Composting at home goes hand-in-hand with urban gardening so we wanted to go over some composting basics including why it’s worth doing, and exactly how you can get your composting process up and running. Utilizing garbage like eggshells, tea bags, food scraps, grass clippings, and vegetable scraps, you’ll create nutrient-rich fertilizer, eliminate food waste, and create a self-sustaining system to support your home gardening projects!
What is Composting?
Briefly, composting is the process of breaking down organic materials, creating a natural fertilizing mixture. Compost is often called “black gold.” That’s just how valuable it is for enriching your houseplant or garden soil.
Green material refers to typically wet materials such as food scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. They can be high in nitrogen, which is a vital element in this process.
Brown materials are dry and can include dry leaves, sawdust, and egg cartons. These dry materials help to improve aeration and water flow. When layering your mix, these dry, brown materials should be under the green, wet compostable materials.
Why compost? For one, the environmental impact of composting goes far beyond the beauty of your home garden. By composting organic waste like yard waste and kitchen scraps, you can limit the amount of garbage your family sends to landfills which minimizes the amount of greenhouse gas released, ultimately lowering your families’ carbon footprint.
Plus, your garden will also see the benefit directly. Compost materials enrich soil without the use of harmful chemical fertilizers and produce beneficial fungi and bacteria that break down organic matter to produce humus, a high nutrient soil that plants just love. That means bigger, more beautiful, and abundant flowers and veggies.
Composting is a win, win sort of project, creating a renewing cycle between growing and reusing. Now, how do we do it?
How to Start Composting at Home
Let’s dig-in to the composting process! It’s easier than you might think.
1. Choose Your Composting Method
Drop Off Center
Now, this is obviously the easiest way to go. If you don’t have a home garden or much outdoor space, check to see if your community has a drop off-center. Some communities even offer a pickup service and getting-started kits. Check-in with your local municipality and visit Compost Now to find pick up service in your area.
Worm Composting (Vermicomposting)
My first thought was, I’m going to have critters all over my house! Not the case. Worm composting or vermicomposting is actually a very clean and contained form of composting and is generally low odor and maintenance. Unlike other methods, there is no need to turn or mix your material, and worm composting can easily be done indoors or out.
Worm Factory is one esthetically pleasing and compact option. It’s perfect for apartments and small spaces.
Hungry Bin is a bit more pricey, but much larger.
It’s also pretty easy and inexpensive to set up your own worm composting system. If DIY is your style, the EPA has a super-comprehensive guide to build your own and maintain it.
Aerobic, also called hot turn composting, is possibly the fastest composting system. However, it’s a little higher maintenance because it does have to be turned regularly and temperature must be maintained above 130 degrees Fahrenheit. Turning can be done with a pitchfork, but if you want to save your back and keep your yard tidy, you may want to use a tumbler composter.
Check out the Berkeley Hot Composting Method for speedy results.
Anaerobic is also known as cold, slow, or no turn composting. Generally, this is the method that requires the least amount of effort, but takes the longest time to decompose. This is because you do not turn the material to heat and aerate. It’s perfect for anyone who doesn’t have the time to devote to their compost. The Oregon Extension Office has a great guide to various forms of cold composting to help you get started.
2. Choose Your Space And Container
Then, the questions you must ask yourself are, indoor or out, compost bin or compost pile?
If you are composting outside, but still concerned with smell or appearance, a closed bin is a great option. Check out this best selling Tumbling Composter, for example. It is also easy enough to build your own composting bin from items you already have. An old garbage can will do, just make sure to give yourself enough space. Three feet in diameter is ideal. The more space you give yourself, the larger your yield will be.
You can also throw caution to the wind and create a composting pile. Three square feet of space at least. The more space you give yourself, the more you may want to create a perimeter from chicken wire to keep pests out or cover with a tarp to retain moisture. Remember, if properly tended to, your compost should not attract too many pests or release much odor.
If you are composting indoors, there are many specialized bins. A great choice for beginners is the All Seasons Indoor Composter. Of course, this all depends on the method of composting you choose.
Things You Should Not Compost
This section is really for me because I’ve been wondering about some of these do’s and don’ts.
Technically, anything that can be grown in the ground can also be composted. This includes paper goods made from natural materials as well as meat and dairy products. However, there are a few tips to ensure that your process is smooth and your finished compost is rich and healthy.
Though it is technically compostable, a good rule of thumb is not to add meat or dairy to your mix. As it decomposes very slowly, the smell can be pretty offensive and attract vermin.
Pet waste and used cat litter is another no-no, while waste from chickens and horses and other farm animals can be beneficial to your compost. Cat and dog feces can add harmful microorganisms and parasites that you really don’t want to introduce to your community garden. Your neighbors won’t thank you.
Tea and Coffee
You can absolutely compost tea and coffee! However, tea bags, coffee bags, and coffee filters can contain synthetic fibers like nylon. Be sure to check that your packaging is made from fully compostable natural material.
Citrus and Onions
These natural materials will break down well, so this one surprised me. If you are going to use citrus peels, be sure to grind them up into small bits, because they break down very slowly. Also, be careful! Especially if you are using vermiculture (worms) because the acidity of onions and citrus can kill worms! Yikes.
Other Synthetic Materials
It’s just a good rule of thumb, anything treated with chemicals or synthetics should not go into your compost. This often includes wood chips, glossy or colored paper, and, of course, metal and plastic. Dryer lint is another no-no unless your clothes are made from natural fibers and you are not using dryer sheets. This is all just to be on the safe side and make sure nothing that may be poisonous to you or your plants makes its way into your garden bed.
That’s it, in a nutshell. Put your next banana peel to good use and your plants will enjoy rich soil and your earth will thank you for your contribution. Or rather, for your lack of contribution… of carbon. Happy planting!