Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Art of Composting

So many of my friends have asked me either to teach them how to compost or to write a blog post about it. People who are not familiar with composting often think that it is complicated, smelly, and messy. I'm here to tell you, HAVE NO FEAR! Composting is easy.

I personally believe that there is no right or wrong way to compost. There are methods that may expedite or hinder the process. There are also methods that may be more conducive to your residence. But really composting is an art. With practice you can find the best methods for you. What works for one family may not work for another. So take head when reading websites dedicated to the subject. Some insist that their way is the quickest and easiest, while others make it seem like an extremely complicated science.

First, for those not in the know I should explain what compost is. In its most basic form compost is decomposed matter, which is most commonly kitchen scraps and yard waste. As I see it there are two purposes for compost. Finished compost is an excellent addition to your garden or house plants, it adds needed nutrition to help your fruits, vegetables, and flowers grow. Another purpose, which I have benefited the most from, is that it reduces on garbage disposal and odor, causing less waste in the landfill.

There are very few things you need to start compost. Websites will sell you expensive bins, machines, and "compost starter." There is nothing inherently wrong with these things, and if it fits into your budget and lifestyle then by all means purchase them. However, in today's economic climate more people are looking for the do-it-yourself method, which is what I am describing here.

You need a space for composting, this can be a patch of land in your backyard, a out of the way back porch, under your kitchen sink, or any other out of the way place in an apartment. If you have the space outdoors, no container is needed. For people who live in more residential neighborhoods, or in an apartment, simple containers can be made out of common household items. For the purpose of this blog, I am going to describe composting the way that Ryan and I have done it. You can use your imagination to improvise with what you have available to you.

Ryan and I have been familiar with composting our whole lives. Both our families had containers located on the kitchen sink to collect kitchen scraps that were later taken out to the compost pile. At my house, it as in our backyard, and often hosted growing tomatoes, pumpkins, woodland creatures, and even an occasional bear. When we moved to Ohio, we were suddenly posed with the problem of not having any place to put our egg shells, coffee grounds, vegetable peels, etc. We originally started disposing some of these things in the sink and utilized our garbage disposal. When the opportunity presented itself, we began a composting bin outside of our back door. This was in the fall of 2006. I originally blogged about it here.

For our containers we bought two 30 gallon Roughneck garbage cans. Again, improvise with what is available to you. In our experience Rubbermaid containers and those similar to Rubbermaid have been the most convenient. We drilled holes into the container to allow air flow and proper decomposition. To learn more about the process of decomposition you can read this Wikipedia article. I'm not guaranteeing its accuracy, but it is helpful in understand what is needed to compost.

When kitchen and yard scraps are in a container the decomposition is performed by micro-organisms. However, other forms of composting can be facilitated such as with worms, which is known as vermi-composting.

Once you have a dedicated area for your materials, the process is pretty self sustainable. When we started our compost bins we layered kitchen scraps, newspaper, and leaves. Simply put, for effective composting you want a good mix of wet and dry items as well as green and brown items. Different people describe these items different, but if you think of them in these terms, composting will be a less daunting task.

Green would be your vegetables, plants, flowers, weeds, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and tea bags. While animal products are compostable, they are not ideal for most composting locations. If you have a large compost pile in a non-residential area you can add meat, however in residential areas and apartments it is ideal to keep these out. This to prevent critters from invading your space, prevent odors, and facilitate faster decomposing.

Brown items would be things such as newspaper, sawdust, branches and shrub trimmings, cardboard, shredded paper, leaves, etc. Proper composting does not require an equal amount of both green and brown. More green than brown is preferable.

Wet and dry items are self explanatory, but if necessary you can add water to your compost. I believe a good compost is about the consistency of a wrung out sponge.

Layer your items into your bin, alternating your different materials. Once the decomposing process has begun it is not as necessary to layer, you can add your materials as they become available keeping and eye on the balance of green to brown and wet to dry.

Now all you have to do is cover and wait. The micro organisms will do their job, and your compost should get warm in the middle. It will be necessary to turn your compost occasionally, this can be anywhere from a few weeks to months. It will allow the materials on top to mix with the active micro organisms.

When your compost looks like a dark rich soil, it is ready to go onto your plants and in your garden. Serve and enjoy!!

Ryan and I are currently vermi-composting and I will write about this at a later time for those who are interested.


Summer said...

:) Thanks!

Summer said...

(Erin, btw)

judyschoon said...

We no longer have the fence around our compost pile...a bear, we assume, knocked it over and it looks like he sat on it. The pile is just there now with no protection :)

Renee said...

Very interesting and so informative!

Summer said...

(Erin, btw)