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Composting 101

Kayla McVey
Latest posts by Kayla McVey (see all)

Composting is a sustainable way to rid yourself of stinky kitchen scraps, save some money on fertilizer, and even clean up the debris out of your yard. We’re diving right into the details of composting and setting you up for success. 

What is Composting?

The Environmental Protection Agency defines composting as,a controlled, aerobic (oxygen-required) process that converts organic materials into a nutrient-rich, biologically-stable soil amendment or mulch through natural decomposition.”  Basically, it’s a natural process of decomposition where microorganisms feed on materials like wasted food scraps, leaves, wood, etc, use carbon and nitrogen to reproduce, and oxygen to breathe. The end result is what we call compost. This nutrient rich mixture of various materials is a great way to make your garden flourish. 

Benefits

Composting has an extensive amount of benefits. Most of those are based around soil conservation and sustainability efforts. Composting aids in preventing soil erosion by causing the soil to bind together better, allows the soil to retain moisture more easily, reduces waste by allowing food scraps to be broken down naturally rather than going to landfills, and drastically improves plant growth. 

  • Healthier soil
  • Reduced waste
  • Minimal effort
  • Save money on fertilizer
  • Improved plant growth
  • Moisture retention in soil
  • Prevents soil erosion

How to Get Started Hot Composting

  1. Mix your green and brown materials. For best results, do 3 parts brown material to 1 part green material- make sure the pile is at least 3 feet deep. Green Materials would be things like fruit and vegetable scraps and Brown Materials would be material like leaves and wood chippings. Brown material adds carbon and green materials add nitrogen. 
  2. Water your compost pile. Water your pile to the consistency of a damp sponge and monitor the temperature of the pile with a compost thermometer (141 degrees Fahrenheit – 155 degrees Fahrenheit.) You can also just stick your hand in the middle of the pile and see if it’s warm but that sort of seems gross depending on how decomposed everything is. 
  3. Stir your compost pile weekly. This will result in quicker decomposition.
  4. Add to your garden! A “fully cooked” pile will be dry and crumbly. Add compost to your garden at the beginning of the season – best practice is anywhere from 4-6” on top of your soil. 

Hot composting is the quickest method of composting – you usually only need a few weeks to see results. Cold composting can take months to accomplish.

Keeping your compost pile contained with a lid, floor, and also leaving no holes larger than a quarter of an inch is the best way to keep pests away. Make sure any table scraps are fully covered to keep rodents deterred. 

What to Add to a Compost Bin:

  • Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Egg Shells
  • Grass Clippings
  • Leaves
  • Shredded Newspaper or cardboard
  • Straw
  • Chipped wood, untreated
  • Chicken, cow, rabbit manure

What NOT to Add to a Compost Bin:

  • Fecal matter from animals like dogs, cats, etc
  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Oils
  • Chemically treated wood
  • Bones
  • Excessive amounts of cooked food
  • Aggressive weeds or diseased plants
  • Glossy paper

Types of Composting

Cold Composting – Sit and wait is essentially the entire process. You put your waste in a pile and just leave it. No further effort required. A specific time frame is hard to gauge because it primarily depends upon what was put into the pile. 

Hot Composting – Get a bin, throw it in, and stir. We described the process of hot composting above. It’s the quickest and most popular method. We have a compost bin listed in our article, “Zero Waste Swaps: 30 Swaps that Will Save You Money.”

Vermicomposting – If you don’t like creepy crawlies… I’d stick to hot composting. You’ll literally hate this. Vermicomposting means composting with worms. Red Wrigglers are the type of worms that are most commonly used – don’t go to the bait shop and get a container of worms. That won’t work. You’ll need around one pound of worms (ew, sorry. That’s a lot even for someone that thinks worms are cool, little friends.), a dark colored bin for them to stay in that’s plastic or untreated wood, and insulation for it. Soak the insulation for around ten minutes and wring out the excess water till it’s the same consistency as a damp sponge. Use shredded cardboard, newspaper, or even dry leaves and then add soil on top. Place the worms on top of the bedding and then add finely chopped scraps. Don’t give them more food waste until what was initially placed in has been eaten. Every time new food is added, re-cover it with around 2” of bedding. This is a very loose description of the process but within three to six months, you’ll have compost to harvest!

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