Composting 101 by Isabel Brickner

Have you ever come home to find that your kitchen has a weird funky smell? Upon investigation of the trash, you realize it’s coming from a mix of stale pizza, coffee grounds, and those brussel sprouts you bought but never touched. Well, if you’d prefer that your dwelling does not smell like there’s a dead animal underneath it, put that shit outside! Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of organic matter you contribute to landfills and is something great for our planet and your garden too.

Now, composting might seem a bit intimidating with all the moving parts and a seemingly endless list of what you can and cannot compost, but it doesn’t have to be done any certain way. There’s no strict formula for perfection and it’s largely up to the individual and their situation.

First we’ll start inside the home. Unless you want to run out into the yard after every meal you have or dish you make, you’ll need a receptacle that will temporarily hold the organic matter until you are ready to take it outside. This container will differ in size and functionality depending on how much waste your household produces and how often you would like to trek outdoors to empty it. If there is a small amount of compostable material produced, or you don’t mind empting it every few days, you can use a big bowl, an old coffee tin, a plastic tub, or a small bucket. A cover isn’t necessarily required, but you can use a paper towel, a plate, or a lid if desired. If your household produces a larger amount of compostable material, or you’re just a tad bit lazy, you can acquire a five gallon-or larger- bucket with a lid. To avoid smells that might occur by keeping the organic material inside longer, the lid should have small holes drilled through the top to allow oxygen to flow through and to avoid attracting bugs and fruit flies, a scrubbing pad can be glued to the back side of the lid that covers all the holes. This container can be kept almost anywhere in the house: on the counter top, under the sink, by the door, or in the pantry; it’s up to you.

Now that you have the means to transport organic material from inside the house to outside, it’s time to build the final destination for the compost. The perfect location for a compost pile would be a dry, shady spot that is close to a water source and can be placed against a wall or fenced. When starting the pile, a solid mixture of one part brown material and three parts green material (don’t worry, I will explain brown and green materials) is the perfect recipe for initiating the decomposition process. There’s some structure to properly maintaining a compost pile, however it’s all fairly simple. A compost pile needs to maintain a certain level of moisture that mimics that of a damp sponge. Too wet and the pile will rot instead of decomposing; too dry and it simply won’t do anything but crumble. If the pile is too wet you can give it a stir to aerate it, or add some dry brown material; if the pile is too dry, a light spray of water or the addition of some green materials will fix it.

Now, you might be wondering exactly what green and brown materials are. Green materials are once growing materials which produce a lot of nitrogen. These materials cause the compost pile to heat up and help the microorganisms in the pile grow and multiply. Green Materials that are safe to compost are things like:

  • Food scraps

  • Most vegetables and fruits

  • Peels (other than peach, orange, and banana peel)

  • Coffee grounds, coffee filters, tea bags with the staple removed, and loose tea leaves

  • Grass clippings, shredded green leaves, and crushed egg shells

  • Animal manure

Brown materials help bulk up the pile and allow air to pass through which prevents rotting and stench and helps maintain the correct moisture level. These materials are also food for the microorganisms and are just as important as the green materials. Brown materials that are safe to compost are:

  • All things paper (avoid gloss and colored inks)

  • All things cardboard (egg cartons, drink holders, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and brown paper bags)

  • Sawdust

  • Straw/Hay

  • Cotton fabric and Dryer lint

  • Non oily bread, pasta, and grain.

  • Dry leaves

Keep in mind that everything you add to the compost will need to be fairly small or shredded as smaller pieces to decompose faster. Shredded cardboard, paper, and leaves, along with sawdust, straw, egg shells, and grass clippings need to be added in layers to prevent the matting of materials.

While most things from the kitchen and yard can be composted, here are some things that you should not try to compost:

  • Meat, bones, and fish scraps

  • Diseased plants and weeds

  • Cat and dog manure

  • Oil, fat, and grease

  • Dairy Products

  • Onion, Garlic, and Cabbage (technically, you can compost these, they just produce a strong odor and repel earthworms)

Once your compost is started, it can take eight-to-twelve months to decompose into a rich, black dirt. This dirt is a perfect conditioner for soil that might later become a garden. It will help prevent plants from catching diseases, aerate the soil, and pack it full of nutrients so your garden can produce the best fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Even if you don’t have a garden and don’t plan to have one anytime soon, composting is a much better alternative than contributing to the world’s already massive landfills. Organic matter that would otherwise compost, when dumped in a landfill, does not receive the oxygen it needs and instead of decomposing, it just emits harmful gases. So, do something good for our planet and start a compost, clean up some trash, and live a sustainable life.

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