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The Beginner’s Guide to Composting at Home

Did you know the average American throws away 4.5 pounds of trash each and every day? ( That’s a lot of garbage! Did you also know that some of that trash can be transformed into the richest plant food on earth … well … if you don’t count the gold-rush. This quick how-to article explains how to take one person’s trash (yours) and turn it into treasure.

Why Would I Compost?

Chances are, you create biodegradable waste in your day-to-day life that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Now you might think, if the waste is biodegradable then what’s the problem? I recycle, why can’t I throw out my banana peels, coffee grounds, and eggshells? Well, those are reasonable questions. You may be surprised to find out that food that ends up in landfills is detrimental to the environment as well. Unfortunately, the methane gas released can really speed up climate change on everyone’s favorite planet. Do yourself (and your grandkids) a favor, start a compost bin!

Home composting is an eco-friendly way to take your compostable and biodegradable materials and turn it from landfill waste to backyard crops. Think of it like (organic) steroids for your garden. Not even sure what is compostable? Check out this article about 100 things you can compost and you’ll realize just how much you can compost!

Now that we have you convinced, let’s get started.

At-Home Composting Needs and Tools

Composting can be done indoors or outdoors, so if you have an apartment in the middle of New York like Lauren Singer, no worries. You can still do it!

There are a few basics you need:airscape bucket lid insert in five gallon bucket

  1. A container. Check out Planetary Design’s Airscape Bucket Lid for a lid that’s perfect for composting storage indoors or in a small area outside. Or, it’s safe to put your compost pile uncontained and outside if you’d like, and don’t have a landlord that would be grumpy about it.
  2. Something to stir the mixture up with and introduce air, like a shovel or a pitchfork.
  3. Soil, to start the compostable materials in.
  4. Moisture (Water)
  5. Compostable materials (Organic waste)
  6. Warmth

A quick breakdown on the compostable materials: there are nitrogen-rich (also referred to as greens) and carbon-rich (browns) materials. These should be alternated, and usually composters use a pretty balanced quantity of c-rich materials as n-rich materials. Don’t worry about not balancing the nitrogen-carbon ratio perfectly – it will break down eventually but way too much carbon can slow down the process. Check out this article on composting basics for a quick overview of greens and browns.

Ready. Set. Compost!

Now that we’ve got all our tools, start by shoveling some soil, and introducing the greens and browns into the mix.  Aerate it, to allow oxygen to permeate to the center of the container or pile, and keep the mixture moist.  If you are composting inside, heavily consider vermicomposting by introducing worms to the mixture.  And finally, keep the container or pile in a sunny spot.  Warmth is necessary to keep the microorganisms that are doing all the work for you active.  Aerate the mixture, keep it moist, and keep adding compostable and biodegradable materials to treat those microorganisms well.

When Is My Compost Ready?

Finally, your compost will be ready to put on a nice flower bed, a vegetable garden, or even an herb garden once it’s nice and dark, is kind of crumbly in texture, and smells like earth. Watch this video for a visual overview of composting, and what the humus looks like!

You may consider having more than one compost container or pile at once. This way, you can coordinate a pile that is ready to use, one that is still in the process of composting, and another that you are adding your food scraps to and is in the beginning stages.

What Not To Compost

Lots of materials attract unwanted animals and annoyances that will tear your pile apart and frequent your house for food, or are unable to break down in soil, or are outright bad for you.  We found a great list on Mother Nature Network of things to refrain from putting in your compost bin with reasons why.  We suggest checking this out for a comprehensive list, but mostly avoid putting in coated paper and cardboard, plastic, feces, walnuts, and meat or milk products.

That should do it!  You don’t need to be a know-it-all on the science behind decomposition to compost effectively, but you should have a good foundation if you’ve read this whole piece.  Happy composting!