The Ultimate Guide To Composting | Guest Post by Elizabeth Shields

Composting offers an eco-friendly way to recycle food scraps and yard waste, ensuring you get a final use out of such household by-products.   It’s also a great way to teach ourselves about sustainability and nature.  In this blog, we’ll dig into the joys of compost:  how to get started on composting turn your food waste into nutritious compost for your garden.  

The Benefits of Composting 

The mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle helps us to understand the role composting can play in reducing our carbon footprint.  Buying just what you need helps to cut off food waste at source.  Reusing leftovers in inventive soups and casseroles ensures less ends up as waste.  Composting allows you to recycle anything left at the end of this process.  Fruit and vegetable peelings and scraps are fantastic compost ingredients.  But it’s not just food scraps, you can also compost un-dyed paper towels, hair, wood ash, garden waste and even animal manure. 

Composting, when viewed as part of the process of reduce, reuse, recycle helps to teach us how to take practical steps towards zero-waste living.   For those of you based in the U.S, you’ll also be contributing to reducing the current 30 percent of household waste heading to landfill.  And, you’ll benefit from the resulting end product of nutrient rich compost that savvy gardeners like to term “black gold”.  

The Composting Process

Compost is effectively decomposed organic material.  Micro-organisms in the environment are responsible for the natural process of decay that breaks down organic matters such as vegetable peelings, leaves and garden waste.  Composting effectively, then, is about creating the ideal conditions for these natural micro-organisms to do their work.

Composting: Helping Nature Do Its Thing

Compost relies on four essential ingredients: organic matter, moisture, oxygen, and bacteria.  Variety is key to good composting.  If you fill your backyard compost pile or heap with lawn clippings and nothing else, you’ll end up with a smelly sludgy mess.  Instead aim for a mix of natural materials of “browns” and “greens”.

saving kitchen scraps for the compost heap

Carbon rich brown organic matter comes from items such as dead leaves, shredded twigs and manure.  To help the natural process of composting, balance brown materials with nitrogen rich green material, including lawn clippings, vegetable and fruit peelings.  These green items add the natural moisture needed for effective compost.  Both brown and green organic matter is packed with naturally occurring bacteria that are crucial to the composting process.  Shredding or chopping up organic material being added will help speed up the composting process.

Adding oxygen to your compost pile or heap comes by aerating the pile.  This involves turning, or mixing contents, so that air is introduced, which provides the bacteria with the ideal conditions for decomposition.  There are tumbling compost bins that make this turning process fun and simple.  Alternatively, get a pitchfork and enjoy a composting upper body workout once a month or so.  

Home Composting Practicalities

You need composting to work for you and your family.  Clean, tidy and hassle-free options that mean you don’t need to sacrifice your eco-credentials.  Let’s consider 4 tips for building composting into your family lifestyle

  1. Consider Indoor Composting:  If a large compost bin in the yard seems like a step too far, you can start on convenient indoor methods on a smaller scale.  Alternatives to backyard composting includes special wormeries that come with brandling compost worms that love to munch through food scraps.  These are sealed units designed for indoor use. Another option is the Japanese bokashi method that uses microbes for indoor composting.  Great for urban composters, and allow you to compost meat, fish and dairy scraps that should not be added to conventional outdoor composters.  Clean and effective for home-conscious eco-mammas.  
  1. Get Creative with your Green and Browns:  Remember that variety matters for effective composting.  There is a great deal of household waste that can in fact be recycled into compost.  Greens that can be added to your yard compost pile include coffee grounds and filters, clean eggshells, dryer and vacuum cleaner lint pet dander.  For browns, get creative by adding wood burner ashes, shredded plain un-dyed cardboard packaging, waste hay and sawdust that would otherwise be sent to landfill after cleaning rabbit, guinea pig and hamster hutches.  
  1. Composting No No’s:  With the exception of the more versatile bokashi systems, you should avoid adding dairy, meat or fish food waste to compost piles.  In addition, you should never add the following to any type of compost bin:
  • Coal or charcoal ash
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
  • Dog or cat feces
  • Plants treated with chemical pesticides
  1. Monitor to Spot when your Compost is Ready:  It’s hard to provide an exact timeline for when your compost will be ready, as that depends on the temperature and what has been added to the pile.  However, compost looks, feels and smells like rich, dark earth when it’s ready to use on the garden.   If you still smell or spot rotting vegetable scraps, stir or turn the pile to introduce oxygen and leave for a couple more weeks.  

So, if you are serious about zero-waste living, adding home composting to your household eco-practices can be a cost-effective choice that benefits your garden as well as the planet.  Using the tips contained here makes composting straightforward.  Happy composting! 

Elizabeth is a writer and mom of two boys. Her other passions include home design, parenting and healthy living.

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