Composting: 101

Why should I compost?

Most people look at composting as something only farmers or avid gardeners do. But composting is not just about creating rich soil to help your garden grow, it’s about helping the planet by reducing the amount of waste we throw into landfills. Currently, kitchen scraps and yard waste make up 30-40% of the trash we throw away. That’s astronomical! That waste could be “repurposed” into something beneficial but instead it is aiding our environmental destruction…

When we throw kitchen waste into a landfill, it is not properly broken down and releases methane gas into our atmosphere. Methane is a “greenhouse gas” and causes a “greenhouse effect”. Our sun provides us with energy and everyday, some of that energy gets trapped in our atmosphere because of this greenhouse effect. When we trap more energy, we contribute to climate change that has an effect on everyone. Rising sea levels endanger coastal communities, there are more extreme weather patterns wiping us out and our agricultural production is severely threatened. This affects ALL OF US.

What if we turned that 30-40% into something beneficial for our home, our planet and ourselves instead?

Getting the whole family on board to compost doesn’t have to be hard. Composting also doesn’t require a huge investment. In fact, small composters can be made from plastic garbage cans, wire, baskets or even totes. You can DIY it or go whole hog with a fancy backyard composter or tumbler or even an indoor one for apartment living. But starting small is a great way to give it a try and see how it fits into your routine. I ALWAYS tell people that you have to start somewhere and small steps are still forward movement. You can go bigger later.

<<QUICK TIP: Always check with your town or HOA to see if there are any rules about having a compost bin first!>>

My first compost bin here in northern Connecticut was a plastic trash can with a locking lid. We drilled 1/2 inch holes on the sides and the bottom of the trash can for ventilation and drainage and then put it in a shady spot in our yard. The trash can composter worked perfectly for years but now we have outgrown it. Since starting our healthier/cleaner lifestyle, we have a much larger amount of kitchen waste and the trash can composter didn’t have enough room for the right ratio of yard waste for the amount of kitchen waste I was adding. 

You see, the proper way to compost is by having a specific mix of green waste and brown waste (and water). Green waste consists of vegetable scraps, coffee grounds (even the paper filter!), fruit scraps and grass clippings and provides nitrogen to your compost. Brown waste consists of leaves, twigs, shredded paper and branches and provides carbon to your compost. Some say the best ratio is to have 1:2 (Green to Brown) but some go 1:4. Either way, it works best when you alternate layers and add water to moisten any dry materials. Keeping a compost bin is not smelly if you do it right. By having the right balance of brown to green waste, you create an aerobic environment and the microorganisms that thrive there will break down the food waste with no odor!

With the trash can composter, I would just throw everything in the bin and close the lid and would turn it with a fork when I thought about it. (lazy gardener) But, you really should bury green kitchen waste under brown waste when you have an open compost bin in your yard. Turning it weekly with a gardening fork will deter pests and help the waste break down.

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Today we have a new compost bin thanks to some perfect FREE pallets we found on the side of the road near the local brewery. With just 5 pallets and some heavy duty wire, we created a floor and 4 sides to hold our composting material. My kids kept asking me about the slats in the pallets – won’t everything fall out???? A little chicken wire on the inside bottom edges of the bin works perfectly to help keep your compost inside the bin and yet still get enough ventilation to work it’s magic. When compost gets going, the heat it creates is impressive! 

Regular composting will quickly become second nature if you give it a chance. Separating your paper and plastic for recycling worked, right? So will separating your kitchen scraps. I keep a little metal bucket on my countertop and fill it daily with coffee filter/grounds, egg shells, banana peels, veggie peels, etc. I empty it a couple times a week into our big compost bin in the backyard which also gives me a chance to check on the compost too! You can also keep it under your sink if you aren’t using it as often. I love the ease of placing the bucket next to me when I am preparing a fresh salad or some veggies – scraps go directly into the bucket. Bam.

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The benefits of composting from the EPA:

  • Enriches soil, helping retain moisture and suppress plant diseases and pests.
  • Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi that break down organic matter to create humus, a rich nutrient-filled material.
  • Reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers your carbon footprint.

There are certain items that should NEVER go into your compost as it will introduce harmful microorganisms – dairy and meat being the two main culprits. Here is a great chart to follow:

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Whether you start small with a tote, go big with a full pallet bin or decide to just compost through a town wide pickup; taking steps to make a difference is something we ALL need to do. All you need is a small container with a lid in your kitchen and you can transfer it to a bin in your yard or to a town compost pile. Either way, it will help reduce greenhouse gases and make our world a better place. Time to do your part.

Happy Composting!

4 Comments on “Composting: 101

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