Composting–you’ve thought about trying it, but the idea of getting started seems daunting. Not only is composting quite easy to do, it will benefit your garden year after year. Let’s look at everything you need to know to get started with composting in your own backyard.
The Breakdown on Breaking it Down
Composting requires a balance of organic waste (kitchen scraps, paper, grass clippings, etc.), soil, water, and air. Microorganisms in the soil eat the organic, carbon-containing waste, breaking it down into the simplest of parts. In doing so, a high-fiber humus (the organic component of soil) is formed, rich in nutrients such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. As you introduce oxygen through turning the compost pile, the microorganisms break down the material via aerobic respiration. In order for these microorganisms to thrive and multiply, they also need water. Through the process of aerobic respiration, carbon dioxide and heat are created. The more frequently the pile is turned and watered, the quicker breakdown occurs.
A Network of Organisms
As with anything in nature, composting requires (and hosts) a complex system of living organisms. Things present in your compost pile (whether you see them or not) include protozoa, nematodes, bacteria, mites, beetles and other various invertebrates, and fungi. All of which work together to increase the efficiency of breaking down of your compost.
Start your own composting system
In the Kitchen
To start collecting produce scraps, you’ll need something to put them in. An old Tupperware container with a tightly sealed lid is a great choice and is easy to find. You could also use a large glass jar or a plastic container you may normally recycle. While there are a plethora of fancy options you can buy online or in-store, something you have on hand will likely get the job done. Keep in mind this is a temporary dwelling, and not where the composting actually takes place.
What to Collect from the Kitchen:
- Raw fruit or vegetable scraps
- Banana peels
- Melon rinds
- Egg shells
- Coffee grounds (Not a coffee drinker? Ask your local coffee shop to save you some!)
- Cooked and uncooked plain rice or pasta
- Dog hair
- Tea bags
In the Yard
Select a site for your composting container. It should be several feet away from the home, in direct sunlight, and with good drainage. Container options include:
Passive system: dig a hole into the ground one-to-two feet deep. This approach will increase the amount of time breakdown will occur. Just make sure to the local utility company before you dig to avoid hitting any underground pipes/wires!
Tumbler system: great for beginners, holds heat, easy to rotate and manage.
Bin system: requires a bit more manual care, but is a classic style of composting.
What to Collect from the Yard:
- Grass clippings
- Pine needles
- Straw or hay
- Small twigs
- Saw dust
Steps for successful composting:
- Collect scraps from the kitchen
- Put them in the container system in your yard
- Add a layer of scraps from the yard
- Add a light dusting of soil
- Add water if dry
- Rotate the pile often, allowing oxygen to enter
- Once the bin is full and the breakdown is at least 50% complete, move that material into a “finishing pile” either in another bin or on the ground nearby.
- When it’s ready, fold into your garden soil. You’ll know when it’s ready by looking at the color – rich brown or black, and noticing the scent – earthy and very similar to normal soil.
NOTE: What you CANNOT Compost with a Basic Composting System
- Any kind of meat; cooked or uncooked
- Cooked, greasy foods
- Human or pet waste of any kind.
- Invasive weeds
- Charcoal ash
- Plants with pesticides
Benefits Beyond the Trash Bin
By reducing the amount of waste placed in the trash bin, less bags are used and, thus, less trash is hauled. When trash trucks have less weight to carry, they use less fuel, and when less fuel is used, tax dollars can be put to better use. Reducing emissions also lessens the strain on our natural environment for future generations! Check out some financial success stories here.