Going Green: Composting, made easy!
Composting, and why you should do it
Composting is a natural, green, way to recycle waste into usable soil. Whether you want grade A soil for flowers, or to spread on your lawn, composting is the natural, easy, cheap way to do it. The only thing you need is some sort of container for your compost.
A properly cared for compost heap won't smell bad, so as long as you follow some simple steps for care, don't worry about the smell.
All photos by me unless otherwise attributed.
Your first compost bin
What will it be?
My first compost bin was a hollowed out liquid container. I believe it was rated at about 40 gallons. I was planning to use it for rainwater collection, but decided on compost instead. These big liquid containers are very handy for lots of things and I would pick up a few more just to have around for various projects, including more composting bins.
To make the compost bin, I cut the top off, to make it easier to dump grass clippings into it. If I were going to only use it for kitchen waste, I would have made a smaller opening at the top. Then I took a drill and put many holes spaced a couple inches apart up and down the whole bin and bottom. This allows the composting bacteria to breathe, which is very important for efficient composting.
Close up of my bin
I drilled many many holes all around my home made compost bin. Here is a close up. You don't want the holes too be too large, or the compost will spill out the sides. Just enough to let air in, and remain unplugged.
It did take a while to drill them all, but allowing your compost to breathe is important.
Caring for your compost
The reason composting works is bacteria break down the plant matter you have put in there. These bacteria are aerobic, and require oxygen. You can have an anaerobic compost heap, but it is slower, and you generally can't get to the compost after it is broken down.
So, since these little guys require oxygen, you should turn your compost periodically to aerate it. If you make your own bin, you should allow for airflow somehow. I drilled holes into the side of my first bin from the top to the bottom. I have read that putting your heap on top of a wooden pallet helps airflow throughout.
You can add some sugar to the mix if you want to speed things up, but as long as you keep a steady flow of kitchen scraps, your compost heap should do fine. Try to find a somewhat dry place, perhaps shaded. Your compost heap may give off some heat, which is normal.
Your first compost bin
I made my own, and I encourage you to do the same.
Below are a few suggestions that may be a little bit easier to use than homemade.
Do I really need a "bin?"
No, not really. Compost bins are convenient place to put things, but if you have the room, a compost "area" is actually a really good way to compost your food scraps and grass clippings. A "vertical" bin like mine is more difficult to turn properly. The rotating bins take care of that problem, but can't hold as much.
If you have the room, a designated compost "area" works really well. You may need some fencing, or something else to discourage pests, but leave it open otherwise, and let it spread out to areas you aren't using. This allows maximum aerobic activity, as well as being very easy to turn with a shovel or pitchfork.
Special thanks to Nainoa for this tip and pointers.
What can I compost?
You can compost almost anything of plant origin. Even worn out cotton clothes, though they take a bit longer, and should be cut up. I regularly put banana peels, romaine stems, tomato tops into mine. Grass clippings make up the majority of my compost. Leaves and sticks don't do as well right off, and could be aged for 2 summers to compost better.
What shouldn't I compost?
Fats and proteins. Avoid putting meat scraps and grease. These will attract pests and will smell really bad.
Man made fibers like rayon, polyester - these won't compost
Plastic - will not compost
Other inorganic substances
Collecting your scraps
I re-use a 3 lb sour cream tub to collect my scraps and coffee grounds. I like re-using things I already have on hand, and re-cycle as much as possible.
I encourage you to find something you can repurpose to collect your scraps, but I understand that there may be problems with smells.
Some specially made containers are below. Most of them have some sort of filter that will allow your scraps to breathe, but also contains smells.
I like composting
It's an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment. It will provide soil for gardening and growing your own plants, or improving your soil for your lawn.
I have a couple tomato plants that love my compost, and are doing quite nicely.
Composting in action!
Composting can seem a little slow sometimes, but is worth the trouble. Seeing composting and decomposition in action is pretty neat.
This is an interesting time lapse video of decomposition of various fruit and vegetables. This is what is happening in your compost pile, right now!