Did you know that one of the biggest impacts you personally can make on Climate change is to reduce your food waste? And one of the best ways to do that is to start a compost pile! Have you ever considered starting a compost pile? I know I have! I’ve looked into it many times and have been pining to try it! Especially since I found out it doesn’t have to be a stinky mess! But, every time I try to take it on I feel completely overwhelmed by all of the choices and information. I’m sure that I’m not alone! So I figured why not dig in, do some serious research and create a simplified overview that anyone can use to get started! So… here it is… composting simplified!
Why compost to begin with? Well, there are 2 BIG reasons! 1. To minimize food waste and the environmental impact of food going into landfills! And 2. Because it’s basically the BEST fertilizer you can get (and, once established, it’s FREE)!
Minimize Food Waste
So, even if you work really really hard to use your scraps and prevent food waste you will still produce some. Things like egg shells, fruits and veggies, coffee grounds and tea bags can be composted (along with much more). In addition to kitchen scraps you can also compost yard waste, paper and leaves. It can add up fast!
Fertilize Your Garden
When all of this waste breaks down, with the help of natural microorganisms, it becomes extremely nutrient dense and nitrogen rich. You can toss it into your garden soil and it is an incredible fertilizer! This is an amazing way to care for your soil and ensure that there are plenty of nutrients to nourish healthy plants (and produce)!
What Does a Compost Pile Need
It’s not too difficult to create compost but there are some things it needs to flourish. What are they? Temperature control, moisture, oxygen, and a good blend of materials. You’ll also want to have pretty easy access to it so that you can add to it and get the compost out when it’s ready. Other considerations are how you’ll keep pests out and any regulations your town may have.
Compost develops faster if it is kept warm (but not too hot). You typically want to put it in a partially shaded spot in your yard so that it doesn’t get over heated, The containers are usually black and sealed so it gets pretty warm in there. With the addition of the activity of the microorganisms that are busily working to break down your scraps the core temperature of your compost pile could be as high as 140! If you live in a seasonal climate you can expect the process to slow in the winter. You can cover your bins with dark tarps or move them to a more sunny area to help them stay warmer but the material is likely to freeze for at least part of the winter.
This is pretty simple. Just make sure that you have a water source nearby so that you can spray your compost pile if needed. Often times rain is enough to keep your pile moist but in droughts or dry seasons it can be helpful to add some water. It is also important not to over water. You don’t want it to be soggy, just damp. So, if you’re getting a lot of rain you can cover your bins.
This takes a bit of trial and error. It is best to start off with 3 parts brown material and 1 part green and adjust as needed. You’ll want to layer or mix the two together. And you always want to bury fruit and veggie scraps at least 10 – 12 inches into your pile to prevent odors and fruit flies. Check out the picture below to see what is considered brown and green material and what you should avoid all together!
How To Get Started
To get started composting you need to simply assess your space, timeline and how much work you want to do and then choose the option that’s best for you! Here are the most common types of composting. Check them out, don’t over think it and choose your best option so you can get started right away!
Outdoor Pile / Trench
This is the old school and easiest way to create a compost pile! Basically all you do is pile your yard waste and scraps somewhere out of the way in your yard. It is helpful to create some sort of enclosure so that you can cover it to keep pests out and to help hold in the heat so your compost will develop faster.
This method can be challenging because it tends to be tough to remove your compost when it’s ready. This is especially true if it’s in a structure that you can’t move. And, If you are consistently adding to the pile the usable compost will be only at the bottom so it’s difficult to get to. Often people choose to batch compost and have 3 different piles all in different stages so they can wait until an entire batch is done to use it. This requires a more significant amount of space in your yard. It also requires more time and patience.
If you choose this method, you also need to consider a way to aerate your compost pile and keep it moist. So keep that in mind when determining the location of your pile.
Many towns and municipalities have restrictions regarding outdoor pile or trench composting. So, if this is the option you’re leaning towards you definitely need to check into any regulations that may apply.
Container composting is typically allowed by most towns and municipalities. It is actually often encouraged and you can sometimes get a composting container at a deeply discounted rate through your local government offices. Composting containers are very helpful because they have appropriate ventilation and they are easy to set up. They are usually made of dark colored recycled plastic. And, they have a sealed door at the top for adding to them(and keeping pests out) and a door at the bottom to access compost that is ready for use. Some places require a bottom tray as well but usually they are open on the bottom.
Once your container is in place, you simply add your compostable materials. You can consistently add to them and then once it’s full you leave it to compost. In the meantime any compost that is ready will fall to the bottom. So you can always open the door at the bottom to check on it’s progress and remove any that is ready for use. It can often take a year or two before the materials are fully broken down but you can speed the process by aerating the pile regularly. The best way to do this is to use an aeration tool. Once the entire bin is ready you can simply rock it back and forth and lift the bin away from the pile and move it. You can then just toss a tarp over the complete compost and get your new pile started in the bin.
Many people like to do batch compost (as described in the pile section) in bins. In this case you would fill one at a time and rotate their use as they are ready. Using bins helps to contain compost and often takes less space than piles, trenches or homemade containers.
Tumble composting is the fastest way to produce compost. It is also requires your regular attention. In tumble composting you add your materials to a drum like tumbler. Then you spin it at least twice a week to every other day. This aerates it and makes it break down faster. You can develop compost within as little as 4 weeks using this method. The big drawback here is that the tumblers are often unwieldy and heavy which makes them difficult to turn and prone to breaking. That being said this can be a great way to start composting. Oftentimes people like having a combination of tumble compost and bin compost or more than one tumbler. This can make it easier to compost smaller batches. You can also get dual compartment tumble composters. That way you can have one compost pile breaking down while you’re adding to another.
This is likely the best option for apartment living and indoor composting. Plus, Vermicomposting is the only compost that can be used as potting soil for houseplants. And, not only do you get compost out of this but you can also make a liquid fertilizer that you can put on your plants and garden.
It does require some TLC though, because you actually have to care for live critters. There are special worms that can feed on your food scraps and create what is considered the best fertilizer you can get. Don’t worry, they aren’t going to escape!
This whole system is neatly contained (though you can make it yourself if you feel so inclined). When you have the compost habitat in place you simply order the worms online. Once you’ve added your worms you feed them your kitchen scraps regularly and follow the instructions to care for them. The worms can eat about half of their weight in scraps daily so 500 worms which is about 1/2 lb will eat 1/4 lb of scraps. Most families find that 500 – 1000 worms is ideal.
So here’s the thing. You actually don’t need to buy anything to start composting you could get a drill and put some holes into an old trash can and simply use that. Just pick the method that best suits you and give it a try. Let’s say you do it wrong, like all wrong. What’s the worst that will happen? Your useless garbage will actually be useless garbage! But if you do it right you will have amazing fertilizer for your garden and you will have helped prevent food waste! So why not get started today!
Composting has an enormous environmental impact! Even if you don’t have a garden, you can compost and sell it or you can donate your food waste to a local garden. Please share this article to encourage others to start composting. This is likely the area in which we as individuals can make the most difference in preventing and reversing global warming! If you already compost please leave any addional tips you may have below! I’d LOVE to hear from you!
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