I love this time of year! We are so blessed with the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables. I hope that you are finding delicious ways to enjoy them!
But we are also faced with the resulting peels and pits that many times end up in our trash. According to the EPA “The estimated 35.3 million tons of wasted food that went to landfills in 2018 represents 24.1 percent of all MSW landfilled.” Somehow that just doesn’t make sense, since all of this organic waste can quickly break down and return lots of nutrients to the soil.
So what’s a home gardener to do? Composting your kitchen and garden waste is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you dispose of in the trash. By composting, you can generate a free source of nutrient-rich material to help improve your garden.
Read on to find out how to get started!
The Compost Pile or Bin
The first step is to decide where to position the compost bin or pile, which can affect the overall quality of the compost that is produced. For best results place it in a well-drained area which has good access to sunlight. The drainage will enable excess water to drain out of the compost and placing the bin in a sunny spot helps to speed up the composting process.
You can either purchase a compost bin or you can make your own. Compost bins can be bought from the majority of garden centers or on-line and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Or you can do what I did and simply have a compost pile at a secluded edge of your property.
What should I put in my compost bin?
Successful composting needs the best ingredients. There are lots of everyday waste items from your garden and kitchen that can go into your compost bin. These are broken down into “Greens” and “Browns”.
Greens are the type of items that provide moisture and nitrogen and are quick to rot. Items classed as Greens includes:
Browns are waste items that take longer to rot but provide pockets of air, along with fiber and carbon. This includes items such as:
Newspapers (scrunched up)
Toilet roll tubes
Egg shells (crushed)
Dry brown leaves
There are some organic materials that should not be added to the compost pile. Bad composting materials include: diseased plants, weeds with seed heads, invasive weeds, pet feces, dead animals, bread and grains, meat or fish parts, dairy products, grease, cooking oil, or oily foods.
Don’t Add Products Labelled Compostable or Biodegradable
Please note that I did not mention compostable food containers and packaging or biodegradable items like diapers in my list of items to add to your compost pile. Packaging that is labelled as compostable means that it will break down in an industrial composting setting. Residential compost piles do not reach the temperatures needed to breakdown these products.
When a product is called biodegradable it means that it will break down in a landfill over time. While thisis a good thing, the key here is that we don’t know how long it will take them to break down. These also are not suitable to add to your compost pile.
How do I make a good quality compost?
To make a good quality compost it is important to use a good mix of both 'green' and 'brown' wastes. Microorganisms are tiny forms of plant and animal life, which break down organic material. A small amount of garden soil or manure supplies adequate microorganisms. The air, nitrogen, and water offer an encouraging environment for the microorganisms to produce your compost. Air is the one ingredient which you can’t have too much of. Too much nitrogen can kill microbes; too much water causes insufficient air in the pile.
If microorganisms have more surface area to feed off of, the materials will decompose faster. Chopping your organic materials with a machete, or using a shredder or lawnmower to shred materials will help them break down faster.
The compost pile is your oven. Compost piles catch heat created by the activity of millions of microorganisms. The minimum size for hot, fast composting is a 3-foot by 3-foot by 3-foot. Piles that are wider or taller than 5 feet don't permit enough air to reach the microorganisms at the center.
Your compost pile’s microorganisms work their hardest when the materials have about the moistness of a wrung-out sponge and as many air passages. The air in the pile is usually consumed faster than the moisture, so the pile should be turned or mixed up now and then to add more air; this maintains high temperatures and controls odor. Use a pitchfork, rake, or other garden tool can to turn materials with.
It is simply a case of monitoring the compost and adding more waste depending on the look of the compost. For example, if it looks too dry add more green waste, and if it looks too wet add more brown waste.
How long will it take for my compost to be ready to use?
This will vary depending on the mixture of waste that is placed into the compost bin, the surrounding conditions and the weather. In general, it should take between 6 and 9 months for your finished compost to be ready to use.
So what should you do if you don’t have the space for a compost pile or the time to properly attend to it? Many municipalities have services that will pick up yard waste. Some then provide composted materials for residents to use in their gardens. For food waste, there are paid for services that will provide home owners with a bucket to store food scraps and then pick up on a regular basis. If you live in SE PA check out services like Mother Compost.
Want to learn more about composting? My friend Gwenn over at Mother Compost is a composting guru. She and her team have put together an on-line course called Compost Coach. She also does consulting to help people who have more in-depth questions or are having problems with their compost piles.
Do you compost or are you looking to get started? Comment below and let us know about your composting experiences! We’d love to hear from you!