure canning, so you can preserve your favorite low acid foods for you and your family.

Covering everything from soups and stews, jar meals, broths and beans, and game and other meats, this guide will introduce you to everything you need to know about canning through colorful pictures and diagrams.


A Year Without the Grocery Store

A Year Without the Grocery Store

by Karen Morris

This book is geared towards food preservation to prepare for times when grocery stores may not be accessible. Homesteading is all about self-sufficiency, and these tips from Karen will teach you what you need to know to have enough food for you and your family at the ready, no matter what.

Complete with tips for economically storing food your family wants to eat, simple recipes for baking basic comfort foods from scratch, how to safely store and use water, and common mistakes homesteaders make when storing food with ways to do better.

Books on Off-Grid Living and Alternative Energy

Books on Off-Grid Living and Alternative Energy

Becoming self-sufficient with your energy sources is freeing because it cuts out the middle man. Plus, using alternative energy is great for the environment. Many homesteaders go off grid entirely, so let’s take a look at some books that can educate you on how to make off grid living a reality for you.

Off Grid Living 2022-2023

Off Grid Living:

Back to Basics Guide To Become Self Sufficient

by Small Footprint Press

This updated, 30-day guide to go from energy dependance to an entirely off grid life is extremely worthwhile for the new off gridder who wants to adopt the lifestyle as quickly as possible. This guide includes information on living off the grid without giving up any of your luxuries, how to use solar, wind, and geothermal sources, how to install different types of water systems in your home, the best US states for living off grid, and more.


Off Grid Solar Power Simplified

Off Grid Solar Power Simplified

by Nick Seghers

The most popular method of alternative energy on the homestead is solar power. Many people have asked me about putting solar panels on my own tiny house because I’m one of the few out there that is totally off the grid. Let me be the first to say the process isn’t easy and there is a lot to learn!

Nick is an electrical engineer who specializes in solar power design, so his tips are definitely backed by experiences. This manual delves into things like a comprehensive tool list for installing your own panels, tilting, cleaning, optimizing solar input, types of photovoltaics, and much more.


Wind Energy for the Rest of Us

Wind Energy for the Rest of Us

by Paul Gipe

Not as popular as the solar power method but still accessible for the average homesteader, wind turbines are another way to access alternative energy off the grid. Paul’s Wind Energy for the Rest of Us moves through many different methods for harnessing wind energy on your own homestead, including small and large turbines, water-pumping windmills, and multimegawatt wind turbines.


The Complete Guide to Water Storage

The Complete Guide to Water Storage

by Julie Fryer

Learning to store water is a vital for the life of a homesteader. But properly storing your water so its genuinely useable is a learned process, and this read is a great guide for getting started. Using tanks, ponds, and other means of water storage to maintain a safe and viable source of drinking water has become popularized in prepper and homesteader circles. Other water-saving techniques such as rainwater harvesting and gray water collection are also valuable and are explained throughout this guide.


Wood Stoves How to Make and Use Them

Wood Stoves:

How to Make and Use Them

by Ole Wik

Ever considered cooking with a wood stove? This quick read goes over everything you need to know about using and tending to a wood stove, including information about types of wood and stovepipes, how to actually use the wood stove once its going, how to cook with a wood stove, and general safety tips to consider when using an open flame in your own home.

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Homesteading For A Living: Books On The Business Side

Homesteading For A Living

Homesteading goes beyond self-sufficiency – it can also be a business, that, when maintained well, can bring you abundant rewards and financial freedom. Agricultural financing isn’t easy, but with a little guidance you can create the space to sell your tomato harvest, goat cheese, or homemade bar soap and make a substantial profit.

How to Make Money Homesteading

How to Make Money Homesteading

by Tim Young

This simple guide examines an array of skills that are crucial for turning your homestead into a business. Follow along with Tim and learn how to insulate yourself from financial collapse by monitoring which risks you take, manage your finances as you sell your crop, plan for retirement on the farm, and generate livable income from your own homestead. This book features interviews with 18 homesteaders and farmers who share intimate stories of their own journeys toward a fulfilling and financially freeing life on their homestead.


Starting & Running Your Own Small Farm Business

Starting Your Own Small Farm Business

by Sarah Beth Aubrey

Another great source for those who want to start homesteading but don’t have a ton of space to work with. Sarah Beth’s Starting And Running Your Own Small Farm Business is chalk full of savvy skills to help you get started, like planning your budget, web design to self-promote, and food service wholesalers.


The Organic Farmers Business Handbook

The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook

by Richard Wiswall

After working for twenty-seven years at Cate Farm in Vermont, Richard knows the ins and outs of running a farm like a business. In his book, Richard shares advice on how to make your vegetable production more efficient, manage your employees, create a budget, and turn a livable profit on your homestead.


The Future Is Rural

The Future Is Rural

by Jason Bradford

You might want to give yourself a minute to take this one in. Written by Jason the biologist and farmer, this book gives a very meta-assessment of what we know about our modern world and why that analysis can benefit the rural community.

Jason explains why, sociologically as well as economically, the decline of rural areas and dependence on fossil fuels will reverse entirely in the coming decade. This will greatly elevate the importance of self-reliance. If you’re looking for a high brow evaluation of why turning your homestead into a business and independently oiled machine is worth it, this is the book for you.


Farm Record Keeping Book

Farm Record Keeping Book

by Exocet Journals

Staying organized is crucial for running a successful farming business. Writing everything down in an all-inclusive journal can help with that. This record keeping journal is one smart way to log your daily farm routine, livestock care, seasonal crop rotations, repair operations, budget, and more – all kept in one place.

Books On Homesteading Skills, Tools and Supplies

Books On Homesteading Skills Tools and Supplies

Repairs, updates, and maintenance work is required for maintaining a successful homestead. Knowing which tools get the job done and understanding how to perform basic repairs can help you keep your farm in tip top shape and keep you from having to call for backup.

The Tool Book

The Tool Book:

A Tool Lover’s Guide to Over 200 Hand Tool

by Phil Davey

Phil’s tool book is basically an encyclopedia for common household tools. Leaf through this guide to find pictures of common tools from every imaginable angle, detailed patent drawings, zoomed in diagrams, and step-by-step illustrations of each tool being used with expert advice on how to use each tool best. The book covers different types of hammers, spades, chisels, and more.


Woodworking The Complete Step-by-Step Manual

Woodworking: The Complete Manual

by DK

This step-by-step carpenter’s manual includes guidance for a wide range of skillsets. New carpenters will learn the ins and outs of basic design techniques, how to use essential tools, and basic carpentry techniques like woodturning, furniture restoration, and wood joints.

More experienced carpenters can use their skills and follow the steps in the 28 different DIY woodworking projects the book provides. There’s something here for everybody wanting to learn more about woodworking.


Do-It-Yourself Plumbing

Do-It-Yourself Plumbing

by Max Alth

Another essential skill to get good at is plumbing, especially if you aren’t wanting to hire out on your homestead. This DIY guide includes over 500 photos, diagrams, and drawings to teach how to fix leaky faucets, balky toilets, clogged drains and traps, and even how to install hot-water and steam-heating system on your own.


Farm and Workshop Welding

Farm and Workshop Welding

by John Seymour

With over 400 step by step photos and tons of tips and suggestions for beginner to experienced welders, this comprehensive welding guide has it all. Learning to cut and shape metal will help you keep your homestead up to par and give you the freedom to create endless projects on your own.

Flip through Andrew’s comprehensive guide for detailed descriptions of specific types of welds like arc, MIG, gas, TIG, and plasma cutting. It also includes advice that extends into the wider workshop with advice on drill use, cutting threads, and blacksmithing.


