How to Compost the Easy Way

Posted by on Oct 22, 2015 in Grow Better Greens Podcast | Comments Off on How to Compost the Easy Way

Episode 21: How to Compost the Easy Way

If you haven’t already heard, due to large methane releases from food scraps in the US, composting may become entirely mandatory, as it already has here in my home state of Vermont. Don’t worry though, you can learn how to compost the easy way in this week’s episode. We discuss options to fit every lifestyle, whether you’re an apartment dweller, or full blown wanna-be worm farmer. We also discuss some unique business ideas that have come out of this big compost push.

You can listen in here, or download for later:




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Compost Basics – Mandatory, Main Ingredients

To begin our How to Compost the Easy Way conversation, we have to start out by mentioning that:

We expect the composting of food scraps and yard waste to become entirely mandatory in the United states.

Wait, what?

It’s true!

In fact, this law has already been enacted in my home state of Vermont.

Though current policies are targeting large scale food-scrap producers, such as hospitals, nursing homes, and food product businesses, the intention is to eventually get all of us on board as habitual composters.

Why?

Because the breakdown of food waste in our community dumps, which totals 1/3 of all garbage by volume, is releasing an unmanageable amount of methane into the atmosphere.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

Insisting that each household separates out their natural and organic materials from their regular household trash is one way to fight Climate Change, limit storage issues at our swollen landfill sites, and to call more attention to food waste in general.

But what goes in to compost?

Other than air and water (two fundamental ingredients that must be accounted for!) most natural materials can be composted, including:

  • Kitchen scraps such as coffee grounds, egg shells, and vegetable peelings
  • Natural household waste such as dryer lint, hairbrush leavings, corks, shredded newspaper and cardboard
  • Yard waste such as grass clippings, pulled weeds, leaves, straw/hay, ashes, and sawdust

And what CAN’T go in to compost?
*Everything on this list can technically be composted if a high-enough temperature is reached in the pile; that being said, these temperatures are not typically reached by home composters.

  • Meat, bones, and dairy
  • Oils and fats
  • Citrus peels (tough to break down)
  • Diseased plants, such as blight-stricken potatoes & tomatoes

Carbon vs. Nitrogen

In addition to adding organic materials to your pile, home composters must be aware of their Carbon to Nitrogen ratio.

Carbon sources include: aged (and often brown) materials, such as dried leaves, newspaper, cardboard, and egg cartons.

Nitrogen sources include: fresh (and often green) materials, such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings, manure, and coffee grounds.

The correct Carbon to Nitrogen Ration is 25:1! Though to get yourself started, try to make sure that you are at least adding equal parts of both, and adjust for the following scenarios:

Too much carbon will make your compost take longer (this is my main problem!).

Too much nitrogen makes for a stinky pile, as the excess nitrogen is released as ammonia (most common problem).

Compost Containers and Pick-Ups

Generally, composting at home involves managing two separate containers; a small countertop collector and a larger, outdoor receptacle.

Indoor Composting Containers:
Countertop pails come with or without a filter for managing odor issues. I gave up on the filter long ago – it seemed both ineffective and messy.

I manage the ‘smell’ by making daily trips to one of my outdoor composters.

Outdoor Composting Containers:
Choices here include freestanding piles, circular caged piles, DIY pallet structures, and a variety of spinning barrel composters that can be built or assembled from a kit.

For folks living in apartments or other situations that are less compost-friendly, services are popping up to help relieve some of the burden.

For a reasonable fee, a company will pick up your scraps (usually in a 5 gallon bucket), replacing your dirty, full container with a clean one.

They may even drop off ‘finished compost’ should you need some!

Winter and Worms (Vermiculture)

Liz’s main question around composting is “What happens in the wintertime?”

And the short answer is – nothing!

Keep on composting – rain, shine, in hot weather, or even in the bitter, snowy cold!

Come spring, your pile will ‘catch up’ again. In fact, if you’re using a spinning composter, you may be generating enough heat to create beautiful compost throughout the ‘off season’.

Vermicompost

A really popular composting method is Worm Composting, aka vermiculture or vermicomposting.

Essentially, little red worms will eat through your kitchen scraps and newspaper, leaving behind their ‘castings’, which are infamous for their transformative powers in garden soil.

Worm composting is awesome – I’ve visited a decent-sized operation here in Vermont and I love everything about it. Unfortunately, when the cold weather arrives, you need to protect your worms by bringing them indoors.

Heated garages, basements, sheds and the like can all provide the minimum temperature necessary for your worms to continue eating and pooping, giving you a 365 day composting operation.

At my house, I have no way to meet these minimum temperatures and have not figured out how to keep worms!

How to Compost the Easy Way

We’ve finally arrived at the ‘easy’ part – a method of composting so simple that anybody can make it happen!

Trench composting is simply burying kitchen scraps and yard waste directly into your garden.

All that you need to do to improve your garden soil is to dig a trench that you’ll fill with compost ingredients, back fill it with some of the soil that you’ve removed, and walk away!

My dad has been doing this for most of my life. He just digs a hole, buries his ‘compostables’ and counts on the fact that by next season, his soil in that area will be greatly improved.

A great way to implement this strategy is to create trenches in your garden paths.

You can even remove the soil in the fall and add your compost materials throughout the winter, adding soil on top as you go.

Why Do You Grow Food?

In this section we ask our listeners to share why they’re growing food. This week we check back in with Jenny, who was joined by her young son in last week’s episode. While he definitely wins the cutest gardener (gargler!) award, Jenny is back with us this week to tell us more about her thoughts on the subject.

Jenny won a collection of Liz’s heirloom leafy green seeds – available on Amazon.

Thanks for reading my blog : ) I appreciate your time and wish you much success in growing healthy food!

Jenny