Once a month, I feature a chapter from my book and partner with the folks from MightyNest on a related giveaway. This month, we’re focusing on why and how to compost! If you are a gardener, you likely know that compost is awesome, but even if you are not a gardener, you’ll be doing the earth a big favor if you start composting. So read on to learn why and how to compost, and you could win one of three counter top compost collectors to get you started!
Over 30% of the food that’s produced on Earth goes to waste. Discarded food usually ends up in landfills: It’s a major cause of avoidable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Composting isn’t a solution to the problem of food waste, but it does keep kitchen and yard wastes out of landfills (plus it’s really wonderful for gardening). Composting is easy, especially if you’ve got some outdoor space: I hope 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 benefit 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 don’t like describing a compost pile as a mound of rotting waste, because that makes it sound disgusting, and a compost pile isn’t disgusting at all.
There are basically two ways to compost: the hot way and the cool way. Cool composting is a slow process (it can take months to a year or more for it to break down). Hot composting speeds things up (your compost is typically finished in one or two months).
My method is more cool than hot. I have a compost pile made from my kitchen scraps, garden and yard clippings, and spent chicken bedding, and I keep adding material to the top of the pile whenever I have it. I keep a container for compost in my kitchen, where I collect all my fruit and veggie discards, eggshells, used tea bags, and coffee grounds. (It’s very tightly covered, which is so important, particularly in the summer, as it helps to avoid fruit flies.) I dump these on top of the pile every few days, and turn my pile with a pitchfork whenever I remember. (It’s really important to aerate your compost pile; if you find that your compost doesn’t smell good, it’s probably not properly aerated.) And I water the pile whenever it gets dry. 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 animal 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, which are so excellent for organic gardening.
If you’re not into the idea of having a compost pile because you think they are ugly, you don’t have the space, or you’re just impatient, you might want to try the hot approach, and buy a bin designed for composting. These are generally made from recycled plastic, and are widely available online and at large gardening 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 become 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 compost 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 indoor plants.
City apartment dwellers: You are probably thinking that this info is not for you, but I beg to differ. Look into urban composters for use indoors.
Features of a Successful Compost Pile
- Your compost pile should be one-half to two-thirds “green”, and one-third to one-half “brown”.
- The green material (high in nitrogen) can include grass clippings; green plant trimmings; young weeds (best to avoid weeds with seeds); bedding and manure from chickens, cows, and horses; and food scraps, including all raw fruit and veggie scraps, cooked grains, used organic tea bags and leaves, coffee grounds, and eggshells (but no meat, bones, dairy products, whole eggs, or oils). Avoid adding large amounts of cooked vegetables or fruit to your compost pile, but a little is just fine.
- The brown material (high in carbon) can include raked leaves, straw, hay, waste paper and shredded junk mail, wood shavings, newspaper, and cardboard, including torn up pizza boxes and toilet paper rolls. (Somewhat surprising things you can compost include human and pet hair, dryer lint, and used tissues.)
- For adequate heating, it is best to make a pile about 3 ft/0.9 m square. Water should be added to keep the pile as moist as a wrung-out sponge (use a hose). Keep it covered with a tarp if it’s raining a lot and the pile is getting too wet.
- When building your pile, 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 they will decompose.
Another option is to compost in a Worm Composter.
(Text adapted with permission from my book One Simple Change: Surprisingly Easy Ways to Transform Your Lifeby Winnie Abramson. Copyright 2013 by Chronicle Books.)
Do you already compost your kitchen waste or are you new to composting? To help you with the process, MightyNest will give three of my readers a Fresh Air countertop composting kit.