Tools A Tool-by-Tool Guide to Choosing and Using 150 Home Essentials

Tools:

Guide to Choosing and Using 150 Home Essentials

by Steve Dodds

Knowing which tools to use and how to use them is the first step in keeping up with repairs around your homestead. This quick read chronicles 150 power and hand tools with explanations on how to use them.

Steve informs readers in three clear cut sections. The first covers where you can go to find quality tools and what specifically to look for to ensure years of dependable use. The second section explains how to use eight basic tool kits, and the third section is a tool-by-tool inventory of virtually every power and hand tool you could need.

Homesteading Books On Raising Livestock

Homesteading Books On Raising Livestock

A homestead isn’t complete without livestock. If the goal is to be as self-sufficient as possible, producing your own food with as few outside sources as possible, raising animals is the best way to make that happen. This booklist will provide you with all the know-hows you need to reduce your dependance on big agriculture and learn to produce your own dairy and poultry.

Raising Chickens and Goats

Raising Chickens and Goats

by Jason Howard

Chickens and goats are the most popular choices for raising animals on a homestead, especially if you’re getting into agriculture for the first time. Jason goes over how to know if your chickens and goats are healthy when you purchase them, how to keep them from getting sick, and ways to protect your livestock from predators.

For chickens, he talks about how to build a chicken coop, tips to raise robust chickens, and how to choose the best chicken breed on a budget, and more. For goats, he goes over the best places to buy a healthy goat, common mistakes homesteaders make when raising goats, tips to keep your goats from getting diseases, and more.


The Homesteaders Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

Natural Chicken Keeping Handbook

by Amy Fewell

Pretty much anything you’d want to know about raising chickens is likely found in the little guide. Amy provides detailed explanations of everything from understanding why chickens do what they do, creating your very own poultry or egg business, preventing and treating ailments with herbal remedies, setting up your property, coop, and brooder, and hatching new chicks.


Keeping A Family Cow

Keeping A Family Cow

by Joann S. Grohman

Keeping A Family Cow was originally published in the early 1970s as The Cow Economy, and has been reprinted many times with updates and edits. If you’re wondering if you should get a cow but aren’t sure where to begin, this is the book for you. Joann goes over cow knowledge essentials, like the health benefits of untreated milk, how to easily milk your cow, details on calving and breeding, and the ins and outs of making butter, yogurt, and cheese.


Raising Pigs

Raising Pigs:

The Ultimate Guide to Pig Raising on Your Homestead

by Dion Rosser

Learn the ins and outs of raising pigs with detailed instructions in Raising Pigs: The Ultimate Guide To Pig Raising. Dion’s ultimate guide covers how to choose the type of pig that will best suit your needs, how to build proper housing and fencing for your pigs, how to properly care for your swine, how to feed your pigs well, and tips for pig reproduction and breeding.

Books On Bees And Beekeeping

Books On Bees And Beekeeping

Beekeeping is not as difficult as it might seem at first glance. There are extensive benefits that come with adding beekeeping into your self-reliance skills on your family’s homestead.

The importance of bees often gets overlooked, but they are actually one of the most necessary creatures to sustaining humankind. Their role as pollinators is essential to our food chain and the longevity of society.

By beekeeping, you can do your part to help keep bees from going extinct. And the honey is a major plus! Check out this booklist to kickstart your journey as a beekeeper.

Beekeeping For Beginners

Beekeeping For Beginner’s

by Amber Bradshaw

If you’re new to beekeeping completely, I’d definitely recommend this read. Follow along with Amy, a homesteader and experienced beekeeper, to learn the basic fundamentals of modern beekeeping. This book will walk you through picking the right hive, bringing your bees home for the first time, surviving winters with your bees, the basics of collecting honey, and more.


Beekeepers Problem Solver

Beekeeper’s Problem Solver:

100 Common Problems Explored and Explained

by James E. Tew

It’s easy for things to go wrong when learning the art of keeping bees. This book explores 100 common problems for all beekeepers, from the beginner to experienced level. Then, it provides several methods to solve those problems directly. Each issue is addressed in detail with photographs and diagrams and tangible solutions from highly experienced beekeepers.


Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping

Honey Bee Biology And Beekeeping

by Dewey M. Caron with Lawrence John Connor

This extensive and heavily researched beekeeper’s guide is for those curious about the science and history behind the art of beekeeping. This deep dive into beekeeping concentrates on the why, how, and when of beekeeping both today and in the past. Dewey and Lawrence explain bee basics in a manner meaningful to people who lack an intensive background in biology, covering colony management, basic bee biology, and more.

Helpful Reads On Permaculture

Helpful Reads On Permaculture

The practice of permaculture is all about managing your land and life in a way that is harmonious with the natural world. Getting started with permaculture begins with your thoughts then moves into your habits and lifestyle.

It means designing your land in a way that does not harm the earth, using your resources with environmental caution, decreasing your waste and your consumption, and creating an ecologically sound life on your homestead.

Permaculture A Beginners Guide

Permaculture: A Beginners Guide

by Graham Burnett

This is a valuable read if you’re entirely new to the lifestyle and mindset of permaculture. It’s a generalized beginner’s guide, so I don’t go this route if you aren’t actually a beginner – you might be frustrated by the level of simplicity! However, if you’re looking to learn the very basics of what permaculture is and how you can take baby steps to adopt the lifestyle, this is your book.


Earth User's Guide to Permaculture

Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture

by Rosemary Morrow

This is a slightly more detailed and extensive guide to permaculture than the one above. Rosemary talks a lot about the principles behind living a life built around permaculture: to care for people and the earth wherever possible.

Practically, she also provides detailed tips and instructions for the following practices: seed-saving, integrated pest management, domestic and rural water usage, dealing with weeds and wildlife in an ecologically friendly manner, and designing land to withstand natural disasters.


Permaculture Design a Step by Step Guide

Permaculture Design

by Aranya

This book is specifically geared toward land design and management under the umbrella of permaculture. Aranya explains the design process in extensive detail from beginning to end, covering designing frameworks, site surveying and mapmaking, placement and integration, and working with clients. There is an abundant use of flowcharts and diagrams throughout to help you learn the practice.

Prepping And Survival Skills

Prepping And Survival Skills

A prepper is an individual who focuses on training themselves in both urban and bushcraft survival skills to be prepared for all situations. Learning prepping and survival skills is a great way to prepare for all circumstances and make sure you have everything you need on your own homestead, should you be disconnected from civilization. These books go over basic and advanced survival skills for preppers and homesteaders alike.

Prepper’s Long Term Survival Guide

Prepper’s Long Term Survival Guide

by Jim Cobb

This step-by-step survivalist guide is full of advice, techniques, strategies, and skills to learn from the perspective of a lifelong prepping expert. Jim gives insight on preparing for the worst with skills like water collection for drinking and hygiene, storing water, growing food, hunting game, foraging in the woods, first aid and home remedies, and tactics for fortifying and defending your home.


SAS Survival Handbook

SAS Survival Handbook:

How to Survive in the Wild, in Any Climate

by John Lofty Wiseman

John’s handbook specifically addresses ways to survive unforeseen situations as they arise. John provides strategies and tactics for surviving in any type of situation, from accidents and escape procedures to adapting to various climates like polar, tropical, or desert, to identifying edible plants, to creating fire. The is an all-inclusive how to for surviving anything, complete with detailed descriptions, illustrations, instructions, and diagrams.

Natural Medicine And Remedies

Natural Medicine And Remedies

For some, being entirely self-sufficient without using outside sources includes medicine. Many homesteaders engage with herbal remedies like tinctures, teas, syrups, and salves to calm anxiety, heal wounds, or help with ailments like headaches or the common cold. These easy reads will give you some basic advice for beginning the world of herbal medicine.

