Composting 101

Composting 101: A Guide to the Basics of Composting

If you haven’t yet been introduced to composting, it’s never too late to start! Whether you’re a budding gardener, or have just moved to a new area with a composting program, this quick introduction to composting can help get your started! 

composting 101

Credit: County

What is Composting? 

Composting is a natural recycling method in which organic materials break down into nutrient-rich soil that can be used as fertilizer for your garden, crops, or potted plants. 

These organic materials consist of yard matter such as leaves, dried flowers, twigs, and grass clippings, as well as food scraps like banana peels, lettuce, coffee grounds, and egg shells. By utilizing oxygen, compost piles provide an ideal environment that helps speed up the decomposition process, resulting in dark, fertile “black gold.” 

The good news is that composting at home is an easy process. Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of how to compost, let’s examine why it’s important to compost to begin with. 

Benefits of Composting

Composting at home will drastically reduce how much garbage you’re tossing to the curb, but it also improves the soil quality of your garden plants. On a larger scale, composting can help reduce food waste and combat global warming. 

According to the EPA, food consists of nearly a quarter of all municipal solid waste that’s sent to landfills. Plus, composting is one of the best methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It’s estimated that if every person in the U.S. started composting, it would have the same environmental impact as taking 7.8 million cars off the road

Why Is Composting Better Than Sending Waste to a Landfill?

Although both involve breaking down food waste, composting uses aerobic methods, meaning oxygen is required and the gas emitted is primarily CO2. In a landfill, organic food waste spends most of the time trapped without oxygen, causing a build-up of methane gas. 

We may hear a lot about the problems with CO2 and global warming, but methane is 28 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than CO2. In addition, composting at home eliminates emissions caused by the transportation of food waste to landfills.

What Can and Cannot Be Composted? 

A good rule of thumb is that materials grown from soil can be composted (with a few exceptions), along with some animal byproducts. 

Items that are great for compost:

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Shredded paper and newspaper
  • Uncoated fiber bowlsplatescontainers, etc.
  • Leaves, grass clippings, and natural yard trimmings
  • Eggshells
  • Nutshells
  • Tea bags and coffee grounds
  • Corn husks
  • Hair and fur
  • Pet Waste: *Note: it should only be used on non-edible plants like flower beds and potted plants, not vegetable gardens

Items that should be avoided:

  • Grease or lard
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
  • Dairy products
  • Wood that has been treated
  • Human waste
  • Diseased plants
  • Paper with coating or gloss
  • Black walnuts

How to Compost

Composting 101

Credit: Walker

Composting begins with collection:

There are two main ways you can compost: Backyard composting and worm composting (vermicomposting). Worm composting is a great option if you have limited space because it can be done indoors, and depending on your worm bin setup and drainage, you can also gather “worm tea,” a nutrient-rich liquid that can be used as fertilizer. 

Kitchen Composting:

Composting at home begins in the kitchen with a small, lidded countertop compost bin to store food scraps and contain odors. It might take some time to get into the habit of kitchen composting, but you’ll be amazed at how much food ends up in that bin!  

You should choose one with a sturdy design and handle, because when it’s full, you’ll have to transfer the scraps to your backyard compost pile every few days (which varies depending on your family size and how often you cook at home). For easy cleanup after transferring, you can line the bin with compostable bags, too. 

Backyard Composting:

One of the most affordable (and easy) ways to build a compost pile is by using chicken wire and wrapping it around stakes so it forms a cylinder. Alternatively, you could purchase an outdoor compost tumbler, which often has a cranking method for turning the compost. 

You’ll need a combination of “greens” (fruits, veggies, grass) and “browns” (paper, dried twigs, and leaves). In a chicken wire pile, begin by adding your “browns” to create a drainage and aeration system, and then add your “greens” from the kitchen bin, followed by layering more “browns.”

Every week or two you’ll need to turn the pile with a pitchfork to aerate the compost. It typically takes between four and six months for the compost to be ready, but this varies on the conditions and how often you monitor it. 

Worm Composting:

Vermicomposting is performed in a container, although there are pre-made options available, you can make a basic one with two cheap bins. The first bin requires drainage holes, and the second will catch the worm juice. You’ll also want to add holes to the lid to allow oxygen to enter. 

Fill the top bin with shredded paper, soil, a small amount of water, and worms (red wigglers are one of the most common types used). It will take some trial and error to determine the rate at which the worms can consume the food, so this method takes monitoring. The worm castings (or “black gold”) can be harvested between two and six months. 

No matter which method you choose, you’ll find composting to be a rewarding activity!

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