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This page is a general guide to the basics of composting, what it is, composting benefits, who should compost and finally some composting precautions.
Composting is the name used to describe recycling your kitchen, household waste and garden trimmings … and turning them into a valuable resource for your garden or houseplants. This is done by speeding up the process that the materials you use to compost go through on their own – decomposition.
Compost is not soil. It is a common misconception that the end- result of composting is the dirt that you find in the ground. It is a substance that acts as a fertilizer (enriching the soil) to grow hardier and healthier plants.
Before Starting Composting …
Before you begin composting there are choices to be made, including what type of container and style suits your project, what you will be putting into your compost bin, and the location of your bin. But regardless of these decisions, how you convert your waste into compost happens the same way. It is a breakdown of waste materials as they are digested by microbes (bacteria and fungi).
The microbes are the workers of the composting equation. They need air, water, and food to do their job and it is up to you to supply it to them in the right amounts. If you have heard that having a compost bin or pile creates a foul odor it is most likely the result of not enough air circulating throughout the waste material.
Without air, the material will still breakdown but it will be done by anaerobic microbes (organisms that do not need oxygen) as opposed to aerobic (ones that need oxygen). So if you do have an unpleasant smell coming from your compost bin or pile you can rotate the material to let in more air or add a substance to create more room for the air to circulate. Wood chips or hay are good for this.
Composting is good for the environment and your garden – it eliminates the amount of waste you throw away and enriches the soil your plants grow in.
A Basic Intro to Composting …
Who Should Compost?
As there are many uses for compost, you will find people with different interests and occupations utilizing this environmentally friendly resource.
A homeowner can create a compost bin or pile to reduce the amount of trash they are throwing away. As an added benefit they are creating a fertilizer for their house plants or garden plot. Since compost bins require green food (grass clippings) and brown food (organic waste) you can collect your grass clippings and add them to your bin too.
On a farm, crops can produce a lot of waste. A farmer can use crops that are not consumable and add them to a compost bin along with manure from any livestock they may keep. Once the compost matures and is ready, the farmer can use the material for added nutrients in the soil; build up low spots in his field; and to keep the soil healthy – mature compost has the ability to prevent weed seeds from sprouting.
A professional landscaper can create compost material for clients that want only natural or organic materials used on their lawn or flower beds. This can be a low-cost material for a landscaper to utilize providing his clients with Earth- friendly options with a low overhead cost.
If you like the idea of composting but do not have the space or time to create one, check with your city or municipality’s recycling center. Some will accept your yard waste and clippings for a city compost heap. This material will then be used throughout the city’s parks and gardens. In certain centers they may let the residents utilize the mature compost for their own needs too.
Schools can utilize compost to teach the students the process of decomposition and to teach children what we can do to help our planet. This is in addition to the cost savings for the school in up keeping the grounds and park.
The Benefits of Composting
Besides a free and nutrient rich fertilizer for your soil and plants there are many other benefits to starting a compost in your yard. A few of the benefits of composting are listed below.
- You can reduce or eliminate weeds in your garden by using compost as it prevents weed seeds from sprouting and prospering. This is a natural alternative to pesticides.
- Mature compost material has been used to stop or prevent erosion in certain areas.
- The binding capability in the compost can keep the soil in place and prevent dangerous drop-offs.
- Reducing the amount of organic material that goes to a dump unnecessarily – in turn this reduces the amount of methane gas a dump creates during decomposition.
- In wetlands areas that are in trouble, compost has been used to revitalize the soil and surrounding plant life.
- Healthier plants, compost material can prevent your plants from contracting diseases that kill or spread to the rest of the crop or garden.
- Can create a stable and healthier pH balance in your soil.
- If your soil is overly dry (sandy), adding compost to the soil and thoroughly mixing can help the sandy dirt retain more water keeping it moist.
- If your soil is clay-like, you can make the dirt easier to work with and less dense by adding mature compost.
- Provides important nutrients and micro nutrients to the soil and plants.
- Increases the temperature of the soil creating a conducive environment for plant growth and health.
