10 Secrets to Effective Composting

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Composting is a way to break down organic materials into small bits of soil, resulting in nutrient-rich soil for balancing depleted soils and growing new plant life. Somewhere between 20-30% of our overall waste is composed of yard waste and food scraps. Composting keeps these “wastes” out of landfill space where they emit methane gas. 

Composting can be as simple as piling yard waste in a concentrated area and allowing it to break down.

  • Yard waste, like plants and grass, fruit and vegetable peels, egg shells, coffee grounds, and tea bags are considered “greens” in compost terminology. “Greens” the nitrogen providers, are usually thought of as “wet,” so balancing wet and dry is optimal.
  • “Browns,” the carbon providers, are things like dry, fallen leaves, small branches and twigs, and shredded brown paper, shredded cardboard, and recycled paper towel.
  • You can build a structure or utilize a compost bin to allow for faster decomposition, reduce odors, and reduce animal curiosity.
  • Location is important. Climate, moisture, proximity to walls or fences, and sun cover are all factors in outdoor composting.
  • Composting can present a few challenges. Do not add animal products (except egg shells), feces of meat-eating animals, plastic, glass or stone because they can compromise your compost, spread harmful bacteria into the soil, or cause lacerations to the gardener.
  • There are many quick guides online, books, and local experts at nurseries and local workshops to consult to learn specifics composting.

Taking Composting To the Next Level

  • If you live in a city, you can use “vermicomposting” in a closed container with the Elsenia fetida worm, or “red wiggler.” The worms eat scraps and produce castings, or feces, which make “compost tea,” a natural plant food incredibly rich in nutrients.  A well-maintained vermicompost bin has no foul smell and can be done indoors.
  • “Humanure,” or composting human waste, is another method of composting.  Properly-composted humanure, not “raw” waste applied directly to the earth, is considered pleasant-smelling and rich, as microorganisms break it down into humus.
  • Composting toilets do not smell when properly maintained and use no water. Urine and feces are excreted into the toilet, which is lined with appropriate material (sawdust, wood shavings, shredded papers, etc.) and covered with the material after excreting. Using the same “red wiggler” worms from vermicomposting can accelerate decomposition.
  • Regardless of your composting methods, it is important to check municipality regulations for your chosen method.

Sources:

  1. Environmental Protection Agency. (2009, October). Backyard Composting, It’s Only Natural. Retrieved August 5, 2014, from Environmental Protection Agency: http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/tools/greenscapes/pubs/compost-guide.pdf
  2. Jenkins, J. (2005). The Humanure Handbook. Grove City: Joseph Jenkins, Inc.
  3. Roulac, J. W. (1992). Backyard Composting, Your Complete Guide to Recyling Yard Clippings. Sebastopol: Roulac, John W.
  4. Tynes, M.J. (2005). Vermiculture or Worm Composting.  Retrieved August 5, 2014, from Master Composter: http://www.mastercomposter.com/worm/wormcomp.html

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