The Homesteaders Herbal Companion

The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion

by Amy Fewell

This book is the go-to guide for those wishing to start their journey with home remedies. Amy covers everything from incorporating herbs and essential oils around your home, the basics of herbalism, and how to properly use each type of herb around your homestead. Whether you are new to homesteading and herbal medicine or you know the basics already, there is much to gain from this comprehensive guide.


Medicinal Herbs A Beginners Guide

Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide

by Rosemary Gladstar

In this beginner’s guide, Rosemary goes over 33 common healing plants and their uses. She also includes advice on growing, harvesting, and preparing each plant along with tips for using herbs in healing tinctures, oils, and creams. This is a valuable read if you’re looking for an in-depth inventory of useful medicinal herbs with pictures and tips for usage.


Be Your Own Doctor

Be Your Own Doctor

by Rachel Weaver

This book is specifically geared toward creating safe, high quality, in-home medical care. Rachel divides her book into sections: essential household remedies with which includes remedies for common issues, first aid, and immunity boosters, then health hormones and pregnancy, and, lastly, planning ahead and getting supplies. I would recommend this one to anyone thinking about trying herbal medicine in their homestead.

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How To Compost With Worms: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

How To Compost With Worms: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

how to compost with worms

NAVIGATION

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

When I first started worm composting, I remember adding in a whole watermelon’s worth of rinds, thinking it would take weeks or maybe even months to break down. The next week, I couldn’t find them in the bin, my worms broke down them all!ryan mitchell simple living expert

When people think of composting, they usually picture throwing all of their food waste in a pile that they turn every once in a while. But what if I told you there is an entirely different form of composting you can try? Composting with worms!

With vermicomposting, you rely on an abundance of tiny worms to help decompose your scraps, and boy do they know how to get the job done. It’s the same process the worms would perform in the natural world, but when you give these little guys the perfect conditions, they go crazy.

What Is Worm Composting And Why Should I Start?

what is worm composting

Composting with worms, also called vermicomposting, is a composting method that uses earthworms to do the bulk of the hard work for you — sounds like a pretty sweet deal right?

worm compostIn a general sense, compost turns to soil by taking in water and oxygen and producing carbon dioxide and heat. The decomposition process is caused by various bacteria and microbes breaking down your scraps. Worms can do the same thing, but faster.

When you add worms to your compost bin, the worms expedite the process by helping the bacteria and microbes do their job. The vermicomposting method is regarded by composting pros as the easiest and most successful method for composting, especially if you’re just starting out.

How To Compost With Worms: Pros and Cons of Vermicomposting

Pros and Cons of Vermicomposting

I chatted with Nick Shaw about all things worm composting. Nick is a composting enthusiast and owner of Apex Organix Compost, a commercial composting service in Fairfax, Virginia. Throughout our conversation, he gave me insightful advice on why vermicomposting is a wise method for composting newcomers.

worm composting pro tip “Vermicomposting is much less work than building a compost bin, making sure it gets hot enough, turning it, and trying to sift out finished compost. And if you’re in a small apartment, it’s something you can still do!” – Nick from Apex Organix

Worm composting has benefits, but it also has its downsides. When choosing a compost method, it’s important to consider where you want to keep your bin, how quickly you want the process to go, and the type of environment you can provide. I’ve created this chart of the pros and cons for composting with worms to help inform your choice of composting method.

PROS

  • Easy to manage
  • Less prone to odors
  • Worm compost has more nutrients
  • Faster than traditional composting

CONS

  • Worms cannot decompose proteins
  • Requires specific worm species
  • Easy to overfeed worms
  • Smaller volume

PRO: Worm Compost Is Easy To Manage

When it comes to maintaining and keeping up with your compost bin, vermicomposting gets a lot of points for being user friendly.

Composting with worms takes up less space than a traditional compost bin, so you can easily adapt this method to a small studio apartment or the corner of your living room. You do not have to turn a worm compost bin as often as you do other types of compost.

PRO: Vermicompost Is Odorless

Vermicompost is the least likely to give off a smell when compared to other methods. If your nose is bothered by your worm compost bin, something is wrong.

Saying that worm compost is entirely odorless might be a bit of a stretch, as all compost does tend to emit a slightly earthy aroma. However, the odor coming from your worm compost should be pleasing to the senses. More points for the earthworms — especially if you’re composting indoors.

PRO: Worm Compost Has More Nutrients

Vermicompost is richer in nutrients than traditional compost. It is jam packed with more phosphorus, potassium, and nitrogen, all of which are extremely beneficial in aiding the growth of your plants.

Vermicompost also holds nutrients for a longer time than traditional compost, so it can supply these high levels of healthy nutrients to your plants for even longer.

PRO: Vermicomposting Is Faster Than Traditional Composting

Vermicomposting is quick. This is because your earthworms are working overtime to do the bulk of the work it would usually take the bacteria and microorganisms many months to complete.

Traditional composting methods can take anywhere from eight to 15 weeks to produce results, but vermicompost gets the job done at two to five times that rate!

indoor compost bin

CON: Worms Cannot Decompose Proteins

Proteins, dairy products, meats, and cheeses are compostable when it comes to traditional compost methods. Experts certainly have varied opinions on whether or not you should compost these items though, as they can attract more pests and can also harbor pathogens.

However, when it comes to vermicompost, composting dairy and proteins isn’t an option at all. Earthworms have strong mouths but don’t have teeth, so thick products like meat and cheese are too difficult for them to digest. Stick with fruits and vegetables to keep your wrigglers happy!

CON: You Have To Tend To The Needs Of Your Worm Species

When going the vermicomposting route, it’s wise to tend towards buying species that are tolerant of the climate you’re in. When you add worms to your compost, temperature matters.

Location and climate are important considerations when buying worms. For example, African Nightcrawlers need warmer temperatures to survive while European Nightcrawlers enjoy cooler temperatures.

CON: You Can Easily Overfeed Your Worms

When composting with worms, the quantity of your scraps is vital. While the success of traditional composting methods is dependent on the way you layer your scraps, you can have as many or as few scraps as you like. That’s not the case with vermicompost.

Overfeeding worms can cause many problems with your compost like odors, acidity, excess moisture, pests, and sick worms, which you want to avoid.

CON: Vermicompost Needs A Shallower Container

Vermicompost works best in a fairly shallow container because it makes it easier for the redworms to feed in the upper layers of the bedding. You want the depth of the container to be between 8 and 12 inches.

how to start a compost pile

How Do I Maintain My Worm Bin?

How Do I Maintain My Worm Bin

Once you’ve made the decision to go the vermicomposting route, you’re going to need advice on how to maintain your bin. When I first started out, I had tons of questions, from what scraps worms prefer to what to do if my worms were eating too much to how often I should turn my worm bin.

What Should I Compost In My Worm Bin?

What Should I Compost In My Worm Bin

You can compost almost anything you would use in traditional compost in your worm bin, including:

  • Most fruits
  • Most vegetables
  • Roots and bulbs
  • Husks, skins, or peels
  • Eggshells
  • Dry leaves
  • Green leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Pine needles
  • Natural fibers
  • Non-glossy paper
  • Tea leaves or bags
  • Coffee grinds
  • Coffee filters
  • Wood ash
  • Sawdust

worm composting advice“They love watermelon. They go crazy for watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, and pumpkin. But if you really want to see them process material, give them some watermelon, wait about six hours, and they’ll go to town.” – Nick from Apex Organix

What Shouldn’t I Compost In My Worm Bin?

