For many of us, who have spent most of our lives not really thinking about where the trash goes once we take it out, composting might sound like something close to a sci-fi scenario.
“What? But don’t you put ALL the garbage into the same bin? I’ve never done that! What if I mess up?”
This might be your thought process, or you might have another one going when you think about starting to compost but then end up giving up.
We’ve all been there – so once you’re done reading, you’ll understand all the necessary steps to stay motivated. Even if it may seem it’s just a minor contribution from your end, we promise you that your decision to start composting will have a real impact on the planet.
Anything that lives eventually decomposes. This is the whole idea behind composting: it speeds up the natural decomposition process by providing an ideal environment for decomposing organisms ( bacteria, fungi, worms) to do their work.
The end result, the matter that looks like fertile soil, is called compost.
Farmers refer to it as “black gold”, because it is rich in nutrients, and you can use it for gardening and / agriculture. However, there’s an additional impact we make by composting.
WHAT DOES COMPOSTING CONSIST OF?
Since composting just speeds up the decomposing process, it basically imitates the composting process naturally occurring in nature. The same microworld that exists in the forest, for example, exists in your compost bin. The most simple way to think about what does and doesn’t go in compost is thinking brown and green materials.
The brown material contains carbon: straw, dry leaves, cardboard, paper, hay, sawdust, toilet paper, paper bags, cardboard packaging, etc. Green material is what we know as kitchen organic waste or garden waste, and it contains nitrogen.
WHY DO WE EVEN DO IT?
Organic waste may seem harmless, but once it ends up in landfills, it becomes a massive emitter of methane. When composted, organic waste returns to the natural flow of matter. Additionally, creating rich, nutritious soil is also very important.
WHY SHOULD YOU COMPOST
Apart from the obvious benefit for your garden, making your compost at home also means your garden or house plants won’t need to be fertilized as frequently. Commercial fertilizers can end up doing more harm than good in the long run, so using your own compost adds beneficial microbes and nutrients without the chemicals.
There’s a financial benefit as well. Making your own compost means saving money. You might spend a few extra coins just to get your compost up and running, but you won’t need bagged soil as often.
TYPES OF COMPOSTING
There are various ways you can compost, and it really depends on your habits, time, and level of commitment.
Composting is easy to start, and you probably have compost-friendly items already. If the odor worries you – don’t panic, by the time you get to the end of this guide, you’ll understand how to prevent it. Tl;dr: it’s not supposed to have any type of smell.
These are the basic types of composting techniques:
Cold composting introduces air into the pile, in order to help break down the materials quicker. This requires the compost to be stirred or turned every few days. All you have to do is add your scraps and turn the handle to keep it well aerated.
As soon as the bacteria start to break down the higher nitrogen items, the temperature will rise. The speed of the compost breakdown depends on this. You can add water if you have an enclosed system. Mixing is essential – and keeps the odor away from your compost. By adding the right amount of carbon after every nitrogen-rich material, you’ll also reduce the risk of the compost getting a bad smell. Leave at least ¼ or more of the composter empty to ensure good aeration.
We recommend this if you have little organic waste to compost and not much time to tend to the process, and if you are not in a hurry for finished compost. However, depending on what kind of cold method you use, it can take one to two years before you get usable compost.
Hot composting is both very low effort on your part and is slow-paced. All there is to it for you is to toss your scraps into your DIY compost pile idea and leave it shut for a year or longer. This type of composting has a very foul odor to it due to the rotting ingredients. Without getting any oxygen, nastier bacteria take over, like they do in a landfill.
We recommend this if you have more time for managing composting, but you want to see the results in about four weeks up to 12 months!
What is essential for this type of composting are moisture, oxygen, and worms to break down any organic matter, and to leave out much odor. The hard work of breaking down the organic matter falls on the worms and bacteria. While breaking down, worms produce some amount of liquid, which you’ll need to take out regularly, but the good news is this type of liquid is an excellent fertilizer. Californian worms are a fan favorite for this composting type. Since there are very little dangerous bacteria, there’s no methane production, resulting in an earthy smell, and you don’t need to turn it a lot. Vermicompost is suitable for both indoors or outdoors, it takes only minutes each week, and it’s very easy to harvest the fertilizer when you need it.
“I only have a terrace and am living in the apartment? Is it still possible for me to compost if I don’t have a backyard?”
