Composting Is For Everyone
Compost is the fluffy black dirt- like substance that results from the breakdown of organic matter by soil microbes. Composting is the earth-friendly process of creating this black gold by combining household food scraps, paper, and yard waste with a bit of soil, sunshine, and water. It is easy and free for anyone whether you live in an apartment with only a patio or a house with a big garden. You likely have everything you need to get started.
For organic materials to break down in your compost pile and minimize odors, strive for a balance between green (moister) and brown (drier) materials, about 40% green and 60% brown. Green materials include household food scraps from vegetables, fruits, and grains: peels, rotten produce, moldy bread, stale cereal, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and the like. Egg shells are a great addition to the pile but never use eggs, meats, or dairy products as this will likely attract wildlife and your pet(s), and cause the compost pile to emit terrible odors. Grass clippings are part of the greens and can be added in huge quantities as they break down fast.
Brown materials include paper scraps and newspaper torn into strips or pieces, even dryer lint. We put our shredded junk mail and personal documents into our compost pile. Do not use paper with glossy or laminate coatings such as magazine paper; toss those into the recycle bin instead. Leaves are part of the browns. We rake into a trash barrel then dump all the leaves on the pile. A heaping pile of leaves will shrink down to a small layer in a day or two. Do not put sticks in your compost pile as they will take years to decompose and make the pile difficult to manage. Never put dog and cat feces into the compost pile since these creatures consume meat products. However, do feel free to toss in the shavings and feces of herbivorous pets like rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, and gerbils.
To make it easy, I keep a gallon-sized plastic tub with a lid under my sink where I place food scraps. When full, I take it out and dump the contents on the compost pile. Using all these waste products from your house and yard will result in a natural balance.
To Stir or Not to Stir, That is the Question
Passive and Active are the two extremes of composting with everything in between. Whatever you choose for your own compost pile is just fine.
Passive composting is when you toss the appropriate materials into the compost pile then leave it alone. The materials will break down into compost; it just takes considerably longer (a year instead of two months for example). But for those who are just trying to reduce their amount of household garbage and yard waste, this is a great way to compost.
Active composting involves frequent stirring. The more stirring, the faster the materials will breakdown into useable compost. Active composters want a quicker turnover because they are continually using the compost as a soil amender in their vegetable and flower gardens and when planting shrubs and trees. The addition of compost serves many functions from improving drainage in clay soils to fortifying poor sandy soils. Active composting may also include the addition of water in drier climates. We sprinkle ours with the hose for a few minutes each week. The texture of your compost should be crumbly, soft, and moist like cooked rice. Adding too much water may result in a clumpy, gummy mess that is difficult to stir.
Earthworms also help with the breakdown of materials and will take up residence in your compost pile all by themselves.
A Place In the Sun
Where do you put the compost pile? There are many options. Be creative! For apartment or condo dwellers with a patio or balcony, a big plastic or terracotta planter works. An old trash barrel with holes drilled in the sides and bottom for air circulation and drainage will work just fine. The finished compost can be used in your indoor potted plants. To celebrate Earth Day, scoop some into medium-sized plastic bags, tie with bows, and give to friends for their potted plants. The nutrient-rich compost will help healthy plants thrive and perk up scraggly ones. Compost is a gift that keeps on giving.
For those with gardens, place your compost pile in a sunny spot off the beaten path, preferably next to your garden for easy maintenance and use. Our dogs tend to want to raid the pile then vomit up the rotten strawberries and moldy bread, so we fenced our garden with wire and put the pile behind the fence. As newlyweds, my dear husband built a compost box out of a wood frame and chicken wire. This was also a great idea. Anything that allows sunshine, air, and water to get in and excess moisture to drain will work. For those Active composters, be sure you have easy access for stirring.
Show Love to Mother Earth and Our Future
Using your household waste for such a great cause as composting keeps it out of the landfill. Anything takes up less of the limited space in our landfills is worth doing. Composting is incredibly rewarding, especially when you consider what compost can do for your flowers, vegetables, potted plants, trees and shrubs. Celebrate Earth Day every day by composting.