How to Compost

COMPOSTING – THE BASICS

Composting is one of the greenest things we can do for the earth. First of all, reducing food waste means less trash is sent to the landfill. Secondly, it enriches the soil resulting in eco-friendly gardening. 

When food scraps, plant debris, and organic material are heaped together and moistened, bacteria and microorganisms break down the matter into minerals and nutrients. Consequently, it supplements the soil and provides air pockets resulting in improved water-retention and better root growth. Learn more about the science behind composting here.

There are three factors to ensure successful compost: moisture, heat, and aeration.

  • Pour water over the compost pile whenever it appears dry. 
  • Water drained from the heap can be used as liquid fertilizer. 
  • Any temperature above freezing will allow the material to break down, though higher temperatures speed the process. Find a good location with direct sunlight to help keep temperatures high.
  • Turn the pile regularly to aid with decomposition. 

BROWN AND GREEN MATERIAL

The basis of composting revolves around using equal parts of “brown” and “green” material. Therefore, using a good mix of materials will aid with drainage and speedier decomposition.

BROWN MATERIAL

  • Cardboard rolls from toilet paper, paper towels, wrapping paper, etc. (torn into smaller pieces)
  • Cereal boxes and brown paper bags (torn into smaller pieces)
  • Uncoated paper such as junk mail, etc. (shredded)
  • Newspaper (shredded, avoid glossy advertisements)
  • Paper towels (not used with chemicals)
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Vacuum and dryer lint
  • Crushed eggshells (not including eggs) are a great source of calcium
  • Hair (human and pet)
  • Cork
  • Fireplace ash (excellent source of calcium and potassium) Use sparingly to avoid high pH levels that limit microbial activity. Also, avoid charcoal briquettes and commercially made fire logs. 
  • Brown leaves and dead plants (mulched works best) Walnut tree leaves should be avoided. Oak tree leaves, as well as, waxy leaves take much longer to decompose
  • Straw and hay (high in carbon provide energy for compact microbes)
  • Sawdust. Do not use pressure-treated wood or wood treated with a chemical preservative, likewise shown to leach arsenic into the soil.

GREEN MATERIAL

  • Fruit (including apple peelings and cores, banana peels, citrus skin cut into smaller pieces, berry stems, melon rinds, etc.)
  • Vegetables (peelings, lettuce cores and leaves, celery stumps, etc.)  Also, avoid vegetables cooked in oil or fat. Corn cobs are very slow to decompose. 
  • Green leaves and plants (avoid weeds with mature seeds)
  • Grass clippings (use sparingly due to a very high nitrogen content that may clump, become slimy, and create an ammonia smell). It’s best to mulch grass and leave on the lawn where they decompose naturally and as a result, help feed the soil. 
  • Manure (such as poultry, chicken, rabbit, goats, horse, or cow). Never use waste from dogs, cats, pigs, or humans.
  • Coffee grounds and filters. Coffee grounds can also be used directly as a mulch for acid-loving plants such as Azaleas, Hydrangeas, and Rhododendrons.
  • Teabags (remove staples from bags)

NEVER ADD:

  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy
  • Cooked or oily food
  • Weeds
  • Diseased plants and flowers
  • Poisonous plants such as poison ivy
  • Materials exposed to toxic chemicals are to be similarly avoided

MY COMPOSTING JOURNEY

My composting journey began with a heap of materials in an old tire. I diligently turned it weekly with a pitch fork and consequently enjoyed watching how the organic material broke down. After adding the compost to my garden that first year, I watched as my vegetables grew bigger than ever. I was sold! Ten years later, I’m still composting. Though the pitch fork method worked fine, I upgraded to a barrel that turns with a few strokes of the crank. As a result, it’s one of the best investments I’ve made. 

Won’t you consider giving it trying since composting is one of the greenest things we can do for the earth.

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