Composting is the natural process of organic matter turning back into nutrient rich soil. There are many misconceptions that composting is hard, you have to be an expert, it’s gross, or that it smells bad. Whether you live in an apartment or on a farm, there are ways you can compost.
Residential waste contains on average 40% compostable materials. When your trash is sent to the landfill it breaks down slowly and in the absence of oxygen. When decomposition occurs without oxygen it creates methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent then carbon. If you have ever drove by a landfill at night, you can see towers of fire where they are trying to burn off the methane. When organic matter is composted you are completing the circle of putting back into the ground what was taken from it. In return it produces a rich fertilizer that will last years to nourish plants, which in turn captures carbon from the air and puts in back into the soil. Composting at home also reduces emissions from waste transportation and processing.
There are multiple composting methods varying in size, location, cost, and effort. Let’s cover the more common types. There are two main categories of materials used in composting, green and brown. For most methods you want to try to have a ratio of 1-part green to 2-parts brown. Green materials are kitchen scraps and green weeds or trimmings. The brown materials can include dry leaves, compostable containers or packaging, cedar chips from animal bedding, and dry straw. Animal byproducts should not be mixed in compost including dairy or meat. For all methods below, start with a container in your kitchen to collect scraps or green matter, we empty ours in the compost bin about every third day. I started with a large Tupperware dish and have since tried various counter top waste collectors. I have never had an issue with smell with any of the containers as most have some kind of charcoal filter or airtight seal. You can purchase biodegradable bags designed to breakdown in your compost to serve as a liner for your counter bin.
- Open Air Composting
The simplest of methods, open air composting is a merely pile or bay to collect green and brown material. This requires enough land to have an inconspicuous location and is the cheapest of set ups. Simply toss your green and brown matter into a pile and use a pitchfork or shovel to turn occasionally. Worms and bugs will do the rest of the work.
2. Tumbler Composting
This method comes in many shapes and sizes. Generally easy setup, all you need is a bin that can hold green and brown material, contain worms, and be stirred or turned. I use 32-gallon waste bins which I have drilled holes in to allow bugs and moisture to flow through. These were less than $20 a piece, we use three as we also share our compost system with our neighbors. We purchased red worms for about $30, you can drill holes in your can if it is sitting directly on the ground and it may attract worms depending on your soil and time of year. We started ours in the winter when the worms are deep in the soil, so we opted to purchase some. You can also purchase tumblers that meet different needs like animal proof, raised, and ones with cranks for easy turning. Once you decide on what container[s] is right for your family there are a few simple guidelines to help you compost successfully.
- Moisture – it is important to pay attention to the moisture level in your bins, you want it moist but not soaking wet. Add or prevent water as needed.
- Contents – above is a reference guide for what should and should not go in your compost. Try to maintain a 2 brown/1 green ratio. Our bins are on our tree line, so when I toss in kitchen scraps, I scoop up a couple handfuls of dry leaves and twigs to balance it out.
- Do the twist – or in the case the turn, I hold the lid on at the handles and lay the bin on its side and roll it around. You can also keep a shovel or pitchfork handy to stir the contents. The goal here is to make sure the materials are well oxygenated.
Once the contents resemble soil, dump it out into your garden and see it flourish! It is helpful to have two containers to let one process while filling the other.
I get a lot of questions about smell, because obviously people do not want their yards smelling like a dump. I can assure you, the only bad smell I get is if I stick my head right over the container (I would not recommend that). My hammock is about 20 yards from our compost and I have never smelled it while sitting outside.
Another concern I hear is about animals getting into the compost. I know we have racoons, opossums, and wondering dogs but I have yet to have an issue with them getting into the compost. If this is a concern, you can simply add a bungie cord or strap over the lid to keep them out. If you have larger animals like bears a plastic bin may not be the best option. I know we have bears a couple acres away but they have not bothered our trash or compost.
The great thing about Bokashi is you can compost anywhere, even in your house. Unlike open air composting, Bokashi allows for the use of dairy and meat scraps. This is a fermentation process done without the presence of air where microorganisms breakdown the waste. There is no smell because it is an airtight system blocking out oxygen, so the decomposing smell is not formed. This process is much faster than other methods, completing in just 10 days. The final product offers a healthy balance of microbes, improving the uptake of nutrients and antioxidants, resulting in healthy plant growth.
Bokashi composting system (DripWorks, Amazon) includes a bucket with an air-tight lid and a spigot at the bottom used to drain of liquid that is produced call tea that can be used as a plant fertilizer. The lid should be left on as much as possible, and only removed to add layers of food scraps. Most systems come with a pressure plate to press the air out between layers. After you add a layer of food scraps, sprinkle with the bokashi mix and press with the pressure plate. Continue to add layers until full, periodically opening the spigot to drain the tea. Ten days after adding the last layer, you can mix the contents right into your garden soil or add to an outdoor compost pile. The final product will not be 100% decomposed so it should be mixed into garden soil or added to an outdoor compost to finish breaking down.
Composting can be fun for the family, my toddler loves ‘feeding the worms’. It can reduce GHG emissions, improve your soil health, and reduce your landfill contributions. Figure out what works for you and let us know how it goes!