Composting 101

What is composting?

Composting is the breakdown of various organic(meaning carbon containing) materials by worms and/or bacteria into a rich soil nutrient substance.

Why is composting important?

Composting is important because it uses normal vegetative waste and creates something useful out it. It keeps waste of the landfill that creates methane. Methane is 26 times more damaging for the environment than carbon dioxide when it comes to global warming. You may ask how is it different in a landfill than in my backyard? The answer is the biochemical reaction is different in the landfill than in the backyard in a compost pile. In a landfill compostable food scraps get into an environment where only anaerobic bacteria can breakdown the waste. The reaction produces methane.

When you compost your food scraps it introduces the ability for worms and aerobic bacteria to break things down. This instead creates carbon dioxide which can still cause issues but is much better than methane. Also remember that carbon dioxide is what plants use in cellular respiration, so it can be useful to plants.

One other point to expand is using what would be waste for something that can be useful. It reduces to trash we create. Even if you don’t garden or have a use for the compost having a pile that you add to and manage at a minimum creates an area in your yard that is nutrient rich for plants to grow and can improve soil quality there.

How to Compost

There a few key things to remember when composting.

Dos
  • Select a place for your compost pile on the open ground
  • If in an apartment select a composting bin
  • Lay down some brown matter(leaves are a great and common one)
  • Add green materials(generally food scraps, grass clippings, etc)
  • Cover with more brown matter(again leaves, sawdust, straw, paper)
  • Make sure that your brown to green ratio is 2:1
  • Continue to add scraps and brown matter as you get them in the ratio above
  • Make sure to turn your pile every 3-7 days to ensure enough oxygen gets in
  • Cover with a tarp or enclose if needed if issues with pest are seen

Brown matter is that which is high in carbon and green is high in nitrogen. Both are important for the microbes to make your waste into pure black gold! Make sure to check the web if you are not sure as to how a material should be classified. For example coffee grounds are high in nitrogen but are brown in color. The green/brown color distinction normally works but it never hurts to check. The following link has more info on composting. It is truly a great article and the blog rocks to. The thing I really like is the list of what each item adds to the pile: Eartheasy.com.

Don’ts
  • Don’t add animal products including bones, meat and fat. They get rancid and attract pests like rats and raccoons
  • Do not add dairy products
  • Do not add pet feces like dog and cat feces(check this if you want to compost cow manure, not something I do How to Compost Manure
  • Do not add magazines or any paper materials that could have toxins on them
  • Be careful if adding wood ash co make sure you haven’t burn anything that is toxic or contains petroleum products
  • Don’t add any vegetative waste that have pesticides residue on it(that Eartheasy article states, banana peels, and orange peels) All the more reason to buy organic!
  • Be careful to not add any materials with potentially toxic or dangerous chemicals

One side note to this don’ts list is that animal products like fish, bones, meat etc can be composted separately but require special containers. I would also advise spending some time learning the proper way to do that composting. For the purposes of this article I will not get into composting those items.

Composting has been a great thing for me. I have truly enjoy doing it and I have been able to use it some of my compost in gardening. It has given great results and also helped to reduce my trash every week. It is really crazy to see how much vegetative kitchen waste you have once you start composting. If you love gardening or even if you just want to help the environment do yourself a favor and start composting!

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