What Not To Compost In My Worm Bin

These materials can be harmful to the worms in your bin and are best to avoid:

  • Meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Citrus fruits
  • Onions or garlic
  • Cooking spices
  • Fats or grease
  • Bones
  • Breads & crackers
  • Pastries
  • Coated paper
  • Stickers
  • Envelope stamps
  • Cat or dog feces
  • Diseased plants
  • Pesticide treated plants
  • Treated wood products

Where Beginners Go Wrong Composting With Worms?

advice for worm composting beginners

When I first started out composting with worms, I didn’t want to make any rookie mistakes with my scraps, my worms, or my compost bin. Here are three example problems that keep composting beginners from reaching their best possible vermicomposting results.

1. Overfeeding Your Worms

Overfeeding Your Worms

I talked about this a little bit already, but this is a common misstep for vermicompost newbies. When you have a ton of kitchen scraps that you’re excited to start composting, it can be tempting to want to just throw them all on top of your pile and let the games begin. This can be harmful or even deadly to your worms.

pro advice on worm composting“When you overfeed, you can run into all kinds of problems that just aren’t good for the worms, especially if you keep the worms inside. The bedding material can become too acidic because, if you add too much food material, you are adding too much nitrogen to the soil, so add more carbon.” – Nick from Apex Organix

2. Putting Your Worms In A Compost Tumbler

Putting Your Worms In A Compost Tumbler

A compost tumbler is not an ideal habitat for composting with worms. Earthworms are going to do much better in a traditional outdoor bin or, if you want to compost indoors, a plastic storage bin or bucket with a lid.

For one thing, tumblers are designed to be rotated, but earthworms need a habitat that’s not being actively disturbed. Another issue is that compost tumblers are designed to heat up, so not only will you stress the worms out with excess movement, but there’s also a decent chance you’d end up killing them in the tumbler due to ammonia release.

do not use a compost tumbler for worm composting

3. Trying To Compost Perfectly On Your First Try

Trying To Compost Perfectly On Your First Try

Just like with anything else we try for the first time, it’s easy to be discouraged when things go wrong. Composting is a slow process without an exact recipe, and it takes a lot of guess and check to get right. Beginners tend to go wrong by letting their desire to get the perfect pile and soil on the first try keep them from trying vermicomposting out at all.

pro tip about worm composting“People get overwhelmed by the amount of information out there — they let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just get started.” – Nick from Apex Organix


What Is Wrong With My Worm Compost Bin? Troubleshooting Your Vermicompost

Troubleshooting Your Vermicompost

Being a beginner vermicomposter can come with an array of challenges, and it’s easy for these challenges to make it feel like you’re failing.

However, many of these obstacles come with simple fixes. Below, I’ve compiled a list of common problem spots paired with helpful solutions for those starting out.

My Worms Are Sick Or Dying

My Worms Are Sick Or Dying

If you start to notice dead worms in your worm bin, you need to take immediate action to save your remaining sick worms. It doesn’t take much to keep earthworms happy, but sometimes things go wrong.

Here are some ideas of what might be wrong with your bin if you see dead worms, with quick tips on how to fix the problem:

Temperature of worm bin

Worms are not successful in a bin that is extremely hot or extremely cold. Use a thermometer to check that your bin is between 55º and 70ºF.

If your bin is too hot, feed the worms fewer scraps and rely on their natural ability to sustain themselves until your compost pile starts to cool off. If that doesn’t help, you can add ice cubes to the top of your pile.

If you bin is too cold, make sure you keep a lid on the bin to trap in heat. If your bin does not have a lid, use a black tarp to cover your worm bin. You can also try adding hay or straw to insulate your bin.

gardening 101

Moisture in worm bin

Worms don’t like it when the bin is too wet or too dry. To check this, think of the top of your compost pile like a wrung-out sponge. It should feel moist to the touch but it should not be holding water, dripping, or have any standing water.

If your bin is too wet, try soaking up the excess water with cloth or paper, or insert small rolls of newspaper in several holes throughout the bin.

If your bin is too dry, just add some more water to the top of the pile with a watering can or a hose. Be careful not to do this too quickly or you’ll suffocate your living worms.

Air flow in worm compost

Your worms need to be able to breathe! Make sure your bin has good holes for aeration and that the layers of your bin are not so compacted that they restrict air flow between layers and scraps.

Amount of light in vermicompost

Worms are used to living in a severely dark environment. Too much sunlight can be deadly for earthworms. The best way to make sure your worms stay happy is to keep the lid on your worm bin when you aren’t turning, checking on, or managing the pile.

Under or overfeeding your worms

Your worms could be dying off from a lack of food or overfeeding. If your worms do not have enough food, they will begin to eat their own castings. It’s common for composting beginners to be surprised by how quickly their worms eat away at their scraps, so check to see when you need to add more food.

It’s also common for people to make their worms sick by overfeeding them. If you see large amounts of food leftover after one to two weeks, you are probably overfeeding. I recommend you play it safe by feeding your worms an amount they can handle every two or three days.

basics of homestead gardens

Amount of space in your worm bin

Make sure your bin isn’t overly full of scraps, bedding, or even earthworms. Your worms prefer a nice full bin of food, but they can feel overcrowded if your scraps and materials are too compact. If you feel like the hatchlings are making the bin too full, you can take out some of the fully grown worms and move them to a new bin so all of your worms have enough space to move freely and feed as they please.

Type of water used in vermicompost

It is crucial that you use dechlorinated water to moisten your worm bin. Tap water often contains chlorine, which can be deadly to your worms. You can buy dechlorinated water at your local grocery or hardware store, or you can dechlorinate your tap water by boiling it.

Check the pH levels of your worm bin

Your worm bin should not be too acidic or too alkaline or it will harm your worms. You can check the pH levels of your bin with a pH probe. The goal is to have a neutral pH of 7.

If your worm bin is too alkaline, add some acidic foods like citrus fruit peels, onions, pineapple, tomatoes, or peppers — but be careful not to add too much and swing the pendulum the other way. Too much acidity can hurt worms more easily than a bin that is too alkaline.

If your worm bin is too acidic, make sure none of those acidic kinds of food are in your pile.

The Worms In My Compost Bin Are Not Having Babies

The Worms In My Compost Bin Are Not Having Babies

A healthy vermicompost pile produces hatchlings as your happy earthworms start to mate. It can take a few weeks for worms to hatch, so be sure to account for that time when considering the health of your worms. If there aren’t any mating earthworms, egg capsules, or tiny hatchlings in your worm beds, it is likely due to one of these two reasons:

Your worm compost bedding is unhealthy

It is possible that your worm bedding is too wet, too dry, too acidic, or just needs changing out so the worms have a comfortable environment to reproduce in. After your worms are initially added, your bedding should be kept moist but not too wet. The top 6 to 8 inches of the bedding should be turned every seven to 10 days. About every six to nine months, the old bedding should be replaced with brand new bedding. Use straw or hay, newspaper, coco coir, or shredded cardboard to do this.

Your worm compost bin is too cold

If your bin gets colder than 60 degrees, your earthworms will not breed or produce hatchlings. See above for tips on how to heat up a vermicompost bin that is too cold.

My Worm Compost Is Bringing In Pests And Fruit Flies

My Worm Compost Is Bringing In Pests And Fruit Flies

Pests and fruit flies in your worm bin are not ideal, especially if you are keeping your bin inside your house. Here are a few suggestions for getting rid of unwanted bugs in your vermicompost bin:

Add newspaper to your worm bin

Layer a sheet of newspaper on top of your worm bedding to help keep flies out of your
bin. If the flies start congregating on the paper, change it more frequently to see if this helps eliminate them. If the flies won’t leave, you may need to change out your worm bedding completely to destroy fruit fly eggs and larvae.

