Composting is an essential part of the fertility cycle and a way to feed nutrients back into soils. Death provides the nutrients for life and so on and so on in a cycle that repeats itself continuously over time. When we throw food in the trash we break this important cycle.
Composting can feel overwhelming but it's actually fairly simple. The most important thing to do is to start.
The Basics of a Compost Pile
1. Both greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon) are required
Vegetable and fruit waste
Coffee grounds (brown in color, high in nitrogen = "greens")
Old bread / tortillas
Leftovers (not meat)
Livestock manure (brown in color, high in nitrogen = "greens")
Fresh hay (recently cut and includes seed heads)
Shredded grocery bags
Shredded cardboard (finally a use for Amazon boxes! but take off the tape)
Straw (dried hay, doesn't include seed heads usually)
2. 50/50 mix of greens and browns
If you get really into composting there are different "recipes" and many ways to combine nitrogen and carbon to encourage bacterial or fungal growth. But when you're starting a composting pile at home it can be discouraging.
A roughly 50/50 mix of greens and browns will create a great compost and will take the pressure of "compost recipes" off your mind.
3. Moisture and Air
Both moisture and air are essential to the decomposition process.
To maintain a moisture level in your compost pile necessary for the microbes to do their decomposing job, water your compost when you add new greens and browns. A basic guideline: when you pick up a handful of your compost pile and squeeze, one or two drops of water should come out.
To maintain airflow, turn your compost every once in a while. This can be done with a pitchfork or shovel. Also, make sure your pile is in a container with enough airflow (if you have a container at all). Our favorite container is a 4 foot in diameter, 4 foot high chicken wire round. You can purchase chicken wire at any hardware store and put it together yourself, or purchase a pre-made compost bin round.
4. Things to leave out
When you're just starting out or if you live in a city it's suggested to not compost the following:
Dog or cat feces
Why? Not because these things won't break down, but because they have the potential to bring critters, disease, or chemicals to your compost pile. In the beginning, put these items in your city's landscaping bin and don't put them in your compost pile. Over time, the further you go in learning about compost, you may want to start experimenting with composting these harder items.
Keep a container to put food scraps in throughout the week. If you are concerned about the smell, keep your container in the freezer.
We keep a crate of "browns" next to our compost pile so every time we have greens (food scraps) we can cover the greens with a layer of browns.
Start layering, browns, greens, browns, greens, browns, etc. Always covering greens with a layer of browns.
Every time you add a layer to your pile, water it, and test the moisture level by squeezing a handful of your pile (you want 1-2 drops to come out when you squeeze - too many drops = stop watering for a while, too few drops = water more).
Turn your pile once a week or so to maintain good airflow. (or more often if it starts smelling badly)
If your pile starts smelling check moisture, airflow, and amount of browns and make adjustments on what you see. The smell means that your pile is going "anaerobic" meaning the microbes don't have enough oxygen or moisture to live and continue to break the pile down.
Video: Farmer Rishi's Worm Bin
Book: Worms Eat My Garbage
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