Originally published on mbg
Composting organic waste is one of the best things you can do for the environment.
What is compost, anyway?
Nicknamed “Black Gold” by many gardeners and farmers, compost is a soil-like substance made from decomposed organic materials, such as yard trimmings and food scraps. When used properly, beneficial microorganisms in your compost pile will break down the waste until it becomes an unrecognizable substance that is dark, fluffy and rich in nutrients. It can be used for potting plants, as a form of mulch, or as a “soil amendment” that increases the organic content of your soil.
The barrier to entry might seem high, but composting is as easy as you want to make it.
Not only does composting divert organic materials from landfills, it also creates a nutrient-rich material perfect for growing a wide variety of plants and crops. The barrier to entry might seem high, but composting is as easy as you want to make it. This guide will help you get started:
What you need
To make a healthy compost pile, your mix should have something from each of the following categories:
- “Greens” – (nitrogens) fruits, vegetables and other food scraps, weeds, used coffee grounds, manure, corn husks, and grass clippings.
- “Browns” – (carbon) twigs, leaves, shredded paper, egg cartons, coffee filters, cardboard scraps, and wood chips.
- Water – (moist) but not wet or muddy.
What to avoid
Some of these materials pose health risks, some may attract pests, and others can potentially contaminate your compost with disease or synthetic chemicals.
- Fatty, oily or greasy substances, like soiled pizza box scraps, sauces, or grease-stained napkins
- Meat scraps, including fish
- Dairy products
- Chemically treated wood
- Diseased plants
- Anything treated with pesticides or herbicides
- Glossy paper, like magazines or photo paper
- Human or animal poop
- Walnuts and their shells (they contain juglone, a chemical toxic to some plants)
Stationary compost bins are one of the most common choices, and they can be as large or small as you need. Tumbler bins are another popular option.
- Remember this rule: add 1 part greens for every 3 parts browns.
Add the browns and greens in alternating layers a few inches thick, making sure that the materials don’t clump together. All of your greens should be completely buried beneath a layer of browns so pests and unwanted odors are kept at bay.
- Aerate your compost and control its temperature by turning it at least once a week. Take a shovel, stick it into your pile, and start mixing and turning like you are tossing a salad.
- If the pile starts to smell or you get unwanted visits from pests like raccoons, ensure all your greens are buried. If the pile is sopping wet, add more browns. If it’s too dry, add some more greens or water.
You should have your own homemade Black Gold in about 4 to 6 months.
Even if you live in an apartment or home with limited to no outdoor space, you can still start a simple, small-scale composting system indoors.
- First get a small bin with a lid or cover, like an old 10 or 15 gallon steel garbage can.
- Drill a few dozen small holes, spaced a few inches apart, along the bottom and sides of the bin — these will help with drainage and aeration. Keep your bin on a tray of some sort to limit spills or messes.
- Fill the bottom of your bin with a thick layer of drainage material, such as store-bought potting mix with a layer of shredded paper on top.
- Start adding your greens and browns in alternating layers as usual. Finally, turn the pile once a week with a small spade or garden shovel.
- Keep the lid on your bin and cover your greens with a layer of shredded newspaper, or other browns, to prevent odors.
You should have fresh compost in a few months’ time.
Encourage friends and family members to look into starting their own composting system. If you have children, get them involved!
Spread the word about composting and its countless benefits.