It seems every time you turn around these days some business or city has implemented a new plan for composting; I bet you even have a neighbor or two with a compost pile in their backyard.  It is something very simple to do and the benefits are countless!  Start one in your backyard today!  You can even compost indoors if using your yard isn’t an option (you’ll learn more about that later).

Why do it?  According to the EPA, “food scraps and yard waste make up 20-30% of the waste stream. Making compost keeps these materials out of landfills, where they take up precious space and release methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere”.  If those aren’t reasons enough, consider that using compost on your lawn and in your gardens helps them to become happier and healthier; composting saves you money because not only do you no longer have to buy chemicals to enhance your lawn and flowers but you also don’t have to pay to throw away all of the stuff that you’ll be throwing into your composter; and lastly, it’s easy!

According to an article in the Huffington Post posted on July 9, 2013, “The amount of food we throw out is nearly 50% more than it was in 1970. Today, that number is up to 40% of what our farmers grow, and averages 20 pounds of food per household per month”. “Food scraps are alive and vibrant, full of energy to harvest” “…it’s a simple solution which practical people should take pride in endorsing”.

The amount of food we waste is a big problem that needs addressing.  When you break it down you’ll find that, “Food scraps are the number one material sent to landfills” (huffingtonpost.com); and the EPA estimates “50 million Americans do not have access to enough food”.  We are putting an extraordinary amount of food into our already overwhelmed landfills when there are millions of people who are not getting enough to eat; simply put, that defies logic.

You may think, “What’s the big deal?  It will eventually decompose in the landfill anyway.”  Yes, food scraps will eventually break down in the landfill, but as the Huffington Post article explains, not to any beneficial effect.  In fact, through the decomposition process the methane and carbon dioxide emitted only serves to raise our global temperature.  It doesn’t do us any good to improve the quality of our soil underneath of our landfills.

Now that we have some of those numbers out of the way, let’s focus on the composting process and how you too can do it in your home.  There is a document created by the EPA titled “Backyard Composting: It’s Only Natural, this is a great resource for this topic and some its contents are summarized below.

What Do You Need to Make Compost?

  1. Bin or Pile?
    1. A pile works great when you are primarily using only leaves and grass clippings; however,
    2. When you start using food scraps you need to use a bin to keep out all of the pesky critters
    3. There are many communities that provide residents with free composting bins in an effort to get more people involved so contact your local recycling program and see what your options are
    4. You can also purchase a bin from a retail store or order one online OR you can make your own
  2. Where are you supposed to put it?
    1. It needs a dry, shady spot close to a source of water
    2. Somewhere out of the way so you don’t have to see it all the time
  3. How big should it be?
    1. About 1 cubic yard.  That is 3-feet wide, by 3-feet tall by 3-feet deep.
    2. This will provide insulation to keep the organisms breaking down your scraps warm and happy
  4. What goes in it?
    1. Browns for Carbon
      1. Paper: shredded pieces of paper, cardboard and paper rolls
      2. Dry yard waste: dry leaves, small branches, straw, sawdust, used potting soil
    2. Greens for Nitrogen
      1. Wet yard waste: green leaves, fresh lawn clippings, soft garden cuttings
      2. Food scraps: vegetable and fruit rinds, coffee grounds, tea bags

 

Compost Bins

The Organic Gardening Guru has some great information on the different types of composting bins that are available, here is what they have to say:

1)Enclosed bins

  1. Best if you have limited space.
  2. Advantages:
    1. Low maintenance.
    2. Lid keeps the rain and pests out.
  3. Disadvantages:
    1. Low maintenance = slower composting
    2. Could take 6 months to 1 year

 

2)Rolling bins

  1. Advantages:
    1. Can be rolled to your yard waste, filled, and then rolled away.
    2. Can quickly tumble every day or two for mixing and aeration.
    3. Good for homeowners who have a lot of space and would benefit from its mobility
  2. Disadvantages:
    1. When fully loaded can become heavy and
    2. Not so easy to roll

 

3)Compost Tumblers

  1. Designed for easy turning
  2. Advantages:
    1. Easy aeration speeds the decomposition process
    2. Comes in various sizes
    3. Lids keeps out rain and pests
  3. Disadvantage:
    1. Once full and the composting process has begun, you have to wait to add new materials
    2. Forcing you to store your kitchen waste until it can be composted

 

4)Worm bins (vermicomposting)

  1. These use red worms to create compost
  2. Advantages:
    1. Great for limited space (can even go right under your kitchen sink)
    2. Very little maintenance once up and running
    3. Can be used year-round
  3. Disadvantages:
    1. Temperature restraint: Ideally should remain between 40°F and 80°F
    2. Can start to smell if there is an abundance of food scraps that the worms haven’t yet broken down

 

Making Your Own Compost Pile

As mentioned above, the ideal size for your pile is close to 1 cubic foot (3’x3’x3′).  You can make your own enclosure to house your pile from almost anything you find lying around as long as you make sure it has the proper elements.