Build a moat in your worm bin

You can keep smaller bugs like ants or mites out of your worm bin by surrounding it with a water moat that the bugs cannot cross. Be careful with this trick though, as you don’t want the moat to leak over into your bin and completely soak your compost.

Use a bread slice to get rid of bugs in vermicompost

Another trick for small insects is to place a slice of bread on the surface of the bedding. Then remove the bread slice when it’s covered in tiny bugs and discard of the bread and the little pests.

My Worms Are Escaping From My Compost Bin

My Worms Are Escaping From My Compost Bin

When you first add worms to your compost bin, the little guys may try to escape, as they haven’t yet gotten used to their new environment. They can also react to barometric pressure, causing them to try to escape in the case of a storm.

One tip to control those more free-spirited earthworms is to keep a light on near the bin. Worms avoid bright spaces, so they will not try to crawl out towards the light if they are confined to the darkness of an enclosed bin.

My Worm Compost Bin Smells Bad

My Worm Compost Bin Smells Bad

One of the most common complaints for composting beginners is odor. However, vermicompost tends to be the most odorless form of compost. Your worm bin should barely smell, or, if it does, the smell should be earthy and satisfying.

If there is a gross smell coming from your worm bin, that’s a very clear warning sign that something is seriously wrong. Here’s what to do if your vermicompost stinks:

Try adding more oxygen to your worm bin

To do this, gently lift up the layers of food waste and bedding, enabling air to enter into your compost pile.

Try to scout out if the odor is coming from one specific source. If you track down the culprit, [BOLD]remove the moldy kitchen scrap from your vermicompost bin.

If you can’t find one specific smelly element in your worm compost bin, [BOLD]add a layer of shredded paper, hay and straw, or cardboard strips to the top of the bin, and gently work some of this bedding into the lower layers. The extra carbon you add will help to balance out any of the extra nitrogen that’s making your worm bin pungent.

Types Of Worms Used For Vermicomposting

Types Of Worms Used For Vermicomposting

You may feel like all earthworms are similar, but different species actually require different climates and can be good for vermicompost for different reasons. Check out the most common worms used in vermicompost and the specific ways to care for each species:

Vermicomposting With Red Wrigglers

Vermicomposting With Red Wrigglers

red wrigglers composting worms

Red wrigglers are the most common earthworms used for vermicomposting. The scientific name for red wrigglers is Lumbricus Rubellus. Wrigglers are one of the easiest worm species to take care of with the least number of problems for composters.

They can survive within a wide range of temperatures from 55° to 95°F (13° to 35°C) and are also one of the cheapest species to buy in bulk. You can anticipate receiving about 800 to 1,000 worms per pound when purchasing these red earthworms.

Cost: $30–$35 per pound


Vermicomposting With European Nightcrawlers

Vermicomposting With European Nightcrawlers

european nightcrawlers worms

Another earthworm species that is fairly easy to manage is the European nightcrawler, also known as Einsenia Hortensis. Think of these guys like the larger cousin of the red wrigglers who are a tad bit higher maintenance. These nightcrawlers like cooler temperatures, so make sure to be considerate of that when going this route.

Another thing to note with European nightcrawlers is they will birth hatchlings at a slower rate than other species, so you won’t have as many worm babies right away. Since these guys are larger, you should expect about 300 to 400 worms per pound when you buy them.

Cost: $35–$40 per pound


Vermicomposting With African Nightcrawlers

Vermicomposting With African Nightcrawlers

African Nightcrawler worms

African nightcrawlers are high-quality worms to use for vermicompost, as they are known for having better looking worm castings (as good looking as one could call worm poop), but they are also far more difficult to care for.

While their castings make them a popular option, African nightcrawlers require extremely hot temperatures in order to stay alive. They can begin dying off at 60°F (16°C), making them a poor choice for those who live in colder climates. Anticipate about 300 to 400 worms per pound.

Cost: $35 per pound


Vermicomposting With Indian Blue Earthworms

Vermicomposting With Indian Blue Earthworms

Indian Blue Earthworms

It is highly common for the Indian blue earthworms to be confused for red wrigglers due to how similar the species’ look. The Indian blue worm prefers warmer, tropical climates as opposed to colder, frigid climates.

One downside of using these guys in your compost is that they are highly sensitive to barometric pressure, so they commonly try to (and successfully) escape their worm bin with weather changes like hurricanes or thunderstorms. Indian blues are also harder to find and not as common in the U.S. If you can get your hands on them, expect 800 to 1,000 worms per pound.

Cost: $40–$50 per pound


Where Can I Buy Composting Worms?

Where Can I Buy Composting Worms

So where can you buy composting worms? There are several ways to get your hands on vermicompost worms in bulk. You can order earthworms online or purchase them for a local retailer or worm farm.

Many worm farmers and retailers ship their worms, but you can also purchase them on site. Here are a few sources for purchasing your vermicomposting worms:

planet natural

Planet Natural – Planetnatural.com

Planet Natural sells red wrigglers in bulk and will ship them directly to you. Your shipment will arrive in a cloth bag ready for you to use in your own worm composting bin. Planet Natural recommends that you use about 1,000 worms for areas up to 250 square feet and sells worms in groups of 250 to 4,000. You can order red wrigglers directly from their website.

Price: $35–$135 depending on quantity


uncle jims worm farm

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm – Unclejimswormfarm.com

Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm sells several packages of vermicompost worms in bulk. They sell red wrigglers, European nightcrawlers, and mixed bags of composting worms in quantities from a mere 100 up to 2,000 worms. Each order is shipped and delivered straight to your door. You can purchase Uncle Jim’s vermicomposting worms on their website.

Price: $25–$70 depending on quantity


pet store

Local Pet or Hardware Stores

If you don’t want to order online, you can also purchase vermicomposting worms at your local pet or hardware stores.

You can buy common earthworm species like red wrigglers at these stores, however, it’s likely that they will come in smaller quantities than if you buy the vermicompost worms online and have them shipped to you in bulk.

Pet stores like Petco sell earthworms in groups of 45, while hardware stores like Cabela’s, Home Depot, or the Garden Center of Walmart typically sell them by the ounce.

If you buy your vermicomposting worms from a pet or hardware store as opposed to a worm farm, make sure the species is the right type for composting. These stores sell worms for many other purposes like fishing or feeding rodents, and not all earthworms are great for compost.

Price: $3.50–$5 per ounce


How To Build Your Own Worm Composting Bin

How To Build Your Own Worm Composting Bin

You can use most of the same materials and techniques when building a worm composting bin that you would use to build a traditional compost bin, but there are some specific elements to add when building a worm bin that are better for the health of your earthworms.

Features To Add To A Worm Bin

  • Build a 12- to 20-gallon bin
  • The bin should be dark
  • Give your worm bin a lid
  • Build a drainage mechanism
  • Give your worm bin aeration holes
  • Add 1-inch legs to your worm bin
  • Add a tray underneath your worm bin
  • Add bedding material
build a bin for worm composting

Read detailed instructions on how to assemble your very own DIY compost bin here.

how to build a compost bin


Your Turn!

  • How will you build the best environment for your vermicompost?
  • What type of earthworms will you add to your compost bin?

