What is Composting?
Composting is the process of recycling organic waste into fertilizer for enriching soil and plants through controlled decomposition. Everyone produces organic waste in day-to-day life, from food scraps to grass clippings and dead leaves. With composting, you can transform your decomposing discards into a helpful, usable product, reducing waste and strengthening your soil. The decomposed material is a rich, nutrient-packed substance called compost, and is extremely potent for fertilization.
How to Start Composting
Compost is controlled decomposition of organic waste, and is easy to do at home with discards from everyday life. All you need is a good composter, and you can use it as a receptacle for those discards. A composter, also called a composting bin, is a closeable container designed for recycling organic material into rich compost. Once you select a composter, you’ll want to set it up somewhere where it is easy to access and exposed to direct sunlight. Then, begin composting your organic waste and adding it to the composter.
How to Make Compost
Four things are very important to successful compost: heat, moisture, air, and time. Heat is best controlled by the location of the composter—this is why it’s best to place it in direct sunlight. If you live in an area that is cold or doesn’t receive much sunlight, it’s still a good idea to place your composter in a warmer location like a shed or garage, or to expose it to as much sunlight as possible. The compost will still progress, but not as quickly as with good heat.
Moisture is best controlled by the materials that are added. There are two types of compostable materials: green and brown. The right ratio of green to brown materials will keep your compost at a healthy moisture level and allow for rapid and productive decomposition.
Air is important to the composting process, so it’s important not to fill your composter beyond about 80% of its capacity. This will allow enough oxygen for the decomposition to occur. You should also stop adding new materials about 3-4 weeks before harvesting. Double-bin composters will allow you to continue adding materials to one bin while the other one has been filled and is composting.
What to Compost
Anything that was once growing will decompose, and most organic materials have composting potential. Food scraps and organic waste are produced by everyday waste and are great for composting. Compostable material can be broken down into green materials and brown materials.
Green materials are wet or recently growing discards, such as food scraps, grass clippings, coffee grounds, and eggshells.
Brown materials are dry wood or plant material, such as dry leaves, wood chips, straw, sawdust, corn stalks, and newspaper.
A good ratio of brown to green material is important for a good compost. You’ll almost always want more brown material, and a 60-40 ratio should produce good compost, but this depends on what is being composted and conditions like environmental heat and moisture.
If your compost is wet and foul smelling, you probably need more brown material. If it’s too dry, add more green materials. Your compost should be moist but not soggy or wet. If you add sawdust to your compost, mix or scatter it to avoid clumping, and make sure it is free of oil residue.
What NOT to Compost
Be careful not to ruin a perfectly good compost by adding incompatible materials! Meat, bones, and fish scraps should be avoided unless you are using a special composter for these materials. Perennial weeds and diseased plants can spread seeds and diseases with the compost, and fruit peels like bananas, orange, and peaches can contain pesticide residues. Pet manure should not be used in compost that will fertilize food crops. Black walnut leaves are not compostable.
Composting with a Tumbler
A tumbler, also called tumbling composter or rotating composter, is a type of composting bin that is fixed on a turning axis, so that it can be rotated. These make composting easier and more efficient. After closing the composter, you can turn or rotate it—this keeps the material well mixed and oxygenated, maximizing decomposition and helping to produce a good compost. If you are using a tumbler, rotate it at least once a week. Otherwise, it works just like a regular composting bin.
Selecting the Best Composter for You
A good composter is sturdy, easy to use, locks to keep pests out, and is made of a material that retains good heat for the decomposition process, like high-density polyethylene. Tumbling or rotating composters also provide additional benefits. Large families or larger gardens will be better served by composters with a high capacity, while smaller composters are perfect for a little garden. You can view available Lifetime composters here.
Composting can be as much an art as a science! The best way to learn is by experimentation. As you try composting, you’ll become more familiar with the temperatures, moisture levels, and smells that can help you evaluate and optimize your composting setup. Composting breakdown can take a couple of months, and then the finished compost can used. With good composting practice, you can reduce your waste and enrich your soil and plants, contributing to a cleaner lifestyle and a healthier environment.