Home Composting

By: iTopTopics Staff

Plants love compost. It is the boost of nutrients for your garden. Instead of throwing your food scraps to the trash bin, you can turn them to compost. It is a few-week process but the result will save you money on fertilizers for your garden.

Spring Garden Ideas

What is composting?

Composting is the process of collecting organic waste and storing it under conditions designed to help it break down naturally. It is a process to turn organic waste such as food scraps and yard trimmings into natural fertilizer.

The benefits of composting

  • Composting reduces the amount of garbage dumped on the landfills.
    • According to a report called “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013” from EPA, in 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.40 pounds per person per day. Organic waste makes up approximately 30 percent of our trash.
  • Composting helps the environment by reducing organic waste from landfills, which in turn reducing methane emissions and lowers your carbon footprint. One pound of methane traps 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than a pound of carbon dioxide.
  • Composting saves money for you and your community in reduced soil purchases and reduced local disposal costs.
  • Composting enriches the soil. Using compost adds essential nutrients, improves soil structure, which allows better root growth, and increases moisture and nutrient retention in the soil.
  • In ecosystems, compost is useful for erosion control, land and stream reclamation and wetland construction.

Composting Basics

Making your own fertilizers from composting might sound like a daunting task. In fact, it is simpler than you might have thought. Composting is the process of storing a heap of wetted organic wastes like food scraps, yard trimming or leaves and waiting for the materials to decompose into humus after a few weeks, depending on the weather condition.

All composting requires three basic ingredients:

  • Greens:  This includes materials such as grass clippings, vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds.
  • Browns - This includes materials such as dead leaves, branches, and twigs.
  • Water - Having the right amount of water, greens, and browns is important for compost development.

Your compost pile should have an equal amount of browns to greens. You should also alternate layers of organic materials of different-sized particles. The brown materials provide carbon for your compost, the green materials provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture to help break down the organic matter.

What should you compost?

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Shredded newspaper, Paper or Cardboard
  • Grass clippings
  • Houseplants: do not use plants with fungal diseases.
  • Hay and straw
  • Leaves
  • Wood chips or Sawdust
  • Fireplace ashes from woods

What you should not compost

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs because it releases substances that might be harmful to plants.
  • Coal or charcoal ash which might contain substances harmful to plants.
  • To keep animals and odors out of your pile, do not add meat, bones and fatty food wastes such as cheese, grease and oils.
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants: plants with fungal disease and insects might survive during the composting process and be transferred back to other plants.
  • Pet wastes such as dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans.
  • With shredded newspaper, paper or cardboard, you should avoid colored and glossy paper, which might contain some toxic heavy metals. Make sure you shred the newspapers or papers before composting for faster decomposing time.
  • Hay bales, straws and grass clippings or yard trimmings are great for composting as long as they are not heavily and recently treated with herbicides or other chemical pesticides. You should be turned or mixed hay bales, straws and grass clippings well to distribute the green and brown material evenly through the pile and will prevent the grass from forming a mat in the pile.
  • Do not add invasive weeds and weeds that have gone to seed to the pile.
  • With wood chips or Sawdust, as long as it’s not from treated wood; you also need to know what type of woods the wood chips or sawdust are from. Some trees might be poisonous to others, such as black walnut.

How to compost at home right in your backyard?

There are as many different ways to make compost as there are people who do it. The following guidelines will get you started, but soon your own experience will help you tailor a method that best fits your needs.

Build or purchase a compost bin. Enclosed compost piles keep out pets, hold heat and moisture in, have a neat appearance and reduce odor.

You can create your own compost bin out of wire, wood, pallets, concrete blocks, even garbage cans with drainage holes drilled in them. In urban areas, rodent-resistant compost bins - having a secure cover and floor and openings no wider than one-half inch - must be used.

Set up the bin in a convenient, shady area with good drainage. A pile that is about three feet square and three feet high will help maintain the heat generated by the composting organisms throughout the winter. Although a smaller pile may not retain heat, it will compost.

Start the pile with a layer of coarse material such as corn stalks to build in air passages. Add alternating layers of "brown" and "green" materials with a shovelful of soil on top of each layer. Be sure to bury food scraps in the center of the pile.

Add water as you build the pile if the materials are dry.

As time goes on, keep oxygen available to the compost critters by fluffing the pile with a hoe or compost turning tool each time you add material. A complete turning of the pile - so the top becomes the bottom - in spring and fall should result in finished compost within a few months, depending on the weather condition as well as the materials you put in the compost pile. More frequent turning will shorten the composting time.

How to apply compost to your garden?

When the composted materials look like rich, brown soil, it is ready to use. Apply one-half to three inches of finished compost and mix it in with the top four inches of soil about one month before planting. Compost can be applied as a top dressing in the garden throughout the summer. To make potting soil, mix equal parts compost, sand and loam. You can sort out the large pieces of compost particles by using a fine rake. These large particles can go back to the compost pile for further decomposing.

With these principles in mind, you can convert your organic wastes into resources by turning your spoils to soil.

Reference material:

Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures