Composting is the process of transforming organic waste into soil. Most families put their fruit and vegetable waste down the garbage disposal or into a trash can. If you put it in the trash, it most likely ends up bagged in plastic and sent to a landfill where the nutrients aren’t able to replenish the earth.
Instead, composting turns organic waste into soil, also referred to as humus, which can be used to fertilize plants and improve soil. Composting returns plant waste directly back to the earth. Read more about the importance of composting here.
If composting at home sounds complicated, don’t worry! Remember, all living things in nature eventually die and are naturally composted back into the earth without any help from humans. With a few tips you’ll quickly be on your way to successfully composting at home.
Choose a Compost Bin
There are a dozen different types of bins to choose from when composting. To help you decide what’s best for you, think about:
- Amount of organic waste you create in a week
- Outdoor locations available for your bin
- Amount of time you are willing to donate to composting
- Amount of money available to start composting
A barrel, such as the kinds used for garbage, can be a great compost bin. Simply purchase a large barrel with a lid and drill holes in the side to create air flow. Drill 4-5 holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drip out. I don’t recommend holes in the top as rain water can make the bin too soggy. If your barrel will be on a balcony or a patio, put a large tray under the barrel to catch the drainage.
If the barrel has a snap on lid, then use a shovel to turn the contents 1-2 times a week.
If your barrel has a lid with a bracket that seals the lid tight when closed (see blue barrel above), you can turn the barrel on its side and roll it to mix the contents, or also use a shovel. This is the kind I use with my kindergarten class and they LOVE rolling the barrel around the playground each week.
One bin works fine, but once the bin is 50-70% full, you need to stop adding food scraps and let the compost ‘cook’ and decompose for about six weeks. If you don’t want to have a gap with your composting, then have two barrels. Once one is full, allow it to decompose and start filling a second barrel. Once you fill the second one, the first one should be ready to empty into your garden.
If you have funds to invest and are looking for the fastest and most efficient way to compost, then I would recommend two compartment bins that roll. There are many options to choose from online. Here is a two compartment composter on Amazon that has very high reviews.
The two compartments serve the same purpose as two barrels. Fill one, then leave it alone to decompose while you fill the second compartment. Turning the compost in these bins is much easier as you simply have to spin the barrel 2-3 times each week. They are also at waist height so shoveling out the compost can be easier.
If you enjoy a DIY project, building large squares with planks to house your compost is another option. This is a great option if you have the garden space and anticipate having a large amount of organic material to compost. Build the front wall with planks so that you can easily raise and lower the height of the front for easy access.
Collect Your Kitchen Waste
Once you have your outdoor bin set up, its time to start collecting your kitchen scraps.
Gather a container to keep in your kitchen to collect all fruit and vegetable scraps. A simple bowl will work just fine. Collect all your scraps during the day and empty it each evening into your outdoor compost bin.
A couple of years ago I upgraded to a stainless steel compost bin that has a filter in the lid that traps all odors. I keep it handy whenever I’m prepping a meal and put all the plant scraps in the bin. Once its full, I empty it into my compost barrel outside. The filter definitely works! Even with onion, garlic and other odorous scraps, I never smell a thing in my kitchen. Here’s the affiliate link to my bin pictured below.
To speed up the composting process, cut your kitchen scraps into small pieces, about 1-2 inches. You can leave everything large, but the decomposition process will take much longer.
Greens and Browns
Compost bins need a combination of “greens” and “browns”. Green materials, such as vegetable scraps and grass clippings, are nitrogen-rich and brown materials, such as dried leaves and paper, are carbon-rich. The most efficient bins will have an equal mix of both green and brown materials.
As easy source of browns are leaves that have fallen and died. Rake them up and add them to your bin. If you are around horses, straw can also work great. As I live in the desert, we are very limited with plant material, so I am diligent about cutting up all my excess cardboard, such as toilet paper tubes and cereal boxes to be the browns in my bin. At my school, to offset the high amount of fruit scraps from snack time, we compost all the shredded paper from the office.
Do Not Compost These Materials
fats or oils
High gloss paper such as magazines
Maintain Your Compost Bin
Keep the bin moist, but not soggy wet. You want the materials to decompose, but not rot. If your bin begins to smell, most likely it is too wet or it doesn’t have enough brown material.
Be sure the organic material has access to air. Most bins have air holes drilled in the sides and bottom.
The organic waste needs heat to decompose. Keep your bin in a sunny location, if possible, to help the internal temperature rise which will speed up the decomposition process.
Turn the organic waste 2-3 times each week, but don’t stress if life gets busy or you leave on vacation. Three times each week is optimal for producing compost as quickly as possible. But if you don’t turn it one week, no problem! Just get back to it when you can.
As the weeks progress, you’ll notice the food scraps are breaking down and transforming into a rich, dark brown, almost black soil. You’ll know its ready when you can’t see any of the food scraps anymore. A well managed compost bin takes about three months to produce compost.
Dig the compost into your garden, scoop it onto the tops of potted plants, or mix it in with potting soil. Your plants will thrive and you can feel great about helping to replenish the land!