If you’ve been curious about composting but weren’t sure where to start, you’ve come to the right place! Composting is a simple way to drastically reduce your food waste and potential greenhouse gas emissions, cultivate a thriving garden, and contribute to a healthier, happier planet Earth.
Compost is a mixture of decaying organic matter, such as manure or dead leaves, that can be used to fertilize soil. The practice of composting allows this organic waste to be broken down (in the presence of oxygen) by microorganisms to a degree that it can be safely stored, handled, and eventually applied back to the environment. By electing to create or contribute to a heap instead of lazily tossing everything in the trashcan, you are playing an integral part in compost culture.
But what exactly can you compost?
A pretty easy way to think about it: if it came from the ground, it’s most likely compostable. This includes fruit or vegetable scraps, grains (like stale bread, cereal, or pasta), coffee grounds, herbs, nuts, eggshells, leave, and houseplant trimmings. It’s important to also note that you should not attempt to use animal materials, meat, butter, and other dairy products in this way.
To begin creating garden compost, collect organic waste in a closed bin kept in a flat, well-drained, and sunny spot so that the heap within remains warm and moist. While most people think of food scraps, for good reason, yard waste, twigs, branches, lawn clippings, and dead leaves are also worth holding onto. A diverse bin leads to soil enriched with a variety of nutrients. When making your bin, it’s a good idea to construct a base layer of twigs to aid in aeration and you should mix your heap at least once a week to aid in the breakdown of organic materials. Be patient and try to plan ahead, it takes about four to six months for full decomposition to occur and for the fruits of your labor to be ready to use. You will know your batch is ready when it’s dark brown in color, crumbly, and smells like soil.
What is the best way to use compost?
The best and most common way to use garden compost is as a replacement for chemical fertilizer, it can be mixed in with garden or regular potting soil in the same way fertilizer can and results in healthier, heartier plants and flowers grown without the aid of artificial chemicals. Adding compost at the beginning, middle and end of the growing season is a good way to ensure your crops have adequate nutrients when they need them.
Some gardeners feel it’s a good idea to spread your pile in the fall and to cover it with a layer of mulch to allow for full decomposition by springtime while others recommend waiting out the winter and spreading their homemade fertilizer just two weeks before spring. It’s a good idea to research regional recommendations for your specific location and climate before slipping into your gardening gloves.