Want to reduce waste and improve your garden’s soil? Composting is a simple, earth-friendly activity that transforms food scraps, yard waste, and similar organic matter into nutrient-rich food for plants. Luckily, Austin’s warm climate makes composting easy to do year-round!
As a long-time Austinite and avid gardener, I’ve been composting for over a decade. In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know to get started composting at home. Let’s dive in!
First, a quick composting overview. At its core, composting replicates natural biodegradation. Tiny decomposer organisms break down organic materials into rich, dark compost over time. By providing the right ingredients and conditions, you allow this decomposition process to happen fast.
Ingredients: Compost needs carbon-rich “browns” like dry leaves, plus nitrogen-rich “greens” like food scraps. Striking the right balance is key.
Aeration: Turning the compost periodically introduces much-needed air to aid decomposition.
Moisture: Your compost should feel damp, like a wrung-out sponge. Too dry or wet slows the process.
Follow those guidelines as you build and tend your pile, and in a few months…presto! Finished compost results. Easy as that!
Selecting a System to Compost in Austin
Many types of compost systems work well. Choose one that suits your space and effort level.
Compost Tumblers: Enclosed drums that make turning easy—just spin the drum! Prices range $100 on up.
Multi-Bin Wooden Holders: Square enclosures with removable slat bars make turning piles a cinch. Around $100.
Traditional Piles: No specialized equipment needed! Piles work fine, just take more effort turning with a shovel or fork.
Vermicomposting: Redworms digest food scraps to produce the crumbly “worm castings.” Great for small spaces, leaves no pile to turn. Worm bins run $50 to $120.
All these methods produce usable compost in 2 to 4 months when maintained properly. Vermicomposting takes longer at 4 to 6 months.
Finding a Site
Look for a level, well-drained spot in your yard measuring roughly 3 feet x 3 feet—that should suffice for an average household. Part to full sun is ideal. Place near a spigot and garden for convenience.
Avoid sitting compost right against foundations or wooden fences, as moisture could damage them over time. Having your pile at least lightly covered helps deter pests too.
Building & Feeding Your Pile
Start by layering coarse sticks or woody prunings to improve aeration from the ground up. Top with 3 or 4 inches of browns for your base layer. Then sprinkle in a similar depth of greens. Moisten as you build if ingredients aren’t damp.
Cap off new piles with a final browns layer to deter odors and flies while decomposition ramps up. Over time, you’ll develop a feel for alternating brown and green layers to your desired height. Most piles range from 3′ x 3′ on up.
In terms of what to add, all types of kitchen and yard scraps make fantastic compost fodder! Stick to these dos & don’ts:
- Fruit and veggie trimmings
- Crushed eggshells
- Tea bags and coffee grounds
- Shredded leaves
- Grass clippings
- Live plants or dormant weeds
- Sawdust and wood chips
- Cover crops like clover
- Fat, grease or oils
- Meat, fish or bones
- Dairy products
- Pet waste
- Invasive weeds with seed heads
- Diseased plants
- Synthetic materials
Turn and mix everything 1 to 2 weeks after building new piles to boost decomposition. Then turn every 2 to 4 weeks, adding water if your pile feels dry inside.
In our Austin climate, compost should be ready to harvest in 2 to 3 months!
Using Your Black Gold
Mature compost looks dark, crumbly, and—most importantly—no longer resembles the original items. Small pieces of wood or twig are fine to remain.
To use, simply dig or till it into garden beds as you would fertilizer—your plants will thank you! Compost boosts moisture retention, drainage, and nutrients in soil. It also grows hardier plants.
Sifted compost makes an excellent potting mix too. Blenderize finished compost to produce “compost tea”, a mineral-rich foliar feed for garden beds.
And remember, composting is an ongoing cycle! Keep one bin brewing while using finished compost from another, then swap. A rotating system prevents waste buildup.
Troubleshooting Your Pile
Even experienced composters hit snags occasionally. Refer to this handy chart if your pile seems stalled:
|Dry and won’t heat up
|Turn and add water
|Add more browns
|Too much green material. Add more browns.
|Rotten eggs odor
|Pile lacks oxygen. Turn to introduce air.
|Ants or flies
|Bury new scraps well under existing layers.
|Eliminate meat and fish from pile. Install wire underneath. Cover tightly with garden fabric.
Just remember—patience and persistence are key! Avoid getting discouraged if your first pile doesn’t go perfectly. Composting is a continual learning process.
I hope these tips have demystified the art of composting for you. Want even more guidance tailoring a system to suit your lifestyle? Austin Resource Recovery offers great composting education resources like virtual workshops and hands-on classes for locals. Our city makes it easy to go green!
Now all that remains is getting started. I wish you happy harvesting of black gold for your garden very soon!