Monday, July 26, 2010

Home Composting: How to Get Started

Compost... the solid gold of gardeners and the true measure of a dedicated green household (okay, maybe not the true measure, but...) Composting is very easy, no matter the size or type of your household and you can put as much time and money into composting as you would like and your results will reflect your efforts (more effort = faster digesting compost). There are so many varieties of composters (from entirely self-sufficient, indoor units to simple piles in the backyard) I will give you a general overview and show you what we find works the best for our family. We have been composting for over two years so we are by no means experts, but composting is definitely an integrated part of our lifestyle now!

#1. Why Compost? In an attempt to clean out a bunch of old veggies in my fridge that were about to stage a coup (because they were already in the process of turning) I salvaged all that I could for homemade vegetable soup (the red bowl) and all of the parts I couldn't use and the veggies that were too far gone went into the yellow bowl. It's obvious which bowl is more full!
     I ran this experiment to illustrate that composting greatly reduces the amount of household waste that needs to be disposed of. In a commercial dump, many compostable items (including these new nifty, but loud, Sun Chips bags!) are unable to decay properly because the conditions for decomposition (air circulation/heat/etc.) aren't favorable. Those same items, in a simple home compost pile, can turn into usable compost in weeks! Plus, the items you compost become the best fertilizer for your garden that money can't buy... it's win-win!

Atticus, ravaging the empty compost bin after
I emptied it this year to spread the contents on the garden.
It is very light when empty and terribly tempting to a bored spaniel...
once it gets a few weeks of contents in there, the bin is pretty solid and heavy.

#2. What do I need to compost? As I said before, there are many types of compost bins from the high end to the common leaf pile, but here is what works for us. I didn't want to have to bother with worms (though I hear great things about worm compost piles!) so I went with a simple black standing compost bin. To collect scraps in the house (and to avoid leaving rotting food on the counter until I have a moment to take it out back) we purchased this counter top compost keeper for the kitchen that we empty into the outdoor bin once a day.

#3. What can I add to my compost bin? Pretty much any organic items that are not (and haven't touched) meats or fats. Meats and fats decompose differently than other organic products and adding these to your compost bin will immediately draw critters. Be mindful of organic items that have touched meats and fats as well, such as last night's salad already covered in olive oil vinegrette (plain lettuce leaves are fine, but once they are coated in oil, go ahead and put them in the normal trash can instead). But other than that, most anything goes: vegetables, fruits, moldy bread, clumps of hair from cleaning out your hairbrush, eggshells (rinsed), leaves, grass clippings (try to avoid weeds as their seeds will live on in your new soil for a LONG time and can take root in your garden when you use the soil if you aren't careful), cotton fabric scraps, old paper, dryer lint, shredded cardboard, fall leaves... the list goes on and on.

Once your compost bin/pile is started, tomorrow's post will tell you how to keep it up and running smoothly! Enjoy!

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