What is Composting?
Composting is the process of converting nutrient-rich kitchen and garden waste into usable soil to support plants in your garden. Rather than letting usable material sit in a landfill, put your waste to good use by learning how to make compost at home. It’s easy to do, requires little space or expertise, and can save you money on fertilizer and plant food while saving energy and water for the planet.
Contrary to some beliefs, composting doesn’t have to be dirty or smelly. Read on for some helpful composting tips to get you started on your own home operation and bring your sustainable lifestyle to a new level.
What Makes Good Compost?
Good compost is more than just a receptacle for your kitchen and garden waste — it also helps grow bigger and healthier plants. Compost is great for providing all the extra nutrients plants need that aren’t present or abundant enough in your soil. It also helps plants maintain moisture levels, so you don’t have to water as often. Compost makes a sustainable alternative to manufactured fertilizing products or chemical additives, and it balances the pH level of the soil around plants’ roots which prevents rot and disease.
Concocting this “good” compost isn’t too difficult, but it does require a bit of knowledge to understand how to make compost richer and more effective with what you include, as well as what to leave out because it isn’t helpful to your plants, makes the compost smell bad, or attracts pests. Here are some composting tips for what to add and what to avoid.
Do save these items for composting:
- Organic material like banana peels, vegetable peels, strawberry tops, etc.
- Stems, twigs, and leaves
- Weeds and grass clippings
- Rice and other grains
- Coffee grounds and tea bags
- Eggshells and cardboard egg cartons
- Cooked food, as long as it doesn’t contain oils, meat, or dairy
- Human products like hair and nails, as long as they are free of scented products that could attract pests
Don’t use these items for compost:
- Any meat or fish
- Dairy products, including milk and cheese
- Eggs and foods made with eggs
- Oils, including butter
- Food prepared using oil, meat, or dairy
These items should be disposed of in other ways. Not only do they not make an effective compost, but also because they’ll cause a foul smell when they decompose and may attract pests.
Also, be aware that not all products that say they’re compostable are good for home composting. Some products like “green” cartons and single-use items often have to be composted in a unique facility that uses high heat and specialized equipment to break them down.
How to Make Compost
Before preparing your compost, you should have a method to save food scraps, yard products, and all of your composting materials. Gather them in a container and set them aside. You can store food clippings in the freezer or a sealed jar outside.
The goal of composting isn’t just to throw all decomposing material in a box and hope for the best. There’s a special layering process to help your compost break down efficiently. It’s not complicated, but it’s vital to provide the best environment for microorganisms to convert compost into usable soil. Before we can learn how to make compost, we need to talk about browns vs. greens.
- Greens: “wet” food scraps, peels, flowers, grass clippings, eggshells, etc.
- Browns: “dry” ingredients like newspaper, pine needles, dry grass, hay or straw, leaves, sawdust, twigs, egg cartons.
Do understand proper layering.
To make the perfect compost pile, start with the browns, creating a large layer of breathable material before laying about an inch of green on top. Then continue layering brown and then green. You’ll want to make sure the brown layers are thicker than the green ones. This will allow for water and air to flow, so microorganisms have room to breathe and break down all of the material.
Do continue to aerate your compost pile.
To maintain your compost, you can continue to add onto your pile, remembering to layer browns and then greens. You should also turn the pile regularly. Use a stick or spade to rotate the pile to add more air. If you followed these composting tips and were careful about making your layers, you won’t have to aerate it as much — about once a week to start and then less frequently once things start to break down.
Don’t be afraid to check your compost.
If the material isn’t composting and breaking down properly, you’ll know. Bad compost will smell unpleasant. This is a sign it needs more aeration and attention to proper layering of browns to greens. When it’s working, compost will slowly turn into rich, fluffy soil and smell sweet and earthy, maybe slightly fermented.
How to Use Compost Effectively for Your Home Garden.
Completed compost could take a few months or up to a year in cold climates. Generally, the more compost you’re working with, the faster it will break down. Once you’ve mastered how to make compost, you get to learn how to use it! When you’ve achieved the perfect fluffy and nutritious compost, it can be used in your garden.
Do use or donate your compost.
To use your compost, add it to the top inch of soil around plants to deliver nutrients to the roots. If you have enough, in the fall, add several inches of compost on top of your garden. Then, in the spring, mix it into your soil when prepping your garden for plants. If you have extra compost, you might be able to deliver it to a community garden. Be sure to call ahead!
Also, if you don’t have space or time to make compost yourself, you can still save your “greens” and donate the food scraps and organic material to a large scale composting project near you.
Compost can help your plants grow healthier, more nutritious produce. Similarly, sustainable living supports healthier communities. At Couch Mountain, you can practice sustainable living, grow your own food, and even run your own small composting operation in your backyard. To learn more about living in a community that shares your values, reach out to the Couch Mountain team today.
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