-By Bria Haughton
As we acknowledge Earth Day this and every year, one of the first things that comes to mind is what we as individuals can do to take care of our planet. The answers come in many forms—reducing water usage, recycling, planting trees, but we want to inform you of one other eco-friendly way you can contribute to the planet’s health: composting! Drawing a blank? Don’t worry—we’ll tell you everything you need to know about this surprisingly easy task.
What is composting? How does it work?
In simple terms, composting is a means of recycling plant scraps from the kitchen to make garden fertilizer that can be used to grow and raise fresh produce. It’s a process that can be done both indoors and outdoors, and an efficient way to recycle the waste that builds up in your home.
As organic products from your kitchen decompose, they break down into nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, which plants need to survive. A compost bin consists of three parts brown matter (dead leaves, branches) and one part green matter (vegetables, fruits), where brown matter provides carbon and green matter provides nitrogen. Together, when exposed to air and water, microorganisms such as bacteria, actinobacteria, fungi, protozoa, and earthworms, start to break down the combined elements into compost. Carbon gives the microorganisms energy, and nitrogen facilitates the protein synthesis.
After the breakdown of the plant matter, what’s left behind is a substance called humus, which looks, smells, and feels like soil, which you can spread in your garden to help your plants flourish!
What are the benefits of composting?
The benefits of composting vary, but here are some of the biggest ones:
- Massive landfills that are replacing natural habitats and displacing wildlife contain tons of waste, most of it from food scraps. By composting, you’ll be decreasing the waste in said landfills.
- As mentioned above, the compost created can be added to your garden, making it healthier as you are reintroducing nutrients, microbes, and other beneficial organisms to your soil. Compost also helps soil retain the right amount of moisture, which helps you grow lots of fruits and vegetables in your garden.
- The process of composting makes you aware of how much food waste you’re actually creating. You can then take this information and adjust your lifestyle to prevent creating extra waste you might not need to make.
What should/shouldn't I compost?
Here is a list of all brown matter ingredients you can use in your compost that are rich in carbon (dry components):
Here is a list of green matter ingredients you can use in your compost that are rich in nitrogen (wet components):
And finally, here is a list of things you should not compost:
- Black walnut tree leaves and twigs
- Dairy products
- Diseased plants
- Dryer or vacuum lint from synthetic fabrics
- Fats or oils
- Glossy paper (especially with color printing)
- Meat or fish scraps or bones
- Pet waste
How do I compost?
Outdoor Composting (Backyard)
- Find bare earth to begin your compost pile. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to get into the heap.
- Lay down a few inches of dry materials. These materials help with drainage and prevent your pile from getting overly moist.
- Add layers of dry and most compost materials. Food scraps are considered moist and leaves are dry, for example.
- Ensure the compost is moist without getting too wet. You can pour a cup of water over your pile or simply wait for rain.
- Turn compost regularly. This allows oxygen to be evenly distributed throughout the pile.
Indoor CompostingMaterials: Small trash bin with a lid, a tray that fits underneath the bin, soil, and newspaper
- Choose a space to keep your compost bin. (Under the sink works well.)
- Poke or drill a few holes on the bottom and around the rim of the bin.
- Cover the tray with newspaper and place the bin in the tray.
- Add a layer of soil, a few inches deep, into the bin.
- Add a layer of shredded newspaper into the bin.
- Start adding your food scraps (green matter as listed above), along with a handful of newspaper or other brown matter as you go. (If it starts to smell bad, add more brown matter.)
- Once a week, mix the pile and add a handful of fresh soil.
You’ll know the compost is ready when it is broken down into dark, moist soil. Use it as a top layer for potted plants or donate it to a neighborhood garden!
Any other tips?
- Start your compost in the summer! This process works best in heat—a compost that maintains an internal temp of 130-150 degrees fahrenheit breaks down faster.
- Keep a small compost bin in the kitchen to collect food scraps so you can throw all your scraps in the heap at once.
- Always keep a healthy balance of brown and green matter. The smaller, the better!
- And remember to turn your compost piles frequently!
So what are you waiting for? Composting is something that you can do at any time with the simplest of materials. This Earth Day , give it a try!