We’ve got the dirt on how to set up a compost bin in your own home.

Illustrations by Shannon Nehiley

What are your neighbors doing with the smelly pile of trash in their backyard? If the pile seems to be organized into a purposeful structure, chances are your neighbor is composting.

A compost pile helps turn your organic food waste and yard clippings into healthy, usable gardening soil. Good soil cean be expensive, and whether you are looking to grow veggies and herbs at home, or if you have several succulents you treat as your pride and joy, you might want to consider building a compost pile of your own. Alternatively, if you live in an apartment or cohousing complex without space to compost on your own, you can still help the environment by saving your waste and using local programs like Gainesville Compost.

Gainesville Compost is a local bike-powered program geared toward collecting the community’s food waste and distributing the nutrient-rich soil it produces. Gainesville Compost initially began by receiving local restaurants’ food waste and has now expanded to include in-range residents. For a low monthly fee, members receive a composting Green Bucket and starter kit, a weekly pickup of your Green Bucket contents, a small monthly amount of nutrient-rich soil from the compost, and discounted prices on additional amounts of this soil, called Soil Food.

Composting is simple and environmentally friendly, and if you are one to spend money on gardening soil and fertilizer, composting will very easily pay for itself.

Handy gardening books and the Internet offer infinite ways to build a compost bin. Materials for these range from wood to recycled plastic bins, and prices range from zero dollars to a couple hundred.

With a student budget and a limited schedule, the least complicated and less expensive the bin the better. Here is the breakdown for a cheap bin that only requires minimal time for installation.

Composting: A Step-By-Step Guide

Gather supplies: The smallest roll of chicken wire you can find, 6 to 8 wooden stakes, a staple gun and wire cutters.

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2_compostSetting it up: Place stakes in the ground depending on how large you want the compost bin to be, cut and wrap the wire around the stakes, attach with a staple gun.

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Filling the bins: Compost scientists of the world have deemed the Carbon-to-Nitrogen ratio of a compost pile 25:30. This means that in order for the matter to decompose you will need to fill your bins with 46 percent high-carbon materials: newspaper, wood, cardboard, fruit waste, leaves and pinecones; and 54 percent high nitrogen materials: coffee grounds, vegetable waste, weeds, grass clippings, and other food waste. Eyeballing these amounts is fine too; all organic matter will decompose regardless!

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Rotating: While your compost is blossoming from organic waste into healthy soil, you will need to aid the process. Compost needs to aerate every week in order to decompose correctly and distribute moisture, which means being moved around with a shovel like a tossed salad.

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Sorting: Once one section of your compost pile is full, you may move it to the next bin space and start filling up the empty one. Creating a compost pile with separate sections gives you more space to fill up, and allows your compost a longer decomposition timeline. In the long run, this will allow you more soil, and save even more space in your local landfill.

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Turning out soil: With proper and tender loving care, your compost pile will turn out rich, healthy soil in only a few months. You can then use this soil to garden, grow more food to be eaten and compost the scraps.