Getting started with composting can be intimidating but it can be easier than you may think. Passive composting is a slower process than hot composting but requires much less effort and is a great option for gardeners just getting started.
Why do we compost?
Gardeners have many reasons for composting including disposing of yard waste, improving soil nutrition, and amending heavy clay or light sandy soils. As we look more closely at the environmental consequences of the amount of waste we send to landfills, many of us would like to reduce the amount of trash we produce. Reducing food waste in landfills is a great way to start. Because landfills are an anaerobic environment with low oxygen levels, food waste decomposes slowly and produces methane gas.
What can be composted?
Many kitchen scraps and yard waste items can be composted including fruit and vegetable scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, old flowers, leaves, plant trimmings, shredded newspaper, and more. Products like meat, dairy, oils, and pet waste should not be placed in the compost.
When you see lists of compostable items you may see the terms “greens” and “browns”. Greens are wet items like food scraps and lawn clippings and browns are dry items like leaves, straw, and shredded paper. A healthy compost pile will have a good mix of green and browns.
The first step is deciding how you want to set up your compost. It could be as simple as a pile but most you may want to contain your compost in a container. A compost container can be a do-it-yourself, three-sided frame built out of pallets or wire mesh. A variety of compost containers can also be purchased.
Second, you will want to decide where to place your compost. If you are planning on composting food scraps, plan on locating your compost within easy access to the kitchen. You may want to keep a compost pile hidden for the appearance of your yard, but you shouldn’t have to put it out of the way due to smell, a healthy compost pile should not smell bad.
When you start composting, first lay down a layer of browns like leaves or straw. Then start adding to the compost by layering greens and browns. The layers of browns allow for airflow, drainage, and attract the microbes that help break down the materials in the compost. You can also add a compost starter product that helps fire up the microbes in the compost that are responsible for turning food and yard waste into beneficial compost.
For the lowest maintenance composting, you can leave your compost pile at this point. You may want to start a second pile while you wait for the initial compost pile to decompose. A passive compost will be slow to decompose, depending on the weather it could take 6 months to 1 year to break down.
If you would like to speed up the process, the compost pile will need to be turned every few weeks. This helps incorporate oxygen and mixes the materials together. An easy way to mix compost is to use a compost tumbler which is an above-ground compost bin on legs that can be turned.
Use finished compost in vegetable gardens, flower beds, or mix it into the soil when planting trees and shrubs.
Low on space
If you don’t have yard space for a compost pile, there are many other options. Worm bins are a great option for compost indoors. Many communities also have composting programs, check with your local community garden or waste management service to see if they accept compost materials.