Gardening: Composting 101

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March 19, 2013 by healthwisehome

imagesCAB0OX30Wouldn’t you love to have a free lifetime supply of premium organic fertilizer to help your garden thrive? I would, which is why my husband and I decided to start composting this winter. Composting allows you to turn your kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into a rich, soil-like material that can be used to benefit your garden and the environment. Making compost also reduces trash, helps soil to retain moisture and resist erosion, improves garden yields, turns waste into a valuable resource, saves limited landfill space, and recycles nutrients back into the soil.

Getting Started

Start off by determining which type of composting bin is the best match for your lifestyle and personality:

  • Minimalist = plain ol’ pile (no bin required)
  • DIY type = homemade compost bin
  • Easy to please = basic compost bin
  • Action oriented = spinning composter
  • City slicker = automatic “hot” composter
  • Domestic diva = microbe composter
  • Adventure lover = vermi (worm) composter

Once you have decided on a bin or pile, you are ready to start composting. Simply collect kitchen scraps and yard waste to your bin/pile, along with some an occasional watering and spinning action, and let nature go to work.

What Can I Compost?

compostWhat you put in your compost is one of the most important factors in successful composting. Compost ingredients generally fall under one of two categories: “brown” or “green”. Many experts recommend a 50/50 balance of green and brown materials, while others suggest a 60/40 mix with more green than brown materials.

Green materials are rich in nitrogen, and brown materials are rich in carbon. Bacteria thrive in the particular ratio of carbon to nitrogen that is provided by this mix of green and brown materials.

  • Brown (dry) ingredients include: dried leaves, dry grass, straw, sawdust, cold wood ashes, wood chips, all kinds of tissue paper, shredded newspaper, shredded paper cartons, compostable paper plates, cups and picnic ware, and shredded egg cartons (the paper kind only).
  • Green (wet) ingredients include: fruit peels, vegetable peels, coffee grinds and filters, tea bags, egg shells, peanut shells, garden waste, plant trimmings, fresh grass cuttings, and table waste.
  • Some materials should not be composted. These include: bones, meat, fish, dairy products, sauces, oils, fats, pet waste, diseased plants, seeding weeds, wet grass, and inorganic materials.

Composting Wisdomcompost-pic-reduced1

For optimal composting results, consider some of these composting tricks from the pros at Gaiam Life:

1. Aim for small chunks, not big hunks.

Chop, shred, rip, tear, pull apart or otherwise downsize your scraps and raw materials, and your compost will “cook” considerably faster.

2. Make fewer trips to the compost bin by using a lidded crock

You can simply use a big bowl or a paper bag to collect your kitchen scraps headed for the composter. But if you’re not hip on toting it daily to your outdoor compost bin to empty it, use a compost crock, bucket or canister that has a lid and charcoal odor filter so you can make the trip less often — around twice or even once a week, depending on how much cooking you do. The lid and filter will keep your kitchen habitable and your family relations harmonious while sparing you a daily trek to the big bin.

3. Position your compost bin or pile in a sunny spot.

The composting process goes faster with heat. That’s why most compost bins are black or a very dark green — to absorb as much of the sun’s heat as possible every day. The higher the temperature in your compost, the better those scraps and clippings will break down and turn into garden gold. If no space in your yard gets much sun, just pick any spot and know that your compost may take a little longer to be done.

4. Try indoor “hot” composting if other methods aren’t practical for you.

You can also keep a compost bin in very little outdoor space, even on a small deck at an apartment or condo. But if you’re so not that into this scene, or the weather outside is frightful too often to be carting scraps out into it, consider an indoor composting system. These work by using electric power to generate heat, or adding microbes to quickly break down organic matter without making a stink.

5. Don’t be a constant composter unless it makes you happy.

Compost happens. Whether you hand-hold it daily, neglect it most of the time, or anything in between, it will “cook” and transform into rich fertilizer as long as you collect both green and brown organic materials in your bin or pile. The big variable is how FAST that happens — and the real question is, what’s your agenda?

  • If you have your heart set on spreading your finished compost on your garden before this year’s growing season is over, and your compost doesn’t seem to be cooking fast enough, add compost activator.
  • If you’re in no particular hurry and don’t especially look forward to visitations with your compost every few days, just check it and tend to it on the weekend and cut yourself some slack. Nature will still do its thing in its own time. One coworker of ours has been tossing scraps into her composter for darn near a year without much care as to the size of the scraps she puts in — much less the exact conditions inside the bin on any given peer into its depths. But she is absolutely fine with the fact that parts of it are “done” while other parts still show a practically intact whole apple here and there.
  • Many composting veterans recommend having two compost bins: one you’re actively adding new materials to, and another you can stop adding to for a month or two while it finishes its job. You’ll still need to turn or spin both batches and keep conditions inside amenable to your hard-working microbes, of course. A convenient alternative to the two-bin strategy is a continuous use composter that mechanically separates the “done” compost from the “undone.”

It’s really up to you.

Have Fun!

Yes, composting can be fun! Get your entire family involved in the composting process and start enjoying the many benefits. I let my children help me chopped up our food scraps and they take turns dumping them into our bin and giving it a turn. They love being involved and I think that it is teaching them a valuable lesson in reclaiming, recycling, and reusing materials in an earth-friendly way.

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Welcome to Health Wise Home! I'm Sarah, a wife and mother of three working towards building a Health Wise Home for our family. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist and it is my mission to EDUCATE, EMPOWER, AND INSPIRE others to help build a healthier future by sharing valuable information, healthy recipes, and practical advice. I hope that you will follow along!

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