Composting Basics

    The popularity of composting has grown in recent years with new products on the market, making it a possibility even for people who live in apartments.

    What is Composting?

    Most of us think of composting as a way to add rich organic material to our gardens to grow larger tomatoes and more abundant flowers. But it is also a way to reduce waste in our communities and landfills.

    Composting is a natural process of breaking down organic matter into nutrient rich soil. All organic matter will eventually break down over time. It is basically the process of rotting.

    This is the natural order of things that has been going on for millions of years. When a plant dies, or leaves fall from a tree, they do not remain there forever. They decompose and provide nutrients to the next generation of plants.

    People can take this process and use it to their advantage, and even speed up the process. 

    5 things needed for ideal composting:

    1- Green and Brown Materials – The perfect compost pile is an equal combination of green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) organic matter. Some green items are fresh leaves and grass clippings as well as vegetable scraps. Brown matter consists of dried leaves and dried grasses or other dried plant material. 

    2- Aeration- Your compost pile can be stirred or kept in a container with holes or slats to maintain proper aeration. There are many tiny organisms that will live in your compost pile that help break it down. They require oxygen to live.  So, you want to make sure that your pile has adequate aeration.

    3- Moisture- Your compost pile will not function ideally if it gets too wet or too dry. You can do this not only with the right combination of green and grown materials, but by making sure that it is situated in a good spot in your yard, in the shade if possible, and covered, especially during heavy rains.

    4- Particle size- The smaller the particles, the faster they will break down. The greater the surface area, the more places that the insects and other microorganisms have access to the item to break it down.

    5- Pile size- You don’t want your compost size to be too large. The larger heaps tend to become more compacted, allowing for less aeration, and are harder to turn. If your compost heap is too small it may dry out faster and not compost as fast as a larger pile.

    Composting Bins:

    These bins can come in a variety of sizes, from small containers that sit on your counter and grind up anything you put inside, to large wooden containers for serious gardeners.

    What can be put in a compost bins:

    Kitchen scraps- Any left over bits from cutting fruits and vegetables, to the leftovers that you forgot about in the back of your fridge. 

    Two things to be wary of with kitchen scraps: Seeds are made to last. Any seeds that make it into your compost bin have a chance at germinating once that soil is removed and used in the garden. Also be wary of putting meats in your compost bin as they can attract unwanted pests such as rodents or raccoons to your yard. Meats and dairy will also produce more of an odor as they rot. 

    Garden Scraps- Any trimmings from plants, weather just cutting back overgrowth or weeding. These scraps can be put into your compost bin. Be wary of putting in any invasive or harmful plants as you might inadvertently spread their seeds to other parts of your yard or garden.

    Paper Goods- You can put most paper waste in your compost bin also. As long as they are not glossy or coated in plastics of any sort, they will break down along with the rest of items in your bin.

    The list goes on and on.

    But you can also compost without a bin. You can add your scraps directly to your garden beds. Just toss those coffee grounds or banana peels directly into your garden. Nature will still do the work.

    Fall Leaves

    The leaves that fall from your trees each year make the simplest and most ideal compost.

    Most people gather up all the leaves into bags and send them off with the trash collection. But all those leaves are one of the most valuable sources of rich organic soil.

    Gather up all those leaves and mulch them at the end of the season, and fill up your compost bins, or add them directly to your garden beds. You can observe as the piles shrink in size over the winter as the leaves decompose leaving you with nitrogen rich soil perfect for the newly sprouting plants in the spring.

    Composting with Worms

    Not everything that you put into your compost bins will produce nutrient rich soil at the end of it’s cycle. That is where worms come in.

    Worms are nature’s great composters.

    Composting with worms is called vermicomposting. Rid wigglers are the most efficient worm to do the job. There are now many retailers who can ship these worms. 

    These worms will eat half their body weight of waste everyday. And what comes out is more nutrient rich than what went in.

    Using worms in your bins takes extra care. For example, these worms do not like too much citrus fruits, and have difficulty with anything that may be too thick or woody. 

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