Compost, because a rind is a terrible thing to waste

So what’s the scoop on composting?  Glad you asked!

Compost is a great way for home gardeners to add nutrients back into the soil.  It also keeps what you compost out of landfills where it won’t even properly degrade due to how landfills are constructed.  When organic waste decomposes in a landfill, it does so in an environment with no oxygen.  Thus, anaerobic bacteria do the work of decomposition.  Those bacteria produce methane, a greenhouse gas that is more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.  Food scraps and yard waste currently make up 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away!  Just think of all that garden goodness simply going to waste (pun intended) while spending hundreds of dollars on bad for the environment fertilizer.  Put that into perspective when budgeting for a quality Composter.

Ok, so I have you convinced but what now?  Don’t worry. I got you covered! First, you will want to purchase or build your Composter.  Take into consideration how much food and yard waste you produce and what kind of composting needs you may have once it is created.  Also think about the process that we will go through in a moment.  Two Composters are often better than one, that way you can fill the first and let it work it’s magic and start up on the second one.  Placement is key as well.  Most Composters use the heat of the sun to aid in breaking down that organic matter,  while some systems might “cook” the goodness out of the mixture if not in the shade.  You will have to find out this information while making your choice.  If you stick to good composting guidelines, smell shouldn’t be a factor, but for those with delicate noses perhaps an area out of the main traffic pattern would work best.  You want it easily accessible so that you will actually use it, but not right out in the open to cause a potential eyesore.

Here’s what we chose:

We have been using a tumbler style bin for over three years now.  It is kept outside by our chicken coop and has held up to the Florida heat and humidity perfectly.  We like that it can be self tumbled.  This makes the break down process go more quickly and it is a mess free system. We don’t have many kitchen scraps to compost as the chickens take care of those for us, but things we don’t want to give them, like onions and other bits they don’t seem to care for go in the bin and then into our gardens to refresh the soil.  An added benefit is that it is easier for me to pry it out of it’s rolling base and then roll the bin with compost to where I wish to deposit the finished product then digging it out and hauling it around in a wheel barrow.  I doubt the designers took that into consideration but it is certainly an added bonus!  Unfortunately this bin is no longer readily available, but here is one that is a tumbler style that will tumble with much less effort than ours requires (my biggest issue with our current one).

Compost Tumbler:

Our collection bin we keep in the kitchen is this: Stainless Steel Compost Bin:
It is attractive and convenient and does a great job keeping things neat and odor free.  I also suggest replacement filters and the compostable liner bags for a mess free process.

Kitchen Compost Bin Charcoal Filter:

Compostable Compost Bin Bags:

Ok, so you have your composting bin, now what?

The Basics.

All composting requires three basic ingredients: browns, greens and water.  I know this might sound strange at first, but science is at work here.

Brown composting materials are often dry and carbon rich.  These include dead leaves, branches and twigs, nut shells, shredded newspaper, cardboard, paper, hay and straw, sawdust, wood chips, cotton and wool rags, dryer and vacuum cleaner lint, hair and fur as well as fireplace ashes.  Think dead and dry.

Green composting materials are often moist and nitrogen rich.  These include grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, eggshells, tea bags, houseplants and coffee grounds.

Water is simply just that.  You want the right amount of moisture, but not too much!

Ideally you want the browns and greens to be in equal amounts (or lean a little heavy on the brown side) and layered so that you don’t just have a big pile of one type all together.  This is why I like the tumbler style composting bins as mixing those layers around as well as mingling the older stuff with the newer stuff aids in the process going more quickly.  Check out EPA’s article on composting here for more details.

What not to compost.

This is nearly as important as to what is good for compost. Most is common sense, as you want good composting material, as the end result will be replenishing your garden’s soil. But here is a list of things you might not have considered.

Black walnut tree leaves, twigs or shells which release substances that might be harmful to your plants.

Coal or Charcoal briquette ash, which has harmful substances, this goes for treated wood ash as well.

Dairy products, meat or fish bones, fats, grease, lard or oils create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and files.

Diseased or insect infested plants as the diseases and insects can survive the composting process and then are transferred back to other plants.

Pet wastes (such as dog or cat feces) as they might contain parasites or other things harmful to humans.

Anything that has been treated with chemical pesticides as these can kill beneficial composting organisms.

A note on worms.  Worms are your friend!  They will speed up the decomposition of your food stuffs by eating them up and depositing a nutrient rich substance called worm castings.  Yeah, you figured it out.  Worm castings is a fancy way to say worm poop and this stuff is grade A gold for your garden.  To keep your worms happy, feed them the things they like such as fruit and vegetable leavings, coffee grounds, paper and dried leaves.  Keep things they don’t  like such as onions, potatoes and citrus away from their happy new home.  This will keep them doing what they do best and you can reap the rewards.