How to Start Composting
Learning How to Compost is Easy!
Start a Compost - Even if Your Living Space is Small
One of my New Year's Resolutions this year was to go more green. I was working as the Food and Health editor for a green lifestyle magazine, and it was simply a part of my job to find ways to share info on how we all can live more "green" lives.
At the top of my list was finding ways to eliminate food waste. I live in a municipality that does a green waste pick up, but unfortunately that service doesn't extend to families like mine, living in condos, townhouses, or apartments.
In an article called Reduce Your Holiday 'Food-Print', Dana Gunder of the US Natural Resource’s Defense Council shared some shocking statistics about food waste. I did my own research and learned that approximately 30% of household waste can be reduced by composting. When I learned that even people living in tiny apartments could do it, I was ready to start.
Here's What My Kitchen Bin Looks Like
My Bin Fits Under my Kitchen Sink
Step One: Gather Your Supplies
To get started composting, you need supplies:
1. A container appropriate in size for your living space and household waste.
I started composting for my family of four with a small tupperware container that fit under my kitchen sink. Something this size (approx. 12" x 12" x 18") will likely work well for a single adult, but I quickly discovered two adults and two young children make more waste than this "mini-kit" could handle.
I still use the smaller bin under the sink but also alternate putting our compost food waste in a larger lidded bin that locks on my backyard balcony. Please note: a plastic bin works well, but must have small holes drilled in it for aeration. Don't worry, the worms will stay in; they want to be where the food is.
2. The Fun Part: Adding Composting Worms!
In my community, composting is picking up steam. There is even a hotline you can call for info on where to get your worms (1 lb goes for about $25-$35). I live in a suburb of Vancouver, and am a 20 minute drive east to a farming community with several enterprising farmers who will sell you a composting worm kit. I used a mini-kit from a farmer to start my kitchen compost. The kit included detailed instructions, a small margarine-sized container with air holes, dirt, compost, and two dozen or so worms for $15.
3. The Right Ingredients for Happy Worms and a Happy Compost
Once you have your container and your worms, you need to make a nice home for the little wrigglers. Use peat moss or potting soil for the base. Add some compost if you have some, and then add a layer of newspaper strips. (Paper adds a layer of space and helps with the disintegration of food).
Keep in mind that the environment needs to be moist, but not too wet. Certainly add some water to the compost, but you don't want it to be soggy. I used a watering can to wet down the base of peat moss and soil, and the newspaper layer. I added some soil on top, placed the worms in, and added a bit more soil to cover them.
Before Adding to the Bin, Wrap Your Food in Newspaper
Add Water to Wrapped Waste, Then Add to the Bin
Step Two: Keep Your Worms Happy
1. Feed Your Compost Worms The Right Stuff
You can compost fruits, veggies, coffee grinds, tea bags, egg shells, and small amounts of bread (I generally avoid bread though because it can get moldy quickly - some people do it without a problem, though).
Never add meat or dairy to your compost. In outdoor composts, this will attract rodents. For all composts, it will invite nasty bacteria.
2. Maintain an Optimum Composting Temperature and Moisture Level
The temperature of your compost is important. Keep in mind that your worms don't like extreme temperatures. Make sure it doesn't get too hot or cold under your sink (or window, or wherever you store your bin).
To maintain the correct moisture, I suggest wrapping your food waste in newspaper, then wetting the paper before digging a hole in the bin, placing the wrapped food in, and covering again. Vary the location of each parcel of wrapped food waste you add to your compost, and cover with soil.
3. Maintain an Optimum Composting Environment.
Be sure to stir the soil each day to make sure anaerobic bacteria doesn't start to grow, and that the soil doesn't seem dry. Because I keep my kitchen compost bin under the sink, it gets plenty of moisture from the humidity caused by the dishwasher beside it. I stir the soil at the end of each day to make sure it isn't too wet, and that any bacteria doesn't get a chance to grow into mold.
If something is "off" with your compost, you will know it. Composts should not smell. They should only smell of soil, not rotting food. If your compost smells funky, try adding more soil and stirring to break up any bacteria. Try adding more paper strips to add a breathable layer and see if that helps. Worst case scenario, you may need to start again, removing the rotting waste, and re-using the container, worms and usable soil.
Our Larger Outdoor Bin
Step Three: Have Fun!
I've been composting now for a few months.I included my two kids, aged 5 and 2, in the project. (My 5 year old helped tear the newspaper strips and watered the soil; my 2 year old was more interested in seeing the worms). I created our compost the first week in March - the same week we went to the garden store to buy seeds for our vegetable garden.
I wanted my kids to learn about the entire cycle of growing food, the role worms play in breaking down our food scraps, and how our compost will later help grow the vegetables we planted ourselves in our backyard garden.
I invite you to do the same with your kids - or just do this one small and simple "green" thing for yourself. You can - and should! - feel good about taking one small step that will significantly reducing your "food-print".
About Nicole Breit
Nicole Breit is a Vancouver based writer and poet who loves hanging out with her kids, going on outdoor adventures, and spending time in her garden.
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