Composting has always seemed a little intimidating to me. It also just seemed so time-consuming. After lots of research though, the composting journey began! I want to share with you all that I’ve learned and how you can get started.
What is COMPOSTING, exactly?
Composting is the process of controlling the breakdown of materials in order to make Compost. So in other words, it’s the process of making Compost. Compost itself is simply organic material that has decomposed or broken down. Pretty straightforward. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food scraps and yard waste make up about 30% of what we throw away. Honestly, I think this percentage is a little off (I feel like we waste so much more food!). Regardless, why not make better use of all that?
There are different types of composting. Vermicomposting is one that uses red worms to help break down matter. This type of composting is very popular and actually yields the highest nutrients. I personally don’t want to deal with worms though! So, for this post, I will be focusing on onsite composting.
“Okay. So, how do I do this?”
The general idea behind composting is making use of “greens” and “browns”. Let’s get into some science to better understand this! Remember that Periodic Table of Elements you learned about in school? It’s back! The two Elements that are crucial to successful composting are Nitrogen and Carbon. There is debate on what the ratio between these two should be (C:N ratio). The truth is that they all work! Well, sort of. There’s a little more to it.
The important thing to keep in mind is: if you have too much Carbon then you may end up slowing down the decomposition rate. If you have too much Nitrogen then your compost will likely be very smelly!
If you’re new to Composting, I suggest starting with a 1:1 (C:N) ratio. Half browns and half greens. Nitrogen-rich materials tend to be green and moist. Carbon-rich materials tend to be dry or “brown”. You can experiment by adding a little more carbon-rich materials. I would also suggest getting started with THIS bin.
- Fresh grass clippings
- Coffee grounds
- Fruits and Vegetables
- Tea leaves
- Dried leaves
- Twigs and branches
- Shredded newspaper
- Diseased plants
- Dairy products
- Meat scraps, including bones
- Pet waste/feces
- Plastic, metal, glass
- Chemicals, including yard trimmings that have been treated with chemicals
Benefits of Composting
- You can use the broken-down material to enrich your soil when gardening
- It decreases the need for chemical fertilizers
- It enables sustainable living
- It allows you to have a low impact, or carbon print, on the environment
- Zero Waste!
Maintaining your Compost
You’ll want to dump all the (qualified) organic material into your pile, rather than dispose of it. This means you can end up adding to your compost every day! There’s no such thing as too often. The important thing, again, is to keep the ratio balanced!
An Element that was not mentioned earlier is Oxygen! Let’s take a step back and look at this process so far: you’re dumping organic materials into a container. It’s all just piling up in layers and retaining heat while doing its “chemical” thing. A key step in maintaining your compost pile is to aerate it! This means you should turn, or mix, it often to let some Oxygen in. This helps to balance out all the Carbon Dioxide that has been retained. It also helps keep the moisture at ideal levels. Less moisture means less funk!
Troubleshooting your Compost
What the heck do I do if something goes wrong?
I see Ants!
- Your pile is too dry. Try adding more “greens”. You can also water your pile. Be careful not to put too much water, as this will increase the moisture level too much.
I see Maggots!
- I know. Gross! But they are actually really helpful. If you see that a majority of your compost pile is full of maggots then you have way too much green waste in there. Try adding more browns and aerate (mix) it more often.
My compost pile smells so disgusting!
- You have too much moisture in there! Aerate some more and add more nitrogen-rich materials. If you have an indoor composting bin, you can try a carbon filter to help reduce odor. If you get an Ammonia-like smell, don’t panic. Just add some citric peels.
Composting can take some getting used to. I still find myself accidentally throwing away fruit and veggie peels in the garbage instead of composting it. Don’t beat yourself up for it. Living a sustainable and conscious life takes time and we’re all in this together!
Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts and questions!