This is just a few of the important benefits that can be derived from using compost. It helps the environment, your garden, your plants and the planet. The small amount of time that it takes to set-up and maintain a compost bin or pile is well worth the time and effort.
The Best Food For Your Compost Bin
There are some rules to learn and follow about what you can put into your compost bin in order to keep your pile healthy and working properly. The most widespread organic material that you will add to your compost will be kitchen scraps. The kitchen scraps are considered green food that you feed to your compost as they contain nitrogen – an essential element to the process.
It is a good idea to have a container with an airtight lid to store the food waste in your kitchen. You do not want to attract insects or pests inside your home nor do you want to be running to your compost bin every time you make a meal or snack. If your kitchen container is airtight you will also cut down on unpleasant odors.
What Can You Compost?
Here is a list of the most commonly used compost items from the kitchen:
- Vegetable peels and seeds
- Fruit peels, cores, and seeds
- Coffee grounds – you can compost the paper filter too
- Tea bags or loose tea leaves
- Crushed egg shells – do not add left-over eggs cooked or raw
You may be tempted to add other food scraps into the bin, but don’t. You should not add any animal meat or bones, oily products, or fish remains not only will they be sure to attract unwanted pests but they will make your compost smell badly.
Whenever you are adding your green and/or food to the compost bin, make sure you cover it under a thick layer of brown food (yard waste or other carbon producing agent such as dry leaves, wood chips, sawdust, or small twigs).
If your food scraps are very wet or moist, in addition to putting brown food on top of the scraps mix some in with the waste too. This will enable better air circulation.
What NOT To Compost
There are many things you can use to make a good compost humus (which is what the final product is called). There are also quite a few items that should never go into your compost bin. Listed below are many of the materials you should not try to compost and why it is not a good idea.
Ashes from charcoal should not be added to your compost, you can add very small amount of ashes from a fire that was made with untreated wood. It is not a good idea to add a lot though because it can change the composition and make it too alkaline.
Do not add any kind of droppings from an animal that is not a vegetarian. Animals that pass the compost inspection include horses, cows, rabbits, and goats. You can even add droppings from hamster or other indoor pets. But stay away from bird, dog, and cat droppings (including cat litter). They all can contain harmful organisms.
Any type of animal waste such as leftover meat, oil, bones, or fish waste are off-limits. They all can cause your pile to smell badly and can attract unwanted pests.
You can add weeds, but you should take care to ensure your composting is functioning properly. If your compost is not generating enough heat the weeds will not be destroyed and can grow again once you spread your compost. You can dry your weeds on a sidewalk or on some concrete before added to the pile as an added precaution to make sure they do not survive.
There are living creatures that you want in your compost bin such as microbes and red earthworms and then there are the creatures you wan to stay away like raccoons, rodents, and bears). A compost bin can be very appealing to an animal, easy access to food. As a rule, you should never put animal matter into compost (left over meat and bones) not only do they not make for good composting they will be a magnet to wild animals. Following are some more tips to help keep your compost bin free from pests of all sizes.
An odor-free compost bin is less likely to attract bears or any other animal friends. You can achieve this by rotating or turning the compost pile at least once per week. Another precaution that should be taken is to have a bin with a cover whether it is commercially made or one you make yourself.
Another thing you can do is to put brown food such as lawn clippings on top of the green food (food scraps and other kitchen waste). You can purchase lime at your local nursery or hardware store to sprinkle on the top of your composting materials that will increase the rate at which everything decomposes.
The location of your compost heap should not be near the edge of your property especially if you live near a forest or park area. This makes it very easy for animals to help themselves without being exposed by walking through your backyard.
If bears or raccoons are a big concern in your community you can look into a neighborhood compost pile. In addition to making composting more accessible to a larger group of people, you can look into an electric or barbed wire fence to ensure no unwanted animals come looking for a free lunch.
Another Use For Your Compost
For the steps on making this amazing natural fertilizer, read the article here: How To Make Compost Tea
If you don’t have a compost bin, you can buy a handy little compost bin here. See the picture to the left.
Do You Compost?
Please leave your comment below and share your composting experiences and tips for our readers …