There’s never a bad time to start composting – a practice that will revolutionize your household water management and your yard. Composting reduces garbage removal costs, reduces plastic-use, and keeps garbage bins from getting soggy or smelly. For your yard, garden, or farm, compost adds nutrients back into soil, increases soil water retention, and reduces the need for fertilizer. There are few keys components necessary to create compost, all of which are already in your house or easily accessible.
Compost requires “green” material, “brown” material, and proper aeration. Green material includes food scraps such as veggie and fruit scraps, grass clippings, tea bags, coffee grounds and filters. These materials provide moisture to the compost pile, and add nitrogen into the resulting soil. Brown material includes newspaper, dead leaves, napkins, and cardboard. These materials soak up excess moisture, and add carbon to the resulting soil. They also prevent compaction and when composted properly will be what wards against pests. Good compost is well-balanced between these two kinds of materials, with 2-3 parts “brown” needed to for each 1 part “green”. Apart from these two materials, aeration is key. Aerating keeps from compost getting too smelly, again reduces compaction, removes excess moisture, and protects bacteria once they have become established. Following this guide compost should have little to no odor, and if there is any smell it should be earthy or musty.
There are several options for how and where to compost, even if you have space constraints. There are compost drums available for purchase, often made of plastic, with aeration holes and ways to rotate the drum for aeration. Some even have a charcoal filter, again to reduce smells. If you are building your own compost area, the ideal size is about one cubic meter. At this size, the compost pile will begin to retain heat which is necessary to kill harmful pathogens. Larger piles will do so even more efficiently. Regardless, well-maintained compost piles will take between 6 months and a year to be ready. Bacteria will begin to breakdown the materials, followed by fungus and protozoa, then earthworms and beetles.
In order to prevent unwanted pests like rats or raccoons, it is absolutely crucial to leave any meat, bones, dairy, oily waste, or pet feces like cat litter from the compost pile. Similarly, the compost pile should be far removed from any attractive areas like regular garbage bins, woodpiles, sheds, or fruit bushes. Creating a layer of brown material on the inner wall of the compost drum or bin will also keep any attractive scraps inside of the pile. Lastly, hand-made compost bins should use mesh wire and with a strong wood frame and cover, on a well-drained area. Laying coarse gravel underneath the bin for a few inches with prevent pests from burrowing underneath.
For smaller spaces like classrooms or urban areas, it’s also possible to compost in smaller containers like a plastic bin and use red wiggler worms to help jumpstart the composting process. Again, this bin will need proper aeration via air holes. Even if composting isn’t feasible for you to do in your own space, check to see if there are community drop-offs or even pick-up services available in your area. If you choose to keep food scraps loosely for this purpose, a great way to store them is in the freezer! This will eliminate smells while your waste piles up before being dropped off or picked up. So regardless of your circumstances, there’s really no reason not to try it!