Yard waste and food scraps make up as much as 30 percent of everything we discard via our household trash says the US Environmental Protection Agency. That makes composting a worthy considerations both for your own personal outdoor space and for the environment.
What is Compost?
Compost is a wholly organic material that can be added into the soil to help plants grow. As the materials that make up compost take up landfill space and also release methane, there has never been a better time to get into the composting habit.
Composting is a gardening activity that takes care of itself with a minimal amount of attention. It also brings some incredible returns in terms of healthy, vigorous plants and amazing fruit and vegetable harvests. It’s also rewarding to know that your kitchen scraps and yard waste are kept from being sent to landfill, and are beginning a second, eco-friendly “life”.
The Benefits of Composting
Composting leftover food scraps and yard waste is extremely beneficial in terms of the environment and for your yard. Composting is nature’s way of recycling and has many eco-friendly benefits:
- Reduces landfill methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas that absorbs the heat of the sun and contributes to global warming.
- Reduces your carbon footprint.
- Helps retain moisture in soil.
- Enriches soil with nutrients.
- Suppresses pests and plant diseases.
- Reduces reliance on chemical fertilizers.
- Lowers your carbon footprint.
- Loosens silt and clay soil so plant roots can spread, air can penetrate, and water can drain more effectively.
- Encourages fungi and beneficial bacteria that breaks down organic matter to create rich, nutrient-filled humus.
- Alters soil structure to prevent erosion.
There are three basic ingredients required to create compost – greens, browns, and water. Every compost pile needs to have an equal amount of greens to browns. In addition to this, there should be alternate layers of different-sized particles.
The green materials provide nitrogen, the browns provide carbon, and the water helps to break down the organic matter:
- Greens – This includes materials like vegetable waste, coffee grounds, fruit scraps and grass clippings
- Browns – This includes dead leaves, twigs and branches
- Water – Successful composting depends on the addition of water. However, too much or too little water can damage your compost. This can cause it to decompose too rapidly or not rapidly enough. Adding the right amount of water will help regulate the temperature of the pile as well as helping it to decompose.
How to compost
There are many different ways to create a compost pile. It is important to have certain tools available to help with the job – water hoses with spray heads, pitchforks, machetes or square-point shovels are all of use. Successful maintenance of your compost pile also depends on regular turning or mixing in addition to watering, that will help maintain the mixture.
Most composters begin by creating a compost pile in the backyard. This is the simplest method to enable the creation of an effective mix and is known as cold composting.
- Find a shady and dry place near a source of water for your compost bin or pile.
- Add green and brown materials as you collect them, ensuring that larger pieces are shredded or cut up.
- Moisten but do not soak dry materials as you add them.
- When your compost pile is established, mix in green waste and grass clippings, and bury vegetable and fruit waste 10 inches underneath the compost material.
- You can, at this stage, cover the pile or bin with a tarp in order to retain moisture. When the material at the bottom is rich and dark in color, your compost is ready to be used. This can take from two months to a few years.
If you lack outdoor space, composting can be done indoors. You can purchase a special bin at a gardening supplies store, hardware store, or can make one yourself. A bin that is correctly managed will not attracts rodents or pests, and will not smell bad. This type of compost will be ready within two to five weeks.
Worm Composting Bins
Known as vermicomposters, worm composting bins are cheap and easy to maintain. These should be kept indoors to prevent the worms from freezing in the winter or getting too hot in the summer months.
Hot composting is for the serious gardener, and will enable compost to be made within one to three months during warm weather. Air, carbon, nitrogen, and water are needed to constantly feed microorganisms which speed up the decaying process.
It is a commonly held misconception that anything at all can be put into the compost pile. This is, of course, untrue. Substances that should never be placed into the compost include:
- Diseased plant materials
- Fat, oil, or grease
- Chips or sawdust derived from pressure-treated wood
- Weeds that go to seed
- Cat or dog feces
- Any type of dairy product
Items that can be safely composted include:
- Coffee filters and grounds
- Fruits and vegetables
- Nut shells
- Tea bags
- Shredded newspaper
- Grass clippings
- Yard trimmings
- Straw and hay
- Virgin wood chips
- Wool and cotton rags
- Vacuum cleaner and dryer lint
- Fur and hair
- Fireplace ashes
Composting Tips and Tricks
For a beginner, it can be difficult to know if you’re doing things right, especially since compost takes a long time to break down. For the seasoned composter, there are always a few extra tips and tricks that can be learned in order to streamline the composting process. For example:
- When compost is ready, you should not be able to recognize any of the items you put into the pile.
- Greenery and grass clippings add necessary nitrogen to the pile. This must be mixed with brown materials. which add carbon. These are both necessary for rich compost which decomposes rapidly. If you solely pile grass into the composter, the compost will compact, and decomposition will slow considerably.
The microbes that break down the pile need a balanced diet of carbon and nitrogen, so an equal weight ratio of both works best to create good, rich compost.
- Worms adore coffee grounds so ensure you retain these and put them into your compost pile.
- Add ashes sparingly as they are alkaline, thus affecting the pH of the pile.
- Never put greenery that has been chemically treated in your pile.
- Seaweed and algae are wonderful additions to your compost pile. Ensure all salts are rinsed off beforehand.
- During the winter months, keep your compost in direct sunlight in a black plastic bin. This will allow the composting process to continue throughout the cold weather. You can also insulate the bin further by surrounding it with hay bales, however, this is not a necessary requirement.
- If your compost has begun to smell, it is most probably due to the huge amount of anaerobic microbes that are breaking it down. To make it smell sweeter, aerate the pile on a regular basis.
- The optimum temperature for compost to decompose is somewhere between 120 and 160 degrees F.
- Ensure your pile always remains damp but not wet.
- Compost piles can be filled with alternating thin layers of browns and greens or everything can be put in together and mixed.
- Finished compost can be soaked in water. This creates “compost tea” that can be used for feeding indoor and outdoor plants.
- When planning to plant, compost should be integrated within the soil two to four weeks beforehand.
- For fast results, aerate your pile by using a compost turner every few weeks.
How to Avoid Common Mistakes
When you’re starting out, it can be easy to make a few mistakes, however through following this advice, your composting will get off to the best start possible.
- Always keep your pile moist and check it regularly, especially during the summer months.
- Start big. A mass of material is needed for the breaking down process. However, there are smaller bins available for less material if that suits you better.
- Add all sorts of materials into your compost pile. A combination of different nutrients and textures is essential to create dense and nutrient-filled compost.
- Try not to become too overwhelmed. All compost-enthusiasts learn as they go along with regards to what does and doesn’t work for them.
With many gardeners likening compost to “black gold,” it is no wonder that so many people are creating their own compost at home. Given the correct conditions, microorganisms and bacteria can work on your behalf to break down organic waste material, and transform it into rich and fertile earth.
Adding composting into your eco-friendly activities will reduce methane build-up in the atmosphere as well as helping to increase the health and fertility of the earth.
Composting is easy to learn and cheap, however there is an art to it. Creating the best possible compost is something that comes with practice. With the right mixture of organic materials, soil aeration, moisture, and heat, you can create the perfect environment in which your garden and house plants can thrive.
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