May 29, 2020

So apparently today, May 29, is National Learn About Composting Day in the US. While sources vary or even contradict each other about the validity of this observance (International Compost Awareness Week was celebrated last May 3-9), there really is no better time than this quarantine to get into the habit of composting.

The benefits of composting versus resorting to traditional landfill solutions is not unheard of. Perhaps one of the biggest impacts of composting is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by not letting your food scraps break down in an anaerobic environment (without oxygen and microorganisms to break it down) causing them to emit methane—This is why avoiding food waste is important, too!

To understand how composts work is to understand its by-products—heat, water and carbon dioxide—and its effects. The heat generated by the aerobic process kills the bacteria and pathogens in your pile, while the carbon dioxide is sequestered into the soil via the final product of composting.

So yes, by all means, get into it! And don’t be scared that you’ll need specialized equipment to start your (basic) home compost (you will for advanced and largescale composting but this is not it). 

To guide you through your journey, here’s a guide, from the materials you need to the ingredients of your compost and what to do with its end-product.

 

Where to compost?

Any container will do as long as it allows air to circulate: planters, makeshift bins out of 5-gallon water containers, pail, etc. 

Oxygen is important to keep the process aerobic and prevent bad odor. The rotten egg stench happens when the process becomes anaerobic. 

You might also want to place the bin in a spot protected from the elements like rain.

 

What can you put in your compost pile?

Greens
Waste that provides nitrogen to the compost pile/bin

  • Kitchen waste except cooked food, bones*, dairy, oil, greasy food (these will make the compost bin smell and will also attract pest) 
  • Grass clippings
  • Dried cow/chicken manure. Never use dog or cat feces as they are omnivores and their waste harbors harmful bacteria.

Browns
Waste that provides carbon to the compost

  • Cardboard
  • Dried leaves
  • Twigs cut in small pieces
  • Brown paper and newspaper (do not use glossy paper)
  • Sawdust
  • Cocodust/peat

*Bones and shells can be utilized as fertilizer but must be pulverized.

 

How to compost?

The ideal ratio between browns and greens is 1:1. Too little greens will prevent the compost from activating, too much will cause bad odor. As much as possible, shred the compost materials into tiny pieces to hasten the process. 

Combine the materials. Leave it be and turn once or twice a week to introduce some air to the bottom of the bin. 

The contents of your compost bin must be moist like a freshly wrung sponge. If it’s too dry, the process will slow down and the bin may attract ants. Sprinkle some water, if needed. But don’t flood it. Too much water will encourage anaerobic decomposition. 

 

When to harvest?

This depends a lot on the circumstances. If the materials are not chopped into small pieces, it will take longer to break down. Some food scraps like fruit peels and leafy vegetables decompose faster than corn cob and broccoli stem. To give an estimate, it could take four to 12 weeks to complete the process. The compost should look like crumbly soil.   

 

How to use compost?

  • Combine with soil previously used to grow vegetables.
  • Combine with cocopeat and rice hull to create a lightweight potting medium for houseplants
  • Use as mulch 

 

Special thanks to Oliver Emocling

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Read more:

Food for thought: This is what happens to food waste

6 ways to transform fruit and vegetable peelings from waste to useful household items

Things that need to go in 2020: throwaway culture and food waste

TAGS: composting how to start a compost zero-waste