Food Waste: How to Compost

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I am at the very beginning of my gardening journey. When we bought our house five years ago there was nothing. I remember anxiously waiting to see what plants spring would surprise me with. Every day I would see flowers sprouting up in my neighbors’ yards but none for me. So I had to start from scratch. I currently have one triangular flower bed that I have been trying out different perennial plants in over the last couple of years. Most of the plants have done okay, some have died, but nothing is really thriving and it is a struggle to get plants to come back every year. I suspect that the soil may be worn out and want to start reinvigorating it by composting. Keep reading for instructions on how to compost.

What is Composting?

Certain foods can be composted into nutrient-rich fertilizer. Composting is the process of recycling biodegradable waste or turning garbage into gold. Worms, bacteria, and other microorganisms breakdown organic waste into fertilizer using chemical decomposition. Composting is usually one of the last steps in reducing food waste. Because we will never completely eliminate food waste composting is a nice safety net.

Seedlings in Bio-Degradable Containers

Benefits of Composting

  • Composting is a natural way to increase the quality of your soil. Better soil will produce larger healthier plants. It also acts as a natural mulch keeping your soil moist and reducing the amount of water needed.
  • It reduces waste. Most items even if they are compostable will not breakdown in a landfill because they are not given the right conditions.
  • Composting saves you money. Gardening can be expensive. Because you will be producing your own soil and fertilizer you won’t need to purchase them anymore.

What Should Be Composted

There are two different types of items that can be composted. Green items are rich in nitrogen. Brown items are rich in carbon. Your compost pile should consist of layers of these two groups of items. A good rule of thumb is six inches of brown for every two inches of green.

Green Items

  • Kitchen Scraps: Fruits and Vegetables
  • Grass Clippings
  • Plant and Flower Clippings
  • Green Leaves
  • Manure from Vegetarian Animals: Chickens, Rabbits, Hamsters, Horses, and Other Livestock

Brown Items

  • Kitchen Scraps: Eggshells and Coffee Grounds
  • Paper Products: Newspaper, Non-Glossy Cardboard, paper bags, and Paper Towels
  • Dryer Lint: Although we keep ours to use as an excellent fire starter.
  • Polish-free Nail Clippings
  • Hair, Fur, and Feathers
  • Brown Leaves
  • Rope: Made from natural fibers.
  • Wine Corks
  • Toothpick and Bamboo Skewers
  • Shredded Paper: Do not include envelopes with plastic windows.

What Shouldn’t Be Composted

  • Meat and Dairy: These items smell as they break down and will also attract pests.
  • Processed Food: Processed foods, including bread, rice, and pasta, will attract pests.
  • Cooking Oil: Cooking oil will also attract pests and will slow down the decomposition process.
  • Citrus Peels and Onions: The occasional citrus peel or onion is okay but too many will make your compost pile too acidic and kill the necessary worms and bacteria. Check out these alternative uses for citrus peels instead.
  • Dog and Cat Feces: Their waste may contain parasites and microorganisms that you do not want to add to soil growing your food.
  • Diseased Plants: You could potentially spread disease throughout your entire garden.
  • Sawdust from Treated Wood: You don’t want the chemicals used to treat the wood leaching into your compost pile.
  • Non-Biodegradable Products: Man-made substances, such as plastic, metal, glass, glossy cardboard will never breakdown.

Composting Tools You’ll Need

  • Sealed bucket or container to store kitchen scraps in.
  • Spading Fork
  • That’s it really you don’t need anything fancy!

Where to Compost

Choose a shady spot in your yard to keep your compost pile from drying out. You can start out with a simple hole in the ground. If you have pets I recommend installing some fencing around your compost pile to keep them out.

Food Scraps on Compost Pile

How to Compost

  1. Keep a compost bucket in your kitchen. Mine lives under my sink. When I have produce scraps, coffee grounds, or eggshells they get tossed into the bucket. Be sure to chop the ingredients before tossing them in. Remember the smaller the item going in, the quicker it decomposes.
  2. Once the bucket is full I take the scraps outside to the compost pile, create a hole, dump the scraps, and cover them with dirt to prevent attracting wildlife. It is important to layer your compost, alternating wet green layers, and dry brown layers.
  3. Compost shouldn’t be smelly, which is why it is important for your compost pile to be properly aerated. Without enough oxygen, your compost pile will become smelly like a landfill. Every three days use your spading fork to turn your compost pile. If your compost pile starts to smell, give it an extra turn.
  4. If your compost pile begins to look dry, add some water. But don’t overwater or your pile will just rot. Your compost pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
  5. Most items will be completely composted within three months. You will know it is ready when your compost pile looks like dark, rich soil and not a pile of food waste. The pile will also be cooler to the touch since the decomposition process produces heat.
Seedlings in Containers

Using Compost

I like to mentally divide my compost pile in two. I add scraps to one side and harvest soil from the other side. Switching sides when necessary. You can add compost to your garden at any time. When starting a new garden bed, add two inches of compost and then cover with dirt. It can also be used as a layer of mulch to keep the soil moist or it can even be added to your potted plants.

If composting still feels overwhelming or you don’t have the time or space to compost check out my blog post Food Waste: Waste Reduction Programs for a list of composting services that will pick up your food waste and compost it for you.

Want to make your own compost bin? Here are a couple of ideas for DIY compost bins.

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