Recycling is easy, once you make it a habit. Composting is the next small step in slashing the amount of household garbage you send to the landfill. And, like recycling, composting is easy once you get the hang of it.
No, a truck won’t come to the curb and haul away your apple cores and corn husks. But, you will end up with a nutrient-rich compost your garden will love.
Think of it as a biology science project; composting happens when microorganisms, fungi, and bacteria gobble up organic material like leaves, grass, and vegetable scraps. As the organisms digest the matter, the organic breakdown forms a dark, fragrant, rich substance called humus.
Follow this recipe for composting success:
First, the right container. If you want to make corn bread, you need a cast-iron skillet. If you want compost, you need the right bin. You can construct or buy an open-air bin. Or, you can buy an enclosed bin, such as a compost tumbler. Enclosed bins hold in heat better and may break down material faster. Find a sunny spot for your bin.
You might also want a separate, small container to temporarily store fruit and vegetable scraps in your kitchen. Pick a stylish bamboo or ceramic container with odor control to keep on the counter, or store scraps in the fridge until you have time to carry them outside.
Next, the right ingredients. There are two types of matter needed to make compost: green and brown. Green matter includes fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, old flowers, and garden prunings. Brown matter includes dry leaves, shredded brown paper, coffee grounds, egg shells, and straw.
Additionally, some containers may be compostable, including your egg crate, produce packages, or restaurant to-go containers. If the package says it’s compostable, toss it in your bin. It’s probably made from corn or sugar cane. Really! Be aware that some containers may take longer to break down than traditional compost materials. Soon, you’ll even be able to compost your chip bag. SunChips is expected to debut a 100 percent compostable bag in 2010.
Some things shouldn’t be composted such as eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, mayonnaise, and processed foods.
A healthy compost needs about one part green matter and three parts brown. You’ll know you have the right combination by the subtle, earthy smell. If a deep inhale makes you pinch your nose, you don’t have the right balance.
Then, mix it up. Turn your compost in an open-air bin with a shovel. With an enclosed bin, you may just need to turn a handle or flip a barrel. Mix often, as air circulation speeds up the decomposition process.
Add water, if necessary. Healthy compost should be moist, but not soggy. If your compost feels dry, add some water. If your compost feels muddy, add more compost material.
Turn up the heat. The sun cooks your compost, which is essential to the decomposition process. If you’re getting more cloudy days than sunny, you may need more patience. The process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on air, heat, and the types of materials used.
Finally, feed your garden. Soon your kitchen scraps will have miraculously turned to a rich compost ideal for kitchen and flower gardens. If you don’t have a garden, composting may inspire you to start one. If you’re not quite ready for that green-living step, offer your compost to a neighbor, community garden club, or local farm.
A note about small spaces. You can compost even if you don’t have a back yard. One way is to save your kitchen scraps and donate to a friend with a compost bin or a community group with a composting program. Some farms will also accept produce scraps for composting. A composting method ideally suited to apartments: worm bins. When redworms eat your food waste, you end up with soil your garden will find just as tasty as traditional compost.
Composting is a small lifestyle choice that pays big dividends. It’s great for teaching kids—and grown-ups—about the life cycle, especially if you grow some of your own food. No need to feel guilty when your organic lettuce wilts before you get a chance to eat it, because that lettuce can serve another purpose: food for a garden. It’s an example of green living at its best—easy, affordable, earth-friendly, educational, and fun.