Composting is a great way to bring life back to your garden and to
help cut down on waste contribution. If you've ever considered composting or don't know anything about it, here is a helpful guide to get you started.
What is composting?
Composting is the natural process of breaking down organic matter such as yard clippings, garden debris, and food scraps into a rich fertilizer that can enrich your plants and garden. This process can be sped up by creating an ideal environment for things like fungi, bacteria, and even decomposing organisms like worms. This allows the nutrients of old organic refuse to be reintroduced back into the ground and create a healthier environment for new things to grow.
What are the benefits of composting?
Besides having a better-looking garden, composting is beneficial in a number of other ways. Food scraps already count for "more than 28% of what we throw away" (EPA). Most waste ends up decomposing in a landfill and contributing to mass amounts of methane emissions. Because so much more garbage sits on top off the organic waste, it never gets a chance to properly breakdown due to the lack of free-flowing oxygen. Composting diverts the waste process and allows us to turn it into something better for our own yards.
Compost also includes three primary nutrients needed for gardens: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. While other fertilizers might use chemicals to try and create the same level of benefit, compost offers an organic alternative. Compost also has beneficial water-retaining properties to help conserve the amount you have to water and prevent soil erosion. All in all, it's the perfect gardening tool!
How to compost?
First you need decide on a composting bin. There are two types to choose from: stationary and rotary. Both have to have their contents periodically turned to provide oxygen, but stationary bins can be easily made from well-ventilated wooden crates. Rotary bins like compost tumblers are easy to turn and can speed up the process so you are composting in weeks instead of months or years. Pick yours by judging how much waste you might have; how large your yard is; the amount of sun; or how quickly you might want to get started composting.
Composting even has its own recipe. You are aiming for the right amount of carbon and nitrogen because if it's too carbon-rich, the compost will be too dry and won't break down. If there is too much nitrogen, it can end up as a wet and odorous mess. Add greens like fresh grass clippings, food scraps or coffee grounds to increase nitrogen. Dead leaves, branches, twigs and paper are considered browns and help increase carbon. A good rule of thumb is to put in two to four parts brown material for every one-part green material.
Lastly, you need to oxygen and water. To help with air flow, make sure organic materials are in small pieces and that you are turning the piles regularly. You'll want to turn your compost every 3 to 5 days, or when the interior temperature dips below about 37 degrees Celsius.
What should or should not be composted?
Things that can be composted: Cardboard, coffee grounds, eggshells, fireplace ashes from natural wood, fruits and vegetables, grass clippings, hair and fur, hay and straw, houseplants, leaves, shredded newspaper, nutshells, sawdust, tea bags, wood chips, yard trimmings.
Things that can't be composted: Coal or charcoal ash, dairy products or eggs, diseased or insect-ridden plants, fats, grease, lard and oils, meat or fish, pet feces or litter, yard trimmings with chemical pesticides.
This is a great place to start your composting journey and there are plenty of online communities and resources that can help you on your way. Soon you might even get into vermicomposting! But until then if you are looking for more ways to get your home ready for spring and summer, take a look at our Spring Energy Checklist or see all of our blog articles.