Turning Food Scraps into Nutrient Rich Compost

What comes to your mind when you hear the word compost? Most people tend to think about trash or waste, while some people think about in terms of nutrients and sustainability. According to Dictionary.com, compost is “a mixture of various decaying organic substances, as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil”. Composting is not just a fancy way to get rid of your waste, it actually offers tons of great benefits!

Benefits of Composting

  • Nutrients: Compost creates rich hummus, providing nutrients to your soil.

  • Cost Effective: Composting is a free way of recharging your soil and adding extra nutrients.

  • Recycling Waste: Diverts 30% of household waste away from the landfill.

  • Microorganisms: Microorganisms that are found in compost, help keep away plant diseases as well as help aerate the soil.

  • Environmentally Friendly: Composting is an environmentally friendly alternative to store bought fertilizers.

Photo courtesy of howtocompost.org

Photo courtesy of howtocompost.org

So now that we’ve covered all the good that composting does, let’s take a closer look at what kind of waste can be composted.

Items to Compost

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps

  • Egg shells

  • Leaves

  • Grass clippings

  • Plants

  • Pine needles

  • Lawn weeds

  • Food scraps

  • Wood ash

  • Coffee ground

  • Shredded paper

  • Dryer lint

Items NOT to Compost

  • Meat

  • Bones

  • Fish scraps

  • Disease ridden plants

  • Pet waste

  • Banana peels**

  • Orange peels**

**May contain pesticide residue

Photo Courtesy of Reallygroup.com

Photo Courtesy of Reallygroup.com

Where Should You Keep Your Items That are Going to be Composted?

Since most of your compostable materials generate from the kitchen, it’s a good idea to start keeping a container with a lid under the sink to put them in.  Earth Easy suggest, to “consider using a stainless-steel compost pail with air filter, or the ceramic model. If you don't mind occasional smells, use an old ice-cream pail. Remember to chop up any large chunks before you toss them in. When the container is full, take it out to your composter and toss in the contents.” Now that we’ve got enough compostable materials ready to start churning out some eco-friendly benefits, let’s talk about how to actually start composting.

How to Compost in the Ground

1. Start your compost pile in the earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your garden beds.

2. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.

3. Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves, sawdust pellets and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.

4. Add manure, green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass, grass clippings) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.

5. Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.

6. Cover with anything you have - wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered by rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.

7. Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning "adds" oxygen. You can skip this step if you have a ready supply of coarse material, like straw.

Once your compost pile is established, add new materials by mixing them in, rather than by adding them in layers. Mixing, or turning, the compost pile is key to aerating the composting materials and speeding the process to completion. (list provided by Earth Easy)

Other Ways to Compost- Enclosed Compost Bins

“For small-scale outdoor composting, enclosed bins are the most practical. The least expensive method is to build one yourself from a heavy-duty garbage can. Simply drill 1.5-cm aeration holes in rows at roughly 15-cm intervals around the can. Fill the can with a mixture of high-carbon and high-nitrogen materials. Stir the contents occasionally to avoid anaerobic pockets and to speed up the composting process. If the lid is secure, the bin can be laid on its side and rolled; a length of 2" cedar ( use a 2x2 or a 2x4) can be bolted to the inside, running top to bottom, to help flip the material. Without this, the contents tend to stay in place while the bin is rolled.

Another option is a compost bin, sometimes called a 'compost digester'. Compost bins are enclosed on the sides and top, and open on the bottom so they sit directly on the ground. These are common composting units for homes in residential areas where bins tend to be smaller, yet enclosed enough to discourage pests. These bins are inexpensive, but it is difficult to turn the compost, so it can take several months to produce compost. These bins are thin-walled plastic, and may chip along the edges, especially during a freeze.

The most efficient enclosed bin method is the compost tumbler. It's possible to maintain relatively high temperatures in drum/tumbler systems, both because the container acts as insulation and because the turning keeps the microbes aerated and active. Some designs provide an interior "paddle"or "aeration spikes" which aid aeration and prevent clumping of the composting materials. Other designs have holes on the ends for aeration. This greatly speeds up the composting process.

An enclosed 'tumbler' system offer the following benefits:

- speeds up the composting process

- can compost year-round, due to higher internal temperature

- cannot be accessed by rodents, raccoons, dogs or other critters

- keeps compost neatly enclosed and odor-free, well-suited for residential areas” (Information provided by Earth Easy)

 

Photo courtesy of homesteading.com

Photo courtesy of homesteading.com

Here’s a list of some more tips to help you successfully compost.

Composting Tips

  • Adding a layer of garden soil to your compost can help accelerate the decomposition process.

  • Before you put any scraps into your compost pail, be sure to cut the items into small pieces.

  • Cutting your scraps into small pieces can help accelerate the decomposition process.

  • Everything decomposes at a different rate.

  • Everything that is compostable is either carbon or nitrogen-based.

  • The best compost piles have a working balance between the amount of carbon-based materials and nitrogen-based materials.

  • Your compost pile should contain more carbon materials than nitrogen.

  • When placing grass clippings into your compost pail, be sure to sprinkle them in a little at a time. If you place a large amount of grass clippings in all at once they tend to clump together and reduce the amount of aeration.

  • Be sure to keep your compost moist.

  • A great way to retain moisture in your manure is by placing a cover over your pile.

  • Grass clippings, weeds, and leaves make great activators for compost.

Next time you toss things in the garbage can, think about the good you could be doing with it. By composting you are reducing the amount of trash going to the landfill. Compost can be used as a healthy organic soil for your plants to grow in. Essentially, by composting you can “grow” your own soil. The soil used in Pop Up Produce’s Fresh Start Kits is actually compost! It is a locally sourced compost from Crown Town Compost. You can purchase compost from them as well as contribute to the composting process by collecting waste you would otherwise send to the landfill. If you live in the City of Charlotte, North Carolina, Crown Town Compost allows you to purchase a bucket, at a monthly fee, for you to place your scraps in and once a week they bike around Charlotte and collect the compost.  You have many options when it comes to beginning and completing your composting journey, but there are also many resources out there to help you through the whole process.

Photo courtesy of crowntowncompost.com

Photo courtesy of crowntowncompost.com