How To Start A Compost Pile For Beginners

How To Start A Compost Pile For Beginners

how to start a compost pile

NAVIGATION

ryans tiny house

Hi, I’m Ryan

When I first started composting on my own, I had tons of questions. I got hung up on what I was doing wrong instead of what I was doing right. Composting is a science and an art, so you’re not going to nail it on your first try. There is a lot to learn and it’s okay to fail when you first start.
ryan mitchell simple living expert

In a society obsessed with instant gratification, it’s hard for us to let good things take time. Composting is a slow process that takes diligence, patience, and keen attention, but the process brings abundant rewards. Composting reminds us that we aren’t meant to be blind consumers of what the earth has to offer, and that our ecological footprint is important.

What Is Composting? Compost Defined

What Is Composting

what is compostIn the simplest terms, composting is the decomposition process of organic matter to create a smooth, dirt-like material that can be used to nourish plants and trees as well as fertilize soil.

There are several different types of composting which I’ll outline later, but all types serve the same purpose: turning organic waste into nutrient-rich soil.

How Does Composting Work?

How Does Composting Work

As your carbon-filled kitchen scraps begin to rot, microorganisms from the soil will break it down. This leaves you with humus, a thick black and brown substance full of a fiber, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium that can nourish plants and trees.

The microorganisms are able to break the material down by taking in water and oxygen and giving off carbon dioxide and heat. And then, like magic, last week’s banana peel has decomposed to become fibrous soil!

how compost is made

Benefits Of Composting

Benefits Of Composting

Composting has many benefits, but here are just a few to convince you to start composting on your own:

Composting Gives Your Waste Purpose.

Organics make up 1/3 of the garbage that is sitting in our landfills. Throwing organic material away adds waste to landfills that could have been used for greener purposes.

Compost Prevents Plant Diseases.

Using compost causes your plants and trees to be more resistant to diseases and harmful insects because of the healthy nutrients in the compost.

Compost helps to conserve and clean water.

Adding compost to soil can reduce the amount of water needed for crops. Additionally, compost’s ability to filter water as it penetrates the ground actually cleans the water flowing into the ocean.

Compost improves air quality.

The composting process sucks carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it back into the ground.

Composting helps the economy.

Composting plants have been proven to create more jobs than other disposal facilities, such as landfill sites.

Composting lowers your personal carbon footprint.

Composting minimizes greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the amount of carbon your personally put out into the atmosphere.

composting has many benefits for the environment

Types Of Composting: Which One Is Best?

types of composting

Different types of composting require slightly different environments and processes, and they each produce a diverse outcome. There are three main types of composting, and it’s important to know how they each work and what they require when deciding which method you want to try your hand at.

Aerobic Composting

Aerobic Composting

aerobic compost pileTypically, when people talk about composting, they are referring to the aerobic composting method. With this method, microorganisms rely on oxygen to break down waste. When you hear composters discuss turning their compost pile, it means they’re using the aerobic method.

The act of “turning” or “spinning” a compost pile is crucial because it is in the rotation of scraps that the pile is able to aerate, and the organisms can take in the oxygen they need to get the decomposing show on the road.

When going this route, you’re going to want to add lots of nitrogen-heavy scraps like leaves, grass, and vegetables. This will raise the temperature of your pile and speed up the overall process.

Benefits of the aerobic composting method:

  • Relatively odorless
  • Does not take as long as anaerobic composting to see results

Anaerobic Composting

Anaerobic Composting

anaerobic compost pileAnaerobic composting is the exact opposite of aerobic composting: There is no oxygen used in the decomposition process. Anaerobic composting is what happens in landfills — waste breaks down over a long amount of time, completely on its own, just by sitting in a pile.

However, without oxygen to help the organisms break down matter, bacteria can take over and causes the pile to emit a highly pungent smell.

Benefits of the anaerobic composting method:

  • Takes very little effort to maintain — throw scraps into a compost pile and don’t touch it for a year or more to see results
  • Produces more usable nutrient rich humus per volume of organic waste put into the compost pile

Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting

vermicompost pileThis third type pf composting is in a category of its own. Vermicomposting is a method that uses worms (usually red wrigglers) to do the bulk of the hard work. The worms use oxygen and moisture to safely break down organic material, just like in aerobic composting.

With this method, the worms do most of the heavy lifting with a little help from other microorganisms and bacteria. Vermicomposting is regarded by experts as the easiest and most successful composting method for a few reasons:

Benefits of vermicomposting:

  • Very easy to maintain — no need to turn your worm compost as frequently because the worms are working overtime for you
  • Closest to being completely odor free
  • The fastest method as worms speed up the composting process

Composting Advice From Experts

Composting Advice From Experts

I was able to chat with several composting aficionados, including master gardeners, horticulturists, rot riders, and several others. These ‘posters gave us real-world insight and advice they wish they had when they were first starting to compost, as well as where beginner composters usually go wrong.

Advice For Composting Beginners

Advice For Composting Beginners

Our experts thought back to the very early years in their own composting journey and considered the advice they wish they had known when they first started out.

Janet Schofield
“I wish someone had told me to start as simple as possible. Figure out one method at a time and add others as you need and have time for them.” – Janet Schofield, Texas A&M Extension
Oz Kupoglu
“A compost pile on the ground is the best way to go. A lot of times new composters will use above-ground compost turners, but I’ve only seen those work for people who are avid composters and really know what they’re doing”. – Oz Kupoglu, Down To Earth Composting
nick shaw
“Make sure you have the ability to have airflow across, through, and around the material as it’s breaking down. This is super important, otherwise you’ll have a cold, smelly, anerobic compost pile.”
– Nick Shaw,  Apex Organix

Where Beginner Composters Usually Go Wrong

Where Beginner Composters Usually Go Wrong

We also asked our experts where they see new composters usually run into problems, and they gave some advice on what not to do when making your first compost pile.

Gary Pilarchik
“The biggest mistake people make is not getting started. Just fill your pile with grass, weeds, scraps, and leaves. You will have gotten through the biggest barrier to making compost and that is simply not getting started.” – Gary Pilarchik, The Rusted Garden
Lisa Hilgenberg
“Using materials that are too large to breakdown quickly is a common mistake — any twig larger than a pencil shouldn’t be added. Neither should animal products like meat, bones, or oils.” – Lisa Hilgenberg, Chicago Botanic Garden
Ian Kennedy
“One way new ‘posters go wrong is they do not seek the proper ratio of carbon to nitrogen. A correct ratio helps the composting process happen, as the microbes need this amount of each material to degrade food.” – Ian Kennedy, SeaGreens Microgreens

How To Make Compost At Home In Five Easy Steps

How To Make Compost At Home In Five Easy Steps

If you’re ready to get started, we’ve laid out five easy steps to make your very own compost pile! Just follow these instructions and your kitchen scraps will be magically transforming into humus in no time.

Step One: Gather Composting Kitchen Scraps

Gather Composting Kitchen Scraps

green food scraps for compostingSeparate your brown scraps (carbon heavy) from green scraps (nitrogen heavy), making sure you have a fair amount of each type represented.

As a general rule, when gathering your scraps, be sure to stock up on more brown matter than green matter — things like newspaper, cardboard, chipped wood, or dry leaves.

Step Two: Chop Compost Material To Size

Chop Compost Material To Size

cut up food scraps for compostingExperts recommend chopping your materials into ½- to 1½-inch pieces. Of course, composting isn’t an exact science, and the size of your scraps will depend on the type of scrap it is. You aren’t going to be able to cut up coffee grounds the way you cut up newspaper, but try to chop the scraps you can into even sized bits.

Step Three: Layer Your Composting Material

Layer Your Composting Material

Now you’re going to layer your brown and green matter strategically throughout your pile. When layering a compost pile, you want to alternate your brown and green scraps layer by layer.

Composting experts from the Texas A&M Agricultural Extension Agency recommend this setup for layering your pile to get the most nutrient-packed humus when the process is complete.