1)It will need to be made from something that will allow ventilation

  1. Wooden pallets
  2. Wire mesh
  3. Lattice

2)If you want to keep the pests away it’ll need a lid of sorts

3)You need to be able to easily access the pile in order to flip it and recover the finished product

4)Make sure it is the proper size or your results won’t turn out as you hoped

What Goes In?

This article, “100 Things You Can (and Should) Compost by the Small Footprint Family is another excellent at home composting resource and the following list comes from that article (although you’ll have to visit the site to see the complete list).

 

Kitchen

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Used paper napkins and paper towels
  • Spoiled soy/rice/almond/coconut milk
  • Crumbs swept from the floor
  • Cooked pasta and rice
  • Stale bread, pitas, tortillas
  • Spoiled pasta sauce or tomato sauce
  • Shredded paperboard and paper towel rolls
  • Stale crackers, cereal, pretzels, candy, oatmeal
  • Used paper plates (no waxy coating)
  • Nut shells (but not from walnuts!)
  • Cardboard egg cartons (chopped)
  • Old herbs and spices
  • Wine corks
  • Stale beer and wine
  • Toothpicks and bamboo skewers
  • Etc.

 

Bathroom

  • Hair from your hairbrush
  • Shredded toilet paper rolls
  • Nail clippings
  • Trimmings from an electric razor
  • Cotton balls and swabs made from 100% cotton

 

Laundry Room

  • Dryer lint
  • Old cotton clothing and jeans (shredded)
  • Cotton fabric scraps (shredded)
  • Old wool clothing

 

Office

  • Plain paper (shredded)
  • Envelopes (shredded, plastic window removed)
  • Sticky notes (shredded)
  • Old business cards (shredded, non-glossy)

 

Around the house

  • Dust bunnies
  • Contents of your vacuum bag (minus any inorganic waste that may have found its way inside)
  • What you sweep off the floor
  • Pet hair
  • Newspaper (shredded or torn)
  • Junk mail (shredded without the coated pages or plastic windows)
  • Dead houseplants and their soil
  • Used matches, fireplace ashes

 

And the list goes on and on…

What stays out?

Now for the list from the EPA about what not to add:

  • Aluminum, tin or other metal
  • Glass
  • Dairy products & eggs
  • Fats, grease, lard
  • Greasy or oily foods
  • Meat or seafood scraps
  • Pet wastes (dog or cat droppings, soiled cat litter)
  • Soiled diapers
  • Plastic
  • Stickers on produce
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemicals
  • Roots of perennial weeds
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Firestarter logs
  • Treated or painted wood

 

How to Make It

Now that you know all about what you can and cannot put into your composter here is how you make compost as explained by the EPA:

1)Add your brown and green materials, making sure larger pieces are chopped or shredded.  Ideally browns and greens (of varying sizes) placed in alternate layers of different-size particles.

2)Mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material [this will help with any potential insect and rodent problems].

3)As the materials breakdown, the pile will get warm and on cold days you may even see some steam.

4)Every time you add to the pile, turnover and fluff it with a pitchfork to provide aeration, unless your bin has a turner.

5)When material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, with no remnants of food or yard waste, your compost is ready to use. [You can pick out any large chunks that may be left behind and add them back into a new batch].

6)You will need to insulate your pile over the winter months.  A couple of hay bales placed around the sides should do the trick.

Composting Problems?

  • Have a smelly pile?
    • This is usually caused by an overabundance of anaerobic microbes (organicgardeningguru.com)
    • Fix? Just add aeration! (and some browns wouldn’t hurt either (i.e. leaves))
  • Only damp in the middle of your pile?
    • Your pile probably isn’t the correct size.  If the size is off the process won’t work correctly.
    • Should be somewhere between 3’x3’x3′ and 5’x5’x5′.
      • Smaller piles can’t create enough heat
      • Larger piles are hard to manage and tend not to decompose uniformly (organicgardeningguru.com).
  • Center of your pile is dry?  Just add water!
  • Got maggots?  Cover with hay or sandy soil
  • No heat coming from the pile?
    • Probably an unbalanced ratio of browns to greens (Carbon:Nitrogen)
    • Ideal ratio is 25 to 30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen (known as the C:N ratio)
    • If there is too much Carbon decomposition slows
    • Too much Nitrogen the pile will get smelly (i.e. an ammonia smell)
    • This can roughly be translated to 2 parts leaves to 1 part mixed food waste (compostingcouncil.org)
    • A ratio that contains equal portions [of browns and greens] by weight (not volume) of both works best (organicgardeningguru.com)

 

Hopefully, the information given here answers all of your composting questions, if not feel free to contact us anytime.  We welcome feedback from our readers and would love to hear if any of you have any tips and tricks to offer us when it comes to composting.  We are always reachable by phone and email, as well as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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