When I was little composting meant dumping all our vegetable and fruit leftovers in a big heap in the farthest back corner of the yard where my grandfather would also burn the trash. What my grandparents ever did with that smelly mess I never thought to ask. I have personally never composted or even thought of the possibility of composting but as I am getting deeper into the world of gardening and homesteading I’m asking myself – why not?
Composting helps plants to grow bigger and healthier. It adds organic material back into the soil which in turn helps the soil to retains more water and nutrients. It also saves you the hassle (and money!) of driving down to Home Depot for mulch or other gardening soil additives. Tired of bagging up sacks of dead leaves in the fall? No problem. Add those to your compost heap too for a carbon boost! Also, yard and garden waste makes up 20% of all household waste (and that isn’t even counting vegetable/fruit peelings and paper products which can all be composted) so choosing to compost will stop that organic material from being buried in a landfill and can increase the quality of your topsoil. Check out this graph detailing the average amounts of refuse compiling our waste:
Need I say more? Composting is good for (a) the environment, (b) your garden, (c) your wallet!, and did I mention (d) can help lead you into a healthier lifestyle. During an interview about vermicomposting, my friend Elyse mentioned that composting has made her more conscious about not only the amount but type of waste her family is producing. Being conscious can make us conscientious. Elyse, for example, is striving to waste less and eat more organically as vermicomposting involves using worms to do the “recycling” for you; meaning they eat what she eats and their diet is in turn feeding her plants.
Once you’ve been persuaded by the incredible benefits of composting it’s time to decide what style of composting would fit your lifestyle and gardening needs best. I’ve since learned that the composting practices of my grandparents’ are called cold composting: allowing the natural process of decomposition to slowly recycle organic materials into rich soil. The benefit of cold composting is energy. It requires the least tending and aside from occasionally turning the pile with a fork or shovel, you literally just throw your waste into a pile and let mother nature take its course. However, this type of composting also requires the most time. So if you don’t have the energy to tend your compost but plenty of time to wait, cold composting isn’t a bad choice for you.
On the other hand, if you are short on time and willing to put in the effort, hot composting can turn waste into fertile soil in as little as 18 days. Hot composting involves adding a certain ratio of ingredients to temper your carbon and nitrogen levels. Also, like the name suggests, hot composting uses heat to speed up the break down of particles. Materials high in nitrogen are known as “green materials” and usually include anything green or living, ex. green leaves. “Brown materials”, on the other hand, are high in carbon and general include anything brown or dead, ex. brown leaves. I can’t attest to how difficult this type of composting is because I’ve never tried it but since this is my first time, I’m going to try my hand at cold composting first. If you are interested in learning to hot compost here is a link that promises rich compost in 18 days.
The third type of composting is vermicomposting which uses live worms to break down materials for you. If you haven’t read the interview my amazingly cool and seriously talented friend Elyse gave about her vermicomposting then I HIGHLY recommend it! She, and plenty of others, have shared that a small bin of vermicomposting worms (yup, worms!) can fit easily in any available nook. While our interview absolutely gave me the desire to go adopt a few 1,000 wriggling new pets, I’ve still got my hands quite full with my own wriggling little one.
Since I don’t think our landlord would appreciate carrot peelings and onion skins piling up in the back yard, or the furry critters they’d entice, I am going to start out small. I haven’t decided whether I want to hot or cold compost yet but I am planning on starting out in a 5 gallon bucket (with a lid to thwart would-be-thieving animals!). After doing all this research I’ve become very aware every time I put vegetables peels and cuttings in the trash and it feels so wasteful! Hopefully we can head out soon to pick up a bucket so I can get a head start for my garden.
If you are considering or have decided to compost here is a list of compostable materials and (for you hot composters) whether they will add nitrogen or carbon to you pile.
Green Compost Materials – Nitrogen Rich
- raw fruits and vegetables
- green grass clippings and leaves
- tea bags, coffee grounds and filters
- egg shells (also high in calcium!)
Brown Compost Materials – Carbon Rich
- brown leaves and grass clippings
- dryer lint
- paper towels and newspapers (shred before adding)
- wood chips and saw dust
Do Not Compost
- diseased plants
- meat and dairy products
- oil, grease, or fat
- wood ash
- dog/cat feces
I also wouldn’t compost any type of glossy or treated paper. Meat actually can be composted but it requires a special type of machine composter and enough land to house it miles from anything with a nose because it smells like Hades with athlete’s foot!
For everything else you could care to know about composting check out this nifty pdf, organiclifestyles, which also talks about how to keep pests and rodents away and a trouble shooting guide if you run into some problems.