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Composting 101

Updated: Dec 8, 2019

What is it?

Composting is one of the simplest, naturally occurring actions in nature. Composting is the decaying of organic materials (food scraps, plants, wood, etc.) To compost is basically to recycle organic material- mother nature provides us with sustenance and we in turn can facilitate the return of nutrients and "soil food" back to the earth by composting. The nutrient dense compost achieved from the composting process makes lovely plant food and improves soil health. Even if you have no intentions of using your final composted product for gardening, you will have effectively diverted so much food waste from the landfill.




Why is it important?

Sooo why should we all be composting our food/yard scraps? To me, the number one reason is to reduce waste. It's estimated that over 20 percent of all landfill waste is food, but it can so easily be diverted to compost instead. I used to think food that went to the landfill simply broke down there, like it would in a compost pile, but that's not the case. Food sent to the landfill does not get the benefit of breaking down naturally, instead it rots amongst other trash, eventually producing methane gas which traps heat within our atmosphere. Not cool. Upwards of 34% of all methane gas produced is generated in landfills, but that number would be considerably lower if all the food waste there was diverted to break down naturally via composting!




How to start/things to keep in mind:

Thankfully, composting your excess food scraps is easy! I fully geeked out a few years ago and checked out every library book I could find on composting, but all you truly need to know are a few basics....

  • Designate a spot in your backyard to keep your compost in. While compost piles won't smell if the right ratio of "greens" and "browns" are added, it's still a good idea to set up your compost pile in an out of the way location. You can go the simplest route by composting scraps directly on the ground, or you can build/buy your own compost bins with materials such as wooden pallets (Youtube is a fabulous resource if you want to DIY!). I've done both and am currently happy with my pile directly on the ground.


  • Try to add an equal mixture of "greens"and "browns". Greens are your food and lawn scraps, browns are your small sticks, wood chips, cardboard, newspaper etc. Don't worry if you add a little more of one than the other, just try to keep it as balanced as you can. I usually have a higher ratio of greens to browns and my compost turns out beautiful.



  • Layer your food scraps (greens) with a layer of wood chips/cardboard strips/shredded newspaper/small twigs (browns) with each addition. This will a. help things break down properly and b. prevent flies and odd smells.


  • When adding compostable paper/twigs/wood chips, just make sure they're shredded or broken into pieces no larger than your hand, otherwise they will take longer to break down.


  • Turn your compost pile a 1-2x/ week. I keep a pitchfork next to my pile as a reminder to keep things mixed. Start at the bottom of the pile and scoop bottom contents onto the top, it only takes a few minutes per week! Keep the newer additions to the front of the pile and the older material towards the back. The back of the pile will then break down into useable compost first, and you can use it and keep generating more by working from front to back of the pile.


  • Be patient and have fun! Composting takes time (2 months to a year), and the process is forgiving. There is no one right way, so just get started and learn as you go! Even if you have no intentions of using your final composted product for a garden, you will have effectively diverted so much food waste from the landfill.


Materials you can compost:

Fruits and vegetables

Egg shells

Dryer lint

Hair from hair brushes and pets

Coffee grounds

Spent tea leaves (tea bags are only compostable if they're not made with plastic, many contain plastic!)

Natural sea sponges/loofahs

Non-toxic houseplant clippings

Unbleached paper products such as: coffee filters, napkins, black & white newspaper, cardboard

Natural cloth such as organic cotton or linen

Leaves

Grass clippings

Straw

Animal manure from herbivores (horses, cows, rabbits etc.)


Compost limited amounts of these:

Yogurt (unsweetened)

Bones after they've been used to make stock (some advise against as this can attract unwanted wildlife, but I haven't seen any wildlife around my compost pile in the 6 years I've had one.)

Pasta

Bread (try to avoid highly processed bread, sourdough is best)


Avoid composting these:

Oils and fats such as canola oil, shortening, or butter

Invasive weeds

Diseased plants

Sweets such as cakes and pies (pretty much guaranteed to attract unwanted wildlife)

Processed foods (if your body wouldn't benefit from it, your compost pile probably won't either)


If you're unable to set up a compost pile where you live:

-Farmer's market often accept compost

-Community gardens local to you may have a community compost pile

-Your city may have curbside compost pick up, if not, ask them to consider starting!

-Compost companies may pick up your scraps weekly for a small fee

-Freeze scraps in brown paper bag, give to a friend with a compost pile

-Indoor worm composting setups

-Local farms with chickens/pigs etc. will sometimes accept food scraps

-Local farms may accept your food scraps to add to their compost pile


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