Happy weekend everyone, and welcome to the 25th post in my year-long One Simple Change series! The focus of today’s post is Composting.
Did you all see this article over at CNN? It states that about 1/3 of the food that is produced on Earth goes to waste. How sad is that(?!), especially considering how many people don’t have enough to eat in this world. Apparently there are terrible environmental consequences of this waste, as well, since discarded food is a major cause of “avoidable” CO2 emissions.
I could not help but think about composting when I read that piece.
While I recognize that composting isn’t a solution to the problem, it does keep kitchen and yard wastes out of landfills (plus it’s awesome for gardening). I wish more people would compost- it’s easy, especially if you’ve got some outdoor space- so I am here to inspire you to get started with composting if it’s not something you already do.
I have been composting for many years and believe it or not, I am still in awe of the process. I think it’s beyond cool that I can take organic matter from my kitchen and yard (plus other surprising places), put it in a pile, and watch it break down into something that I can then add back to my soil to fertilize the plants that have yet to grow. That’s recycling at its finest as far as I am concerned.
Composting really is that simple: you are, after all, basically putting things into a pile to rot. But you know what? I am not going to describe a compost pile as a mound of rotting waste anymore because that makes it sound disgusting, don’t you think? And a compost pile isn’t disgusting at all.
It is said that there are basically two ways to compost: the “hot” way and the “cool” way. Cool composting is a pretty slow process (it can take months to a year or more for it to break down), while hot composting speeds things up (things are typically “done” in 1-2 months). I do things more “cool” than “hot”.
What this means is I have a compost pile made from my kitchen scraps, garden, and yard clippings, chicken bedding, etc. and I add material to the top of the pile whenever I have it. I keep a very tightly covered (so important, particularly in the summer, as it helps avoid fruit flies) plastic container in my kitchen and this is where I collect all my fruit and veggie discards, eggshells, used tea bags, spent coffee grounds, etc. I dump these on top of the pile every few days, and I don’t worry too much about adding things that are big and take a while to break down (like corncobs and watermelon rinds). I turn my pile with a pitchfork whenever I remember (I am trying to get better about this, as it’s actually really important to aerate your compost pile), and I water the pile whenever it gets dry (probably not often enough these days). Last year I had some trouble with things not breaking down properly and I figured out this was because I had imbalance of “greens” to “browns”. So now I add more browns (see the recipe below for more info) and all is well; I was able to take a good amount of compost from the bottom layers of my pile and add them to my garden beds a few months back.
In the winter, I add things to the pile just as in summer, but decomposition obviously slows to a halt when it’s very cold.
I like doing things this way because it’s easy. And free. It doesn’t smell bad, and it does not attract unwanted critters (something a lot of people seem to worry about): remember to never add meat, fish, or any kind of cooked food to your compost, though (if you do, you may indeed see some uninvited “guests”).
If you’ve never composted before you might get frustrated with how long it takes, and you’ll probably be astounded when you see how little compost you actually end up with from what initially seemed like a big pile. But oh how dark and glorious that compost will be, filled with nutrients and wiggling worms that are SO excellent for organic gardening.
If you’re not into the idea of having a compost pile (ie you think they are ugly, you don’t have the space, or you’re just impatient), though, you might want to do things the “hot” way, and buy a bin designed for composting. These are generally made from recycled plastic, and are widely available online (or you can find them at larger gardening/landscaping centers). In my town, you can also purchase bins at the municipal recycling center. Using a compost bin definitely has some advantages: turning the contents is easier so you can do it frequently (yes!), plus the bin has a lid so the heat is contained (the hotter things are inside the bin, the sooner you will end up with “finished” compost that you can use).
If you don’t have a garden, and don’t see the point of composting, just think of how much less garbage you’ll make if you composted the suitable items instead. I am sure you can find a gardening friend who’d be happy to take your compost off your hands…or you could use it to enrich the soil of your potted plants.
City apartment dwellers: I know that you are probably thinking that this info is not for you, but I beg to differ. Check out this “Urban Composter”, which was designed to be used indoors. Another option is to compost in a worm bin: Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System by Mary Appelhof is a great book.
*1-2 parts green (high in nitrogen)- this means grass clippings, green plant trimmings, young weeds (best not to add weeds with seeds), bedding and manure from chickens, cows, and horses, food scraps (all fruit and veggie scraps, grains, organic tea and coffee, eggshells; NO meat, bones, dairy products, whole eggs or oils)
*1 part brown (high in carbon)- this means leaves, straw, hay, waste paper and junk mail (best shredded), wood pruning/shavings, newspaper, cardboard
1. For adequate heating, it is best to make a pile that is 3 feet by 3 feet. Water should be added to keep the pile as moist as a "wrung out sponge". Keep it covered with a tarp if it's raining a lot and it's getting too wet, and water it with a hose when conditions are very dry.
2. When building your pile, you should layer the greens and browns and add water to help jump start their breakdown. Then keep an eye on the moisture level and turn the contents with a pitchfork every week or two to make sure it continues to decompose evenly. The more you turn the materials over and get things stirred up, the faster it will decompose.
3. If you don't have any land and/or you are looking for another way to recycle your food scraps, you can try using an indoor composter or a worm bin.
More info about composting:
Composting info from You Grow Girl
Composting info from Garden Organic UK
75 Surprising Things You Can Add to Compost
A comprehensive list of what you can and cannot add to compost
Compost Troubleshooting Tips
Using Worm Liquid Leachate in Your Garden from Well Preserved