Composting is one of the eco-friendliest hacks to keep your garden nutrient-dense! It’s a rewarding process to help reduce your waste while making your own soil from your own food scraps. All you need to start is food scraps/organic waste (these are nitrogen-rich materials), a compost bin or backyard space, a shovel, and dead leaves/grass/branches (these are carbon-rich materials).
First, we suggest you fence off an area in your backyard as a designated compost area. Here you can include a compost bin, which can easily be made of an up-cycled old crate. If you want to spend a little money, try buying a tumbler that speeds up the process of aeration and heat confinement (we have seen these on Craiglist for cheap!) Tumblers easily turn your plant matter so that the decomposition happens at a faster pace. On shady days or in the winter when the sun isn’t out as much, you can certainly still compost ! Just know that in these conditions the process will go much slower because there isn’t a steady source of heat, an essential part of composting. Putting your bin near the sunny area of your yard will be a huge benefit for your compost because heat acts to denature proteins and break down plant fibers. In cases where it is raining, you will want to give shelter to your bin because some of the nutrients can leak out with the runoff.
Bear preparing to eat dinner and then compost all of these organic food scraps!
In soil, there are natural aerobes that occupy the components in compost that need oxygen to live and digest the plants in your pile. When these organisms break down your plant waste, they create energy in the form of heat and CO2. The little aerobes need access to oxygen so that they can digest the plant matter and change it into, so proper ventilation in a bin or tumbler allows for the CO2 to escape and ensures a happy environment for the aerobes. Moisture is an important yet delicate part of the process of composting. Too much moisture from rain can really drown out your aerobes, but too little can kill the whole process of the breaking down plant matter. A general rule of thumb is to keep your compost moist and make sure you are balancing your water-rich green scraps to your dryer scraps, like dead leaves and dead grass. Common green, nitrogen-rich items that we use are apple cores, banana peels, and salad scraps. To speed up the process of composting you can cut up your items super finely and turn the mix with a pitchfork or shovel. Mixing will layer your new compost with old compost so that the older pile can speed up the process of composting.
You should only be putting organic waste into your compost! Materials like animal products (i.e. meat, bones, dairy, and fish) and pet waste should not be placed into your bin. Animal products can attract animals to your pile and also overheat it. Pet waste is a no-go to use because it will compost into very toxic compounds. Materials like bioplastics and other products that appear to be compostable are surprisingly not good for your compost since bioplastics have to be disposed at industrial composting facilities. Unless a product is marked home-compostable, do not put it into your bin! You should also be avoiding colored paper, inorganic materials, and synthetic chemicals. These items carry many manufactured and processed compounds that can be toxic when broken down into your compost.
The more organic, raw materials that you keep in your bin, the less you are contributing to landfill waste. According to the United States EPA, yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 20-30% of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. By keeping your scraps out of the landfill, you can easily reduce costs for waste collection and therefore reduce fuel and CO2 usage by trucks that transport it. If you allow your waste to go to the landfill, you risk the organic products breaking down in aerobic decomposition. This creates harmful methane that could also react with metal and create toxic leachate, a groundwater polluter. We promise that you will save a ton of money by making your own soil as well as have a healthier, chemical-free garden!!
Happy composting! (:
Post by Carly Bergman and Julia Reggio, Sustainable Duo intern.