These are layered in the order that goes down first

  • Layer 7: Sawdust or wood ash
  • Layer 6, BROWN: more carbon-rich scraps
  • Layer 5, GREEN: more fruits and vegetables
  • Layer 4, BROWN: 1 inch of soil
  • Layers 2 & 3, GREEN: flowers, leaves, fruits, & vegetables
  • Layer 1, BROWN: leaves and branches
layers in a compost pile

advice for compostingI leave a silver bowl sitting on my countertop and fill it with food scraps as I go. I like to dump it in on the top where that first layer of leaves is and mix it around so the brown matter can touch everything new going in. – Oz Kupoglu, at Down To Earth Composting

Step Four: Add Water And Soil To Your Compost

Add Water And Soil To Your Compost

Now it’s time to add water to your layers. Add a little bit of water to the very top of your compost pile with a watering can or a soaker hose, but be careful not to add too much. Too much or too little moisture can hurt the composting process, causing your waste to decompose too fast or not fast enough.

You want to add just enough water to get your scraps wet without submerging them in standing water. Your goal is for the texture at the top of the pile to remain similar to that of a recently wrung out sponge — moist to the touch but not dripping or drenched.

composting tipA great trick that I’ve learned from my partner’s aunt: I soak my leaves in a four- or five-gallon bucket for about 24 hours so they can absorb moisture. Then, when I put them in my pile, it’s a slow moisture rather than water that’s going to run through the pile. A soaked leaf is the best way to give your pile water. – Oz Kupoglu, at Down To Earth Composting

Step Five: Turn Your Compost Pile

Turn Your Compost Pile

turning compost pileNow that your pile is ready to rumble, all you need to do is turn it often enough to keep those microorganisms happy and exposed to oxygen. You don’t need to turn the pile right away. Waiting at least two weeks allows the center of the pile to heat up and reach peak bacterial activity.

The average composter turns their pile every four to five weeks, but some like to turn it even more frequently than that depending on the stage of decomposition they find when they check their pile.

One method for turning compost can be performed using a long stick or the end of a broom. Take your stick and poke small holes in multiple places around the pile, then turn the stick around and around in the holes to help create airflow.

A second common method for turning compost is using a pitchfork to completely turn the pile. This method is harder on the muscles but even better for the microbes! With this process, your goal is to bring the materials from the outer edge of the pile to the center, and to bring the materials from the center of the pile back to the outer edges. Take your pitchfork, dig in, and start flipping that compost.

how to build a compost bin

What Can You Compost?

What Can You Compost

This is the million-dollar question: What can you compost? The internet is overflowing with lists of materials that you can compost, but sometimes these lists are unreliable.

What To Compost

What To Compost

The good thing about composting is that it’s a process that already occurs in the natural world and tends to take care of itself.

Giving your scraps the ideal environment to break down will help the process, but a few mistakes won’t destroy your pile. Mother Nature is smarter than we are. Still, you should try to be wise about what materials you use in the process.

For Brown Layers
(Carbon-rich scraps)

  • Dry leaves
  • Cardboard
  • Chopped wood
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Straw and hay
  • Pinecones
  • Nutshells (no walnuts)
  • Untreated sawdust
  • Untreated wood shavings
  • Eggshells
  • Paper and wood ash
  • Twigs and branches

For Green Layers
(Nitrogen-rich scraps)

  • Grass clippings
  • Fruit/vegetable scraps
  • Cooked rice or pasta
  • Corn husks/stalks
  • Fresh leaves
  • Coffee grounds
  • Coffee filters
  • Tea leaves/bags
  • Flower petals
  • Melon rinds
  • Seaweed and kelp
  • Dried herbs

advice on how to compost“People are very focused on composting food scraps, fruits, and vegetables. Try thinking outside the box. We’re getting into the holidays — a lot of the wreaths and Christmas greenery can be composted.” – Nick Shaw, owner of Apex Organix

What NOT To Compost

What NOT To Compost

Keep these items out of your compost bin to keep your pile healthy:

  • Treated wood
  • Plants with pesticides
  • Diseased plants
  • Acidic fruit
  • Garlic and onions
  • Walnuts
  • Oils and fats
  • Bread and pastries
  • Magazine covers
  • Glossy paper
  • Leather products
  • Metal products
  • Stickers and stamps
  • Glass
  • Diapers
  • Feces

Can I Compost Meat and Dairy Products?

Can I Compost Meat and Dairy Products

Whether or not it’s a wise idea to compost meat and dairy products is something composting pros still argue about. The technical answer is yes, but the more popular answer is no.

You can compost meat, dairy, and cheese. These food stuffs will break down and turn to soil just like any of your other kitchen scraps. However, composting meat and dairy products can cause a whole host of problems that organic scraps don’t cause.

For example, composting meat and cheese is the leading culprit of disgusting odors in compost. These items are also more likely to attract rats, mice, and bugs to your pile.

The simple answer: Compost meat and dairy at your own risk. While they are compostable, be smart. I personally don’t have a ton of experience composting meat and dairy, but if you’re set on composting these items, more power to you. Do some additional research on ways you can reduce odor and vermin when adding these scraps.
composting with worms

Troubleshooting Your Compost Pile

Troubleshooting Your Compost Pile

Composting is a natural process that works for itself, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some missteps along the way. If things go awry with your compost pile, don’t freak out. It’s normal for beginners to make mistakes when composting for the first time. I’ve rounded up some simple tips, tricks, and solutions for common problems with compost.

My Compost Bin Smells Bad

My Compost Bin Smells Bad

One of the biggest concerns for beginner composters is whether or not their pile is going to smell, and what to do if it starts to. No one wants to deal with the gross stench of wet garbage. While compost piles should emit a slight earthy aroma, they shouldn’t stink. If your compost pile smells gross, something is up. Try these troubleshooting tips to address an extra smelly pile:

Turn the compost pile

Turning your compost pile adds more oxygen to your bin and helps aerate the scraps, which will likely minimize the odor. You can turn your pile by using a broomstick to make small holes in your compost, or using a pitchfork to completely flip the inner and outer layers of your compost.

Look for rotting compost scraps

Sometimes, a smelly compost pile is an indicator that you have a rotting food item in your compost mix. Sift around in the pile to see if you can track down a single source of the smell, then remove that scrap. As mentioned above, it’s likely that meats and cheeses are responsible for the stench, so check for those scraps first when investigating and remove them.

Add a cover to your compost pile

Another reason your compost might smell sour is excess moisture. If there is standing water in your pile, remove it from your mix. Then cover your pile with a tarp or cloth to prevent excess moisture from seeping into the pile and creating a moldy mess.

expert tips on composting“It’s really good to cover your compost pile if it’s smelling. The way I do that is with black square toppers. Then directly underneath, I add a layer or leaves or another type of brown carbon.” – Oz Kupoglu from Down To Earth Composting

Add more carbon

If you’re composting a bunch of kitchen scraps like fruit and veggie waste, it’s likely that you have too much nitrogen. Your nitrogen-rich green matter is probably outweighing your carbon-rich brown matter, causing your pile to smell.

There Are Flies And Gnats In My Compost Pile

There Are Flies And Gnats In My Compost Pile

Bugs are another unwanted problem when composting, especially if you’re composting inside. No one wants fruit flies, ants, or mites crawling around in their kitchen. Here are a few strategies to get rid of these guys if you see them around your pile.

Add a bread slice to your compost bin

If you see little mites or gnats in your compost, try adding a slice of bread to the very top of your compost pile. Breads and cakes are a bad idea when it comes to scraps you can compost, but bugs love them.

