What Can You Compost?
Composting is one of the most popular methods of organic waste management. There are many benefits that come with it. One of them is that it helps reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and other toxic materials. Another benefit is that composting reduces the amount of water used in gardening, which means less money spent on watering plants or buying chemicals to make your garden grow better!
The main reason why people choose to compost their yard waste is because they believe that it will help improve the soil quality. However, there are some myths about composting and its effects on the soil.
So let’s clear up these misconceptions:
Myth 1 – Composting improves soil health.
There is no scientific evidence that shows that composting does anything but improving the taste of your garden. Some people claim that composting makes their gardens smell nicer, but there is no proof of this.
In fact, if you have ever tried composting you would know that it smells awful!
Myth 2 – Composting increases the fertility of the soil.
If composted food scraps do increase the fertility of your soil then how come we don’t see more problems with over-watering in California? In fact, why isn’t everyone composting if it is so great for the soil?
The reason why composting doesn’t make that much of a difference when it comes to making your soil better is because it is never really ‘finished’. So even if you put in all of your food scraps into the pile, it will most likely not be ready to use on your garden for at least a year, maybe more.
The only thing that you will really notice is that your food scraps won’t go to waste, and your garden will smell better. And I suppose for some people, that is good enough of a reason to start a compost pile.
What NOT to put in your compost
There are many things that you can put into a compost pile. However, there are also some things that you should avoid putting into a compost pile.
Let’s go over what those things are.
Meat, fat, and bones – There is really no reason for you to add these things into your compost pile because they will not break down easily, if at all. The only exception to this rule is egg shells.
You can add egg shells into your pile because they will actually help the pile to heat up quicker, which will speed up the decomposition process.
Human waste – There are many guides online that tell you how to make human manure compost. These guides are incorrect and will result in a horrible mess.
It is illegal in most places to dispose of human waste in this way.
Cat litter – Contrary to popular belief, cat litter is not good for your compost pile. It will not accelerate the process at all.
In fact, it will just sit at the bottom of your pile and become a huge hassle to get rid of. Even if you bury it, it will still smell!
Sawdust – Some people put sawdust into their compost piles to accelerate the process. It will not help, and you are just adding extra unnecessary weight into the pile.
If you really want to speed up the process, you should add more ‘brown’ material such as dead leaves or even shredded paper.
Bones – Bones are pretty hard items to break down, so there is no reason for you to add them into your compost pile. In fact, you will probably never be able to get them broken down in time before you add new materials on top of them.
It is best to just throw them in the trash instead.
Seeds – Adding seeds into your pile is a waste of time. You will never get the seeds to break down before adding new materials on top of them.
In fact, they could even sprout if the temperature is just right!
Fruit pits and vegetable seeds – There is no need to add these items into your pile because they will not help at all.
Dog/cat feces – If you are going to compost your dog’s poop, please make sure that the poop is completely dried out. It is very easy for dog feces to get bacteria in your garden if it is not dried out completely.
There have been many cases of people getting sick from vegetables that have been in contact with dog feces.
Should I use a tumbler, bin, or stack?
There are many ways to compost, and it would be impossible to cover all of them here. However, the three most common styles are as follows:
Tumbler – A tumbler is a rotating container that has spikes on the bottom to help aerate the material inside. A tumbler is a good choice for a small gardener who doesn’t produce much food waste.
Bin – A bin is essentially a traditional pile. These are commonly created by piling up alternating layers of ‘greens’ and ‘browns’.
The key to a good bin is to add a lot of browns, so that the pile does not become too wet.
Stack – A stack is created by stacking chopped up greens and browns into a pole shape. Stacks are great in that they require very little work on your part, but they do not contain as much material as other methods.
What are the benefits of composting?
There are many benefits to composting, including:
Better soil quality – Compost adds nutrients to your soil, and allows you to use less chemical fertilizers. Compost also helps to aerate the soil, which allows for better water penetration and promotes healthier plant growth.
Less waste – By composting your food waste, you are taking a large item and breaking it down into a smaller form. This allows for easier storage and reduces the amount of garbage you are putting out each week.
Greener yard – By putting compost on your grass, you will save money on water bills because your grass will require much less water to survive. You will also notice that your grass is darker and thicker than before.
Less trash – Each week when you take out the trash, you will notice that the garbage bag is much lighter than it was previously.
What are the benefits of vermicomposting?
Vermicomposting is very beneficial, and here’s why:
Less smell – The biggest benefit to using a vermicomposting system is the lack of smell. A normal compost pile can get quite smelly as it cooks, but a worm bin usually does not have much of an odor at all.
This means that you can put it in your basement, garage, or even your living room if you want!
Less need for turning – A traditional compost pile needs to be mixed and aerated on a regular basis. A worm bin only needs to be mixed once every month or two.
Less trash – As stated above, a normal compost pile can produce quite a bit of trash, because food waste tends to be watery and not decompose quickly. A worm bin will produce very little if any trash.
Better nutrient retention – Worms break down organic matter and retain the nutrients better than traditional composting. This means that your fertilizers will be of much higher quality.
How do I get started with a worm bin?
To get started with a worm bin, you will need to purchase a bin or build your own. Here are some things to think about when choosing a container:
Location – Where are you going to put your bin?
The bin needs to be placed in a location that is protected from the wind. A garage or shed works well, but only if the temperature stays close to 70 degrees. If not, you will have to incorporate another way to heat the inside of the container (see heating below).
Size – How much food waste do you produce?
If you are a single person or a couple, a small bin will work just fine. The bigger your family, the bigger your worm bin needs to be. One rule of thumb is to multiply your family size by 2, and that is the size of your bin (ex: a family of four would need a bin that is at least 8 inches deep and 2 feet in width and length).
Materials – There are many different materials that you can use to build a container. You can use a plastic tote, wooden pallets, concrete blocks, wire mesh, or anything else you can think of.
You will need to drill holes in whatever material you choose so that air can circulate.
What size holes should I drill?
– The size of the hole is important because you want just enough air flow to prevent anaerobic conditions (rots the worms), but not enough to have it fly away (especially in higher winds). The size of the holes you should have is 3/8 of an inch.
Heating – If the temperature in your house drops below 70 degrees at any time of the year, you will need to incorporate a way to heat the inside of your bin. There are several ways that you can do this.
The first way (and probably cheapest) is to put your bin in an area of your house that already maintains a higher temperature, such as your basement or garage. The second way is to use a heat lamp (only if you have a cover that is transparent) or heating pad on the bottom of your bin. These can be set on a timer so it can heat your bin at certain times during the day. The third, and most expensive way, is to buy an aquarium heater and put it inside your bin.
Manure – You can buy bags of processed manure from the store or you can collect fresh cow manure. The best type of manure comes from cows that have been fed only grass.
If you are collecting cow manure, put a tarp in the pasture and collect the manure during the Spring when they are out on pasture. If you are using store bought manure, try to get the freshest bag you can.
What do I need to get started?
1. Location (indoors) – If you live in a warmer climate, you can place it outside.
If not, you will need to find a space inside your house (garage, basement, etc).
2. Container – You will need a large container that will hold at least 2 cubic feet of space (container sizes will vary depending on the size of your family).
3. Manure – Cows that have only been fed grass make the best manure.
You can also use rabbit manure or composted household waste if you do not have access to cow manure.
4. Bedding – The container needs to be three quarters full of manure and the rest should be bedding (shredded paper, dried leaves, sawdust, etc).
The bedding acts as a filter and helps with the overall health of your colony.
5. Cover – The container needs to be covered, otherwise it will get blown away in the wind.
You can build a wood cover or use a large plastic tarp.
6. Screen – Attach a screen over the hole in the cover.
The worms will crawl under the cover to escape the heat, but need to be able to get back inside.
How do I start?
1. Collecting & Cleaning Manure – Collect manure in a tub or wheelbarrow.
Soak manure in water and let it sit overnight. Drain the water the next day and repeat this process until the water is clear.
Spread out on newspapers to dry completely (may take a week or more).
2. Mixing Bedding & Manure – Three parts bedding to one part manure.
Sources & references used in this article:
… Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System: Compost Food Waste, Produce Fertilizer for Houseplants and Garden, and Educate Your … by M Appelhof, J Olszewski – 2017 – books.google.com
Forming electrochemically active biofilms from garden compost under chronoamperometry by S Parot, ML Délia, A Bergel – Bioresource technology, 2008 – Elsevