How to Compost Efficiently
Ready to up your sustainability game? Well, you might be ready to give composting a try. This is the most eco-conscious way to get rid of your food scraps. When it’s done efficiently the result is a rich, nutrient-dense planting medium for gardens and house plants. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let’s walk through the basics of composting and why it’s so important for an eco-friendly home to implement into their routine.
Why is Composting Important?
Food waste might not seem concerning on the surface but it can pose an issue when sent to landfills. When food is left to decompose in a landfill under heaps of other garbage, it can emit exorbitant amounts of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Food sent to the landfill accounts for roughly 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Composting seeks to reduce the amount of methane food waste produces by allowing it to decompose in a more natural manner. Composting can also reduce the overall volume of garbage sent to the landfill so our garbage can take up less of our natural spaces.
How to Compost the RIGHT Way
Composting can be done in a multitude of different ways to fit an array of lifestyles.
Curbside Pickup Method
If you don’t want to deal with the actual process of composting your food scraps, you can still cut down on your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by opting to use the curbside pickup method.
This option will be limited to certain regions. Many major cities and smaller municipalities in the United States offer this method. Basically, you collect your food scraps in a separate container and the city will pick it up on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for commercial composting. This is by far the easiest method but, again, it isn’t offered everywhere.
Ready to get your hands dirty? If you have a backyard space, you can try the pile method. Just as the name suggests, this composting method involves piling your compostable material until it decomposes. But in order for these materials to efficiently break down, there is a step-by-step process you need to follow.
Here are the basics of how to start and maintain your pile.
- Find a spot on bare ground to set up your pile. You can enclose it using chicken wire or a bottom-less bin.
- Lay down twigs or hay first. This will assist with drainage.
- Start to build your pile. Add on a layer of wet materials such as food scraps and then add on a dry layer of materials such as sticks, leaves, or sawdust.
- Every few layers, add nitrogen-rich material. This can be manure from herbivores, lawn clippings, buckwheat, or clover.
- Using a pitchfork or shovel, turn over the composted materials every few weeks. This will introduce the oxygen necessary for speedy composting.
- Depending on the size of your pile and the materials you add to it, this process can take anywhere from three months to two years. Continue to tend to it until it turns into dark, crumbly soil.
Compost piles are essentially a recipe you mix for the greater good of the planet!
A popular alternative to the pile method is the tumbler method. This is a great option for those who want to streamline their process and keep compost out of sight. They come in a variety of sizes and are typically made of plastic. You can construct a homemade compost tumbler from a 50-gallon drum. Once you secure your tumbler, creating compost is a fairly easy and swift process.
- Place compostable materials into the barrel. Be sure to maintain a proper balance of “green” and “brown” (wet and dry) materials.
- Turn your tumbler by one rotation each day.
- If you notice a bad smell, add more brown materials.
- Continue this process for two to three weeks. Once the compost is mature, it will have an earthy aroma and look like loose, dark soil.
- Move compost out of the tumbler and start the process over again!
Another fairly simple way to compost is the trench method. There really aren’t very many steps to this option. You simply dig a trench or hole 1 foot deep and fill it with four to six inches of compostable materials. Bury the materials and you’re done! There are three different ways gardeners use this method to nourish their crops.
- Trenches between rows. Plant crops where you usually would and place your trenches between your plants.
- Rotating trenches. Every year, you choose a row for trenches, a walkway, and a row for plants. Once a new planting season rolls around, you rotate out these three sections.
- Collect and bury. This is by far the simplest method. Dig a hole near perennial gardens and shrubbery and bury your compostable materials.
Worm Bin Method
Last but certainly not least is the worm bin or vermiculture method. Do you live in an apartment or home with limited backyard space? You can still compost! The worm bin method can be done with limited space and even indoors. All you’ll need is a plastic storage bin or a container specifically designed for worm composting.
- Find a spot for your compost bin and decide what vessel you want to put it in. You can use a worm compost bin, pallet bin lined with heavy-duty plastic, or a plastic container.
- If you want to put your bin outside, use the pallet bin. When you line it with plastic, be sure to make small puncture marks throughout for proper airflow. If you want to do a homemade plastic bin, drill holes in the sides and bottom, spread them a few inches apart.
- Line the bottom of the bin with slightly moist newspaper shreds. Try to avoid color print. It can be toxic to worms.
- Add in your worms. Keep in mind that two pounds of worms can consume about a pound of waste a day. Don’t add in more worms than you can feed.
- Bury your food scraps under the newspaper bedding. You’ll want to feed your worms about three times their weight per week.
- Cover the bedding with a full sheet of newspaper to lock in moisture. Cover with lid.
- Feed your worms and fluff the bedding once a week. Lightly spray down the bedding with water if it looks dry. Continue for three to six months until the compost has matured.
- There are two ways to collect your compost. You can lure your worms to a new tray above. Slide an aerated tray with a fresh bed of newspaper and compost materials directly above your compost and all the worms will travel to the area with fresh food. Lift the tray and collect the compost then gently dump the fresh bedding and worms back into the bin. The second method is to simply dump your pile on a tarp in the sun. The worms will travel to the bottom and you can scoop the fresh compost up, set fresh bedding down, and put the worms back.
What to Compost?
- Fruits and vegetables
- Yard trimmings
- Cardboard and brown paper
- Animal manure from herbivores
- Shredded newspaper
- Tea or non-synthetic tea bags
- Wood chips and scraps
What Not To Compost?
- Meat, fish, egg, or poultry scraps
- Pet waste
- Any fruit, vegetable, or yard trimmings treated with pesticides
- Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
- Whatever you bought from fast food restaurants
Final Composting Tips
- Sprinkle or dig a hole in the center of your compost pile to put lawn clippings in. This will help you avoid matting which can reduce your pile’s ability to undergo proper aeration.
- Keep your compost moist. If it’s too dry, it will take too long to break down. But also keep in mind if it’s too wet it could start to smell. The goal is to keep it moist but not soaking wet.
- Cover your pile with wood or plastic sheeting. This will assist in maintaining proper moisture levels.
- Create multiple piles at different levels of maturity.
- Don’t put immature compost on your plants. The acids and pathogens in premature compost can kill them. Remember, you can tell your compost is finished when it has an earthy scent and a dark brown, crumbly consistency.
- Another simple test you can conduct to see if your compost has matured is to seal 4 - 6 cups of compost in a resealable bag and store it for 24 hours. If it smells like ammonia when you check on it, the compost is not done yet.
- If using the trench method, line your pits with newspaper to help retain water.
- Shred your compostable material to speed up the process.