Composting is a major ingredient of a low-waste lifestyle. It’s how you turn items like food scraps and yard trimmings into a nutrient rich substance that fertilizes the earth. Whether you live on a farm or in a studio apartment, everyone can compost. And once you have your nutrient rich soil, you can use it as fertilizer for your fruits, vegetables, or flowers. Here are some tips to get you started on your composting adventure.
What is Compost?
Composting is a process in which beneficial microorganisms, like bacteria and fungus, break down organic matter to create a nutrient-rich material called humus.
Essentially, you combine organic waste (like table scraps and yard trimmings) with bulking agents (like wood chips), which break down to create the nutrient rich humus.
It is free, easy to make, and has many uses and benefits.
Benefits of Composting
Reduce landfill waste: approximately two-thirds of our household waste is made up of compostable materials. Composting can reduce the amount of waste heading for landfills dramatically, reducing methane and leachate formulation.
Soil conditioner: instead of sending your waste off to landfills where it is harmful to the environment, composting turns your waste into nutrient rich substance that benefits the environment by adding nutrients to your plants and helping soil retain moisture. Because compost is a natural fertilizer it also eliminates the need for harmful chemical fertilizers.
Economic benefits: composting reduces the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides for people who grow their own plants at home. On a societal level, composting is the most cost-effective water, soil, and air pollution remediation strategy. It is also a low cost alternative to standard landfill cover, regenerates poor soil, and can be used as an affordable and natural erosion deterrent.
What Materials To Compost
- Table scraps
- Fruit and vegetable scraps
- Egg shells
- Coffee grounds
- Grass clippings
- Lawn Trimmings
- Tea Leaves
- Shredded Paper
- Dryer lint
- Wood chips
- Corn Stalks
- Peanut shells
- Pine needles
Materials You Should Not Compost
- Fish scraps
- Diseased plants
- Pet manure
- Oil or anything with excessive oil on it (like woods treated with oil)
- Heavily coated papers
- Any hazardous items that will add excess chemicals to your compost
The Basics of Composting
Composting requires 4 basic ingredients to work
- Nitrogen: provided from the organic waste. These are the “green” materials listed above.
- Carbon: supplied by the “brown” materials listed above.
- Water: the microorganisms that live in the compost pile need water to survive. This can be supplied by rainfall or intentional watering.
- Oxygen: necessary to oxidize the carbon and decompose the organic waste. Turning the pile or adding bulking agents can help provide oxygen flow to the compost.
These four ingredients are required in certain ratios in order for the composting process to work. Too much or too little of each ingredient can cause anaerobic conditions that prevent your compost from effectively breaking down. The ratio of carbon to nitrogen should be about two-thirds “brown” to one-thirds “green”. When in doubt, add more carbon. Maintaining proper ratios requires experimentation and practice; you may not always get it right the first time.
Also keep in mind
- Temperature: compost piles require a core temperature of around 140° Controlling the ratios of the four basic ingredients is usually enough to maintain a proper temperature.
- Activators: adding an activator to your compost is a way to jump-start the decomposition process. They are usually materials that are high in nitrogen to provide proper conditions to get the microorganisms going. Compost activators can include store bought activators, various types of manure, or “green manure” which includes grass clippings, leaves, weeds, etc.
Different Ways To Compost
Anyone can compost, whether you have acres of land at your disposal or you live in an apartment in the city without any yard of your own. You just have to find the composting method that works for you.
Making a compost heap
This is a great method for people who have a large yard space. Just put compostable materials in a pile, alternating dry and wet. Add your activator and proper moisture levels. Turn the pile every few weeks with a shovel or pitchfork to aerate the pile. Covering the pile with wood, tarp, or anything else you have available. This will help retain heat and moisture levels, help control odors, and keep pests out of your pile.
Compost in an enclosed bin
The best method for people with limited outdoor space is to build their compost pile in an enclosed bin. The most affordable method is to use a garbage bin with a lid. Drill holes in the bin and turn the pile with a shovel or pitchfork to aerate the pile. Because compost in bins is shielded from rainfall, this compost method requires intentional watering. You can also purchase composting bins. Compost tumblers are great because they are designed to easily be turned to make aeration simple.
If you live in an urban area with no yard or outdoor space to compost, there are composting programs that you can use. Some major cities even have compost collection programs where compostable materials are collected from your curbside just like garbage and recycling collection. If your area does not have this, just do your research to find a composting program near you, or a nearby farm that collects compostable materials from local residents. Then you just have to purchase a small compost container to store your waste between pickups or drop-offs.