Absolutely! You will just need to follow some rules, mainly because we want to avoid odors. Because of that, we shouldn’t compost dairy products and eggs (eggshells are fine), fats, grease, oils, or cooked food such as meat and bones. Also, make sure that your bin is solid enough, so nothing can be spilled out of it.
“I am not a vegan, can I still compost… anything that comes from my kitchen?”
Again, the answer is: of course!
It is true that people usually compost raw fruits and veggies, even so, there are plenty of things that you use and can be composted, even though you’re not vegan.
For example paper products like paper towels and napkins (no artificial print color), coffee grounds, tea, old tea and spices, newspaper, cardboard, printer, and notebook paper can all be added to your compost. Dry leaves or withered house plants are welcome as well. Paper plates are good, too. Make sure that paper items are not colored with artificial colors, as harmful chemicals can break down into your compost.
Composting eggshells is also very common.
You can also compost hair – your and your pet’s. Again, just make sure the hair hasn’t been exposed to chemicals like flea medication, hairspray, or chemical dyes. Add home dust to the list as well! If you’re a real enthusiast, you can try a bokashi composting method, notorious for composting ANYTHING, and yes – meat and bones included.
“So, I can compost basically anything? What about meat?”
Not so fast. There are some elements that you shouldn’t compost.
For example, oil can cause harm to some microorganisms, negatively affecting compost’s PH. Some things can make your compost smell bad and attract animals and pests. Avoid these items for a successful compost pile:
- Anything containing meat, oil, fat, or grease.
- Diseased plant materials
- Sawdust or chips from pressure-treated wood
- Dog or cat feces
- Weeds that go to seed
- Dairy products (if you accidentally put some, it won’t do much harm)
“And what if I’m just too lazy to do it all?”
There’s a fine line between not composting at all – and fully committing to it. It’s using (non-composted) food scraps instead.
These are just a few examples of foods that you can toss into your plant pots:
- Banana peels can help plants form healthy roots.
Potassium, one of the main components in banana peels, helps plants transfer water between cells. It can help your plants set down healthy roots, assist fruit and blossom growth, and fend off nasty pests and diseases. Just bury the banana peel next to some flowering plants (indoors and outdoors).
- Eggshells provide calcium for plants.
Eggshells are an amazing source of calcium, which helps strengthen your plants’ cell walls.
- The nitrogen in coffee helps with foliage growth.
This one is tricky, as it requires a lot of balance. On one hand, coffee grounds contain plenty of nitrogen, which helps foliage development. On the other hand, too many coffee grounds can stunt plant growth because of the caffeine content and acidity, so just be careful.
- You can also make compost tea.
A compost tea, which is a nutrient-rich liquid, can be used as a fertilizer in your garden. Fill a gallon jug with water, molasses, sprinkle in some soil, sawdust, or plain mulch, add some food scraps and shake. Let that rest and ferment for a few days and add it to your garden or plants!
READY, SET, COMPOST!
- COMPOST BIN
A container is needed, a bucket with a volume of 30 to 50 l. Plastic is a good solution in this case because it is chemically stable, unlike metal or wooden buckets. The fork and knife label, food-grade plastic, HDPE type 2, and PP 5 type plastic, will not emit harmful substances. If you’re lucky enough to find a suitable one, you can also use a clay pot for compost. There are few ideas on how you could DIY your compost bin, keep reading to find out how to do it.
- GOOD TO GO
In our compost, we create a ratio that would correspond to something that exists in nature.
100: 1, 200: 1, and even 400: 1 in favor of carbon-brown material. Straw has a ratio of 80: 1, cardboard about 200: 1, and sawdust says 400: 1, which means that the sawdust is extremely rich in carbon. So, if we add sawdust, we will add proportionally a little less, and if we add dry leaves, we will add more.
The green part (nitrogen), kitchen waste, and garden waste, are the fuel for compost. The relationship between these two materials is very important. There should be more brown material (dry and woody) than green. When we arrange the compost pile, we first arrange the brown layer, then the green layer, and so on alternately. We stack the layers, it is our compost cake!
At the bottom, it is necessary to cross-place a layer of twigs, broken dry branches whose dimensions correspond to the width of the bucket. They do not have to be small and thin, a little thicker will do, because the role of these branches is drainage and providing airflow. Excess moisture should pass there.
Over that drainage layer, pieces of cardboard are placed that will fall apart, and we suggest slightly larger pieces because they will last longer. Cardboard here serves as protection for drainage and should almost completely cover the layer with branches.
- A CAKE WITH LAYERS
Brown layer: After the branches are placed crosswise at the bottom of the pot and the cardboard, the first next layer consists of brown material: hay, dry leaves, cardboard, paper, sawdust… The smaller the pieces, the faster they will disintegrate.
Humus layer: Time for a starter: the forest soil. It is a surface soil layer located in a forest. The first few inches, old leaves that are already falling apart. We need all those microorganisms that are there, so it’s perfectly fine if a worm is found there – it can only speed up the whole process.
First green layer: A third of the bucket should be full by now. So, what can you use here?
Leftover vegetables, fruits – everything that came out of the kitchen that day is our green material, a source of nitrogen. It is necessary to chop everything finely if we want to have the compost ready faster.
- BREATHING IS IMPORTANT
It is necessary to have air in the compost bin. To achieve this, we will use a drill or any other tool that will help make small holes in the bucket that will allow aeration. And at the bottom of the bucket, we drill a few holes. Note: do not overdo the drilling – there should be air in the bin, but not too much so that the compost does not dry out.
- DON’T FORGET THE WATER
Too much dry matter will negatively impact the decomposing process. Sprinkling or spraying a bit of water will help it decompose more quickly. Have in mind that the composting pile should be damp but not soaked. To help your compost retain more water, put a lid on your compost bin.
- TIME WILL TELL
When we have prepared these first couple of layers – we need to leave the compost for a few days, a week to ten days, for composting processes to start. Compost should not be mixed during this period.
SOME ADDITIONAL TIPS
Compost bin and everything around it shouldn’t be puzzling
Thankfully, since composting is slowly becoming a trend, composting bins can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit both small or large spaces. You can purchase one from a garden center, or you can make one yourself from plastic storage tubs, wooden pallets, plastic garbage cans, etc…
DIY Compost Bin Ideas
All you need for it is an old (or new) plastic garbage bin.
Find a level area and something to hoist the garbage bin above the ground. This is an important step since the liquid can drain off your compost this way. When getting a rounded bin, make sure it’s the one that has a locking lid. This will allow you to tumble the compost from time to time, without spilling it. Mix everything together to make sure you get even layers. If you opt for a square bin, you can rock them side to side in order to mix the compost. Bins need to have aeration holes up and down the sides. It’s a good idea to put a few on the bottom for drainage too.
For this DIY compost bin, you will need four wooden pallets, nails or screws, or a screw gun, and a pair of sturdy hinges. Your pallets need to be the same size since they’ll be making the walls of your compost bins. Set them up in the shape of a square and use nails or screws to attach them to one another. Metal braces on the inside bottom and top corners to connect the pallets will create a sturdier build, but this is optional. Connect three walls together and put the hinges on the fourth pallet. Attach the hinges to the other pallet wall to create a door. Now just add your scraps, lawn trimmings, or whatever else you have and let it compost.
This DIY compost is for those who are crafty, really enthusiastic and have a designated space in their backyards for the composting pile. You’ll need around 12 feet of wire fencing, some zip ties or hinges, a two-foot pole for the handle, and mesh hardware cloth. Since this type of DIY bin is usually of circular shape, measure out the circle where you want to form the body of the bin and bend the wire fencing to fit it. From there, you can zip the ends together to complete the circle, or you can just bend the wire together. For the lid, you will use a mesh hardware cloth, with marked-out dimensions of the top opening. Cut the mesh hardware cloth a bit larger than the initial dimension and bend the ends down around the larger wire sides to lock it into place. Then, cut a two-foot by two-foot hole in the mesh hardware cloth for a door. Attach it back with a few zip ties. You can also zip tie the wooden pole to form a handle. You should wear safety glasses and gloves to avoid injuring yourself when you bend the wire into shape.
LET’S SUM IT UP
Composting is not an exact science. It takes time and experience to figure out the best way for you to compost in your environment. Because it is a biological process, results may vary each time you try it, even if you don’t change your method at all.
Don’t be afraid to tinker around with your bins, your ratio of browns to greens, or change how often you aerate or water your pile. Remember: rotting can happen! Your compost pile will break down eventually no matter what. The more time you spend with it, the more you will learn.
Composting will not only improve your life, garden and reduce your personal waste, this process also cuts methane emissions from landfills, improves soil health, lessen erosion, and conserves water. Think about how changing your small habits can have a large and positive impact on our planet.