I don’t know about you, but I didn’t grow up “green.” My mom, brother, and I lived a rather typical, suburban lifestyle, eating packaged foods, driving our minivan all over town, and throwing mostly everything in the trash without a second thought. During my sophomore year of high school, however, I had a most auspicious encounter at a friend’s house. Built by her parents over the course of several years, my friend’s log home was simple, rustic, and elegant. It was there I was first introduced to the practice of giving simple, handmade gifts for the holidays (I visited her place for the first time the day after Christmas), to tofu hot dogs (she might have also been the first vegetarian I’d ever met), to backyard chicken-keeping (her mom to this day owns a thriving local free-range egg business), and to the art of composting. That visit left an indelible mark on me and factored heavily into the person I would become and the interests, concerns, and practices I would later adopt.
As an adult, I now make (or bake-my favorite!) a large quantity of the holiday gifts that I give; I am mostly vegetarian (eating a bit of fish a few times a week, and almost exclusively local seafood, at that); I both keep chickens and have written an upcoming book on the topic, “Keeping Chickens;” , and I compost everything I possibly can. I was surprised to learn recently that by composting for one year, it’s possible to save an equivalent amount of CO2 produced by your washing machine in 3 months. With composting, not only can I do more to prevent the production of harmful greenhouse gases (like methane-created when waste trapped in plastic garbage bags breaks down in landfills with no oxygen circulating around it), I get to reap the rewards in spades months later with rich, nutrient-dense soil to use in my garden, hanging baskets, and containers. Compost is loaded with potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorus, minerals desperately needed by plants to not just survive but thrive. It also plays a key role in balancing alkalinity and acidity levels present in soil, making it more hospitable to growth. Furthermore, compost works to retain soil moisture, so important as more and more areas experience both long and short-term drought during growing seasons.
So, whether you’re a pavement-pounding urbanite or a forest-dwelling denizen, compost glory can be yours. You don’t even need a yard to compost! A very close friend of mine lives on the 8th floor of an apartment building in Center City, Philadelphia. She successfully composts all of her kitchen scraps in an apartment composter. When the compost is ready, she either spreads it over her houseplants, or carries it a block over to an open lot, where she tosses it for future fertile soil (albeit someone else’s!). If you’ve never composted before, there’s no time like the present to get into the mix. Fall is a really wonderful time to get your compost going. As annual plants and vegetables die, branches fall from trees, and leaves gather on the ground, collect them, along with your kitchen scraps, and transition them to your compost area.
CLICK HERE for the rest of “Home Compost-Piling on benefits” (and tons of home composting tips!) after the jump!
There are several options for composting. If you have the space, a backyard pile is cheap and easy. Lacking that, an upright or tumbling style is ideal. If you’ve no yard or hardly any yard to work with, an indoor, compact model or wormery will get the job done.
1) Pile: Many backyard compost piles are enclosed by recycled shipping pallet frames, or similar wooden structures. You can find two fantastic how-to’s on building your own pallet composter here and here .
2) Tumbler/Upright bin: An increasing number of nurseries, home building supply stores, and even natural foods stores have composting bins for sale. Other sources include compostbins.com , goodcompost.com , and even DIY plans here and here for building your own tumbler and bin.
3) Compact/indoor: If you’re really short on space, several indoor composting bin options exist: Can ‘O Worms is a vermicomposter, allowing worms to do all the breakdown work, offering up healthy soil in exchange for kitchen scraps; Nature Mill is high-tech, producing compost every two weeks (a light even comes on to indicate when the compost is ready!); this composter works well in compact, indoor spaces and is well priced; and the Bokashi compostor actually ferments and pickles food waste (including meat, fish, and cheese!) via the inclusion of a mix containing wheat germ, molasses, and microorganisms.
In traditional composting set-ups, including piles, bins, and tumblers, several key components need to be kept in check:
1) Compost contents: you’ll need to include green matter, which will serve as the nitrogen component-this should comprise 1/3 of your compost and includes matter such as kitchen scraps, plant leaves and stems, grass, and flowers; brown matter, which provides carbon, should occupy about 2/3 of the piles contents and consists of items such as twigs, stems, straw, cardboard, and newspaper; and water, keeping your compost always moist, but not too wet.
2) Don’t add: with the exception of some indoor compost models, meat, bones, dairy products, whole eggs, fatty foods (which could attract vermin and cause maggots), cat or dog feces, and glossy magazines should be excluded from your compost pile.
3) Maintenance: compost materials should be in small particles, to expedite deterioration, so if you have long stems or branches, chop them up into smaller bits before adding to the pile; the pile needs to be turned about every 4 days or so, in the beginning, and then every few weeks thereafter to deter opportunistic pest inhabitation and to provide aeration; the pile needs diversity, in order for the combination of microorganisms to work synergistically; and the pile should always have a bit of moisture, but not too much, so a lid or cover is helpful.
Here’s a few troubleshooting tips, should you experience problems with your compost:
1) It stinks: it might be lacking oxygen, so try turning it more often
2) It’s damp and warm in the middle but not anywhere else: you might want to try increasing the size of your pile and incorporating it thoroughly with the existing matter
3) It’s damp and smells good, but it’s not hot and won’t break down matter: you might be lacking in nitrogen, so add a nitrogen-rich component like grass or bloodmeal
For further resources, I found this site from Recycle Now to be extremely assistive. I’m also a fan of the following books, each with beneficial composting how-to’s and DIY options:
- Composting , by Nicky Scott
- The Complete Compost Gardening Guide , by Barbara Pleasant & Deborah L. Martin
- Garden Anywhere , by Alys Fowler
If you have any other helpful composting tricks, tidbits, sources, or links, I’d love to hear them!