Set the bread slice on top of the bin and wait for bugs to cover the slice. Then, discard of the bread and the bugs at the same time.

Increase heat to kill bugs in your compost

To get bugs out of your compost, raise the heap’s temperature to well above 120°F (49°C) and smoke the bugs out.

You can heat up your pile by adding a lid or tarp to trap heat, or adding more straw or hay to the top of the pile to serve as insulation. You can also turn the pile more frequently to increase heat.

Build a moat around your compost to trap pests

You can keep smaller bugs like ants or mites out of your compost bin by surrounding it with a moat of water to drown the bugs trying to get into your compost. Be careful with this trick though, as you don’t want the moat to leak over into your bin and completely soak your compost.

Animals Are Eating The Scraps In My Compost Pile

Animals Are Eating The Scraps In My Compost Pile

Building a compost pile outdoors has its pros and cons, but a huge con is that animals love compost. Think of it like the Over the Hedge movie — a giant pile of food waste just lying around is a magnet for rats, mice, cats, skunks, opossum, foxes, racoons, and other critters. Here are some tips to protect your compost from vermin.

Layer your composting scraps wisely from the start

When animals try to get into compost piles, they’re going for your kitchen waste. Try strategically intermixing your food scraps with wood ash, sawdust, or soil into one layer when you create your pile to hide food from critters. This might keep the night animals from messing with your pile in the first place.

Add a lid or wall to keep animals out of compost

Once these pesky animals have found your compost pile and start to rummage, they will definitely come back. If this is your situation, I would suggest adding a lid or covering, or a fence or barrier to the top of your compost bin to keep creatures out. You can also try lining your pile with chicken wire or another kind of mesh fencing material.

composting tips from experts“Living in Reno, we have a lot of critters. Keeping raccoons and squirrels out of my pile is a challenge! Covering your compost pile can really help you out. Tupperware works well because it’s totally covered. You can also add a wooden lid or find a corner tucked away in your yard that would be best to have your pile in so that critters can’t get to it.” – Oz Kupoglu from Down To Earth Composting

My Compost Bin Isn’t Heating Up

My Compost Bin Is Not Heating Up

With traditional hot composting, keeping your microbes and bacteria happy and healthy means keeping your compost pile hot. Hot compost bins work best at temperatures between 40° and 77° Celsius, or 104° and 170° Fahrenheit. So, what can you do if your pile is too cold?

Turn your compost pile more often

The best frequency for turning your compost pile is something that takes trial and error to get right. If your pile isn’t heating up, it’s likely that you need to turn your pile a little more often to give the microbes access to the oxygen they need to get the pile burning.

Trap the heat in your compost pile

Heat rises. This is one of the downsides of having an open face pile — it makes it super easy for the heat to escape, which is damaging to the pile. There are two basic ways to trap heat in your compost.

First, you can cover your compost with a lid or a tarp to keep the heat from exiting the pile. You can also try to insulate your pile by putting carbon-rich materials like cardboard, paper shreds, sawdust, wood shavings, cloth, or straw near the top of the bin to pack in the heat.

My Compost Pile Is Too Wet

My Compost Pile Is Too Wet

As mentioned before, the top of the perfect compost pile should feel like a wrung-out sponge to the touch. It should feel damp, but when you press down, no water should squeeze out.

If any area of your pile is soaking, dripping, or covered in standing water, that will cause problems for the microorganisms and the health or your pile. Here are some ways to dry up a soggy compost pile:

Soak up water from the top of your compost pile

If you’re trying to get rid of standing water from the top layer of your pile, you can always scoop up water with a cup or bowl, or try covering the top of the bin with cloth to soak up standing water and keep out moisture in the future.

Soak up water inside your compost pile

If your bin is soaking from inside, try this trick. First, make tiny holes in the inner layers of your pile. Next, cut small pieces of newspaper or cloth and roll them up, then slide the rolls in the holes throughout the bin. This can help soak up extra water.

Common Questions About Composting From Beginners

Common Questions About Composting From Beginners

When I made my very first compost pile, I was full of questions. I am no expert and can’t answer everything, but I do want you to feel as confident as you can when getting started.

Chances are, the questions you have, someone else has already asked and had answered. Here are some of those popular questions for new composters and answers from the experts.

How Long Does Compost Take?

How Long Does Compost Take

how long does compost take to processThe most basic question is how long does compost take to break down? And this question has hundreds of answers. The time your scraps take to turn to soil depends on a plethora of factors: the type of composting you’re doing, the type of bin you have, how often you turn your compost pile, the size of your scraps, the climate where you live, etc.

In short, there’s no magic number for how long it takes organic waste to become compost. Some brands of countertop cyclers break down your scraps in as little as 24 hours, while a cold compost pile can take over a year to fully degrade. These are the extreme cases, though. Most traditional, hot composting piles take a few months to break down, depending on how you manage your pile and where you live.

What Is The Ideal Carbon To Nitrogen Ratio For Compost?

What Is The Ideal Carbon To Nitrogen Ratio For Compost

“Golden ratios” for carbon to nitrogen in composting are all over the internet: 3 to 1, 5 to 1, 10 to 1, 30 to 1, 50/50 — But the perfect ratio of scraps is going to depend on much more than the scraps themselves.

It’s hard to say that one ideal carbon/nitrogen ratio exists, but I would suggest generally aiming for more carbon-rich brown matter than nitrogen-rich green matter.

best way to compost“I always see those golden composting ratios everywhere, and it’s so hard to say which one will work. Go heavy on the carbon and see how your pile reacts to it. Most times, the pile loves having more and more and more carbon — as much as it can get.” – OOz Kupoglu from Down To Earth Composting

How Often Should I Turn My Compost Pile?

How Often Should I Turn My Compost Pile

compost binsThis one is also not an exact science and depends on many additional factors like the type of scraps you’re using and how quickly your compost pile is heating up. There is much about the process of composting that takes guess and check, trial and error.

A good rule of thumb for turning your compost pile is to wait for the bacteria and microbes to have a chance to start their work before flipping your scraps. Some enthusiastic composters want to turn their pile immediately after building it, but that’s too early. Wait until some hot microbial action has taken place before turning your compost.

It usually takes about two weeks for things to get started in a pile. After that, you want to turn your pile as it starts to cool. Don’t disturb your microbes when they’re hot.

Lack of heat is a tell-tale sign your bacteria needs more oxygen. The best time to turn it is when the pile starts cooling down to below 100°F (38°C), which usually means turning your pile every two to five weeks.

As I’ve said, composting isn’t an exact science, so it might take a few piles to hone in on your rhythm. Remember that not turning your pile enough won’t ruin your compost, it will just turn it anaerobic. This is how it functions in the natural world, without any people there to manage its decomposition.

Can I Compost In The Winter?

Can I Compost In The Winter

Yes! Composting is a habit that can be exercised in every season of the year, even in colder months. However, there are some things to consider when composting in the middle of winter to keep bacteria in your compost bin happy.

If your pile seems to be getting cold too quickly, try adding a layer of cardboard, paper, leaves, straw, or another source of insulation on top. You can also cover your pile with plastic and cloth to trap the heat.

If winter where you live is dry and frigid, you may need to give your pile more water or cover your pile to trap in the moisture it already has.

Can I Compost Indoors?

Can I Compost Indoors

Absolutely! There are several methods for building a compost bin that are conducive to composting inside.

Indoor composting can bring its own set of challenges, like bugs or extra mess inside your home. However, a lot of composters have come to love the kitchen composting method, because you can toss your organic waste into your pile without even having to leave the house.

lomi countertop composterThere are several brands of countertop composters and food cyclers that have grown in popularity within the composting community.