Compost Beginner – Tips to Get Started, Even If You’re A Renter

Compost beginner tips - even if you live in a small space or rent your homeIf you’re a compost beginner, never fear! Composting is one of my favorite things in the world, and you’re going to love it, too! I mean, think about it… you can take your trash and turn it into something highly useful. How awesome is that?!

9 years ago I was a compost beginner living in a rental house. A house of my very own with all the yard in the world was right around the corner, but I wanted to get started with composting right away. When you’ve got enough of your own land you can have permanent compost bins. But as long as I was renting I got started with garbage cans.

I started with a big trash can (I don’t remember the gallons, but it’s about 3 feet tall) with a good lid. I drilled holes in the bottom and sides for air flow and bug access. Then I started dumping in our waste.

Compost beginner tips - even if you live in a small space or rent your homeSome things that DO go in the compost:

  • Egg shells and cardboard egg cartons
  • Fruit rinds, peels, seeds, and pits
  • Veggie tops, bottoms, and wilted stuff
  • Coffee grinds and our eco-friendly coffee filters
  • Paper towels, cardboard toilet paper rolls
  • Swept up random debris and dog hair

You might be amazed at how quickly this stuff builds up!

Compost beginner tips


Some things that DON’T go in the compost:

  • Meat, cheese, or any dairy
  • Greasy or saucy stuff
  • Bread, pasta, and rice are kept to a minimum
  • People or dog manure

At one point my trash can compost got maggots. As a compost beginner, I pretty much panicked at that point! I knew the whole thing must be ruined. But, nope. Turns out they were a sign that my compost was too wet and had too much nitrogen. I worked in a LOT more dried leaves than I had previously been using, and the maggots went away.

Compost is easy like that. Even when you’re a compost beginner, problems are pretty simple and easy to turn around.

Another sign of a problem I enjoy looking out for is the smell. Contrary to popular belief, compost should smell good. It should not smell like a rotting mess. It should have a clean, earthy, dirt smell. During the maggot period, my compost smelled like shit. Literally. After working in more brown yard stuff, the smell came back to the pleasant earthy smell (with heavy coffee overtones!) I really love smelling my compost, both to check in on it and just to get a big nose-full of the earth-happy project I’m working on.


Are you a compost beginner? What do you need to know to get started?

Composting Beginner pin

6 thoughts on “Compost Beginner – Tips to Get Started, Even If You’re A Renter”

  1. I’m beginning composting!!! I need to get the holes drilled ito my trash can but I went ahead and started adding stuff to it. I was told to help it out by adding good dirt like potting soil or the like, so I did, and it has some dead plants, dead leaves, the cob and husks and cornsilk from fresh corn on the cob… and a couple other veggie remains. I was told to not add anything with oils like butter or seasonings on them (sounds like common sense). Its very little out there right now but I am hoping I am starting out good. I think I need to go add some more water to it but I need to get the holes drilled into it first so it doesn’t become muck. Do I sound like I am starting off right in any possible way?? Email me back!

    • You asked for an email, so I’ll send you this through email as well, but I wanted to post it here for everyone. Yes, you’re starting out just fine. It’s pretty hard to mess up compost, so don’t stress out too much!

      Here are some thoughts about what you mentioned:

      There’s no need to buy anything for your compost, like potting soil. If you want to add dirt, just dig up some from your yard. The bugs in the dirt will help out your compost. If you drill holes in the bottom of your can, the bugs will find their way in there on their own, though.

      Yes, oily stuff should stay out. Also meat, cheese, and bread/grain.

      If your compost is soggy, it needs more dried leaves, straw or something like that. If it’s dry like straw, it needs more water or fruit/veggie matter.

      I found the composting process pretty slow in the trash cans. The more often you can turn it, the better off you’ll be (every day if you can).

      Congratulations on getting started! I find composting a lot of fun. I hope you enjoy it, too!

  2. Angela,

    I’m sure Issa will have lots to say, but here are my two cents.

    Whatever you do, don’t bother adding potting soil to your compost. Compost does not require expensive additions like that. It might be helpful to add some dirt to your compost if the moisture balance is not right, and to add some bugs, worms, etc… but mostly, just let it do its thing, turn it regularly to speed up the process, and try to keep your carbon-to-nitrogen ratio about right.

    We found that our results were much better with larger piles. A 55-gallon trash can seems like it’d be a lot, and it feels like a lot when you have to roll it around the yard, but compared to our current piles (approx. 4x4x4 bins made from pallets), it’s a drop in the bucket. That being said, I know people who use small, approx. 25-gallon turning drums, and they have good compost, so size isn’t everything, but it’s something. Maybe they put a lot more attention into their compost than we do.

    Currently, I think the biggest challenge with our compost is getting enough nitrogen. We use straw as animal bedding and after it gets all full of manure, it goes into the compost. There usually ends up being more straw than manure, and we just don’t make enough kitchen scraps to make up the difference. This means that it composts slower than it otherwise would, and at a lower temperature, but time is one thing we’ve got plenty of.

    Best of luck, and don’t get discouraged if you end up with too wet, too dry, too much brown, too much green. Compost is very resilient, and you can probably sort things out and move on.

  3. Thans for the tips! I wish I would have been told to not add potting soil to it because its not necessary lol oh well its already in there. So far I’ve got lots of snails in there and when I add stuff I take a good whiff and it smells really good. Very eathy! So I take it that I’m doing just fine ๐Ÿ™‚ it gets lots more of coffee grounds and egg shells now and fruit/veggie pels and leaves. Also cut flowers once they’ve wilted and I just added an orchid to it that I killed on accident lol

    • If you’re getting a nice, earthy smell from your compost, that’s a great sign that everything is as it should be! Good luck on your compost adventure!


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