by Amy Daniels
Whether you consider yourself to be a gardener or not, composting is something that everyone can and should do. It is not difficult, does not require any fancy set-up or particular skill set and is a nearly effortless way to be more eco-conscious by reducing the amount of material your household contributes to the landfill.
If you do any amount of research on composting, it’s easy to get bogged down by the countless types of bins that can be made, ratios of different types of materials and recommendations for how best to aerate your pile.
Composting is simply allowing materials to decompose in a place apart from the rest of your household trash. That’s it.
Composting can be accomplished in open pile, enclosed container or with a rotating bin system. Ultimately, there are only two types of composting: hot composting and cold composting.
Hot Composting is a faster, more hands-on approach to decomposition. It requires the composter to pay attention to the ratio of green (nitrogen based, “fresh”) and brown (carbon based, “dry”) materials that are added to the mixture, as well as regular turning of the pile.
For optimal composition and decomposition time, a 30:1 ratio of browns to greens is recommended. Using a gallon bucket as a volume measure, this means that if you add 1 bucket of fresh grass clippings to your compost, you need to add 30 buckets of dried leaves or shredded paper material to the mix.
Cold Composting requires minimal attention—just dump your scraps and walk away. It takes longer to produce any material that a gardener would have any interest in, but it still works.
Fruit & Vegetable Scraps—If it comes from the produce aisle at the grocery store, you can compost pile: peels, rinds, cores, seeds, stems, all of it. If your bagged spinach gets slimy, compost it. Moldy oranges and shriveled lemons can be composted, too. (It is a common misconception that citrus should not be composted, but it definitely can be!).
Exceptions: If you have dogs, enclose your pile to prevent them from scavenging. If you want to keep your pile open, be aware that your dog will investigate and sample, so avoid composting foods toxic to dogs such as grapes.
Paper Products—Junk mail, newspapers, cardboard, and even used tissues can all be composted. Remove tape and plastic windows from envelopes, as they won’t break down. Shredding materials allows them to decompose faster but is not necessary. Avoid composting glossy papers; the inks used to not good to put into the soil.
Yard Waste—If you’re planning to use your compost for gardening, avoid putting seeds (especially weed seeds) in your pile. Otherwise, add leaves, grass clippings, small twigs and branches, dead flowers, and pruning materials to your compost.
Other Compostable Material—Coffee grounds and tea bags make great compost additions. As do egg shells, peanut shells, and stale bread. Dryer lint and vacuum cleaner collections – hair, pet fur, dust, skin flakes, dead bugs…are gross to think about but all perfect for your compost pile. 100% cotton materials can be composted, so check the tags on ratty pants and shirts before you trash them. Livestock and chicken manure can also be composted.
Compost piles should not smell terrible or attract unwanted pests. Keeping animal products out of the compost pile prevents most “bad” smells which would attract pests.
Non-Compostable Material—When following the rule of “did it come from a plant?” to determine compost-worthiness, it becomes simple to determine what is not suitable for composting. Don’t put the following into your compost pile:
• Meats & dairy products
• Cooking Oils
• Human and animal feces from meat consumers should not be used.
Composting for the Non-Gardener
If you don’t garden due to lack of space, time, or interest, composting is still a great way to reduce trash accumulation. You can participate in composting even if you never use the end product
• Have a yard? Make a compost pile anyway! You don’t have to do anything to it.
• Save fruit and vegetable scraps in your freezer and give them to a friend or neighbor who composts.
• Contact your local community garden. Many accept compost donations.
In this age of information, analysis paralysis is real. If you want to start composting, just start. Your imperfect effort still reduces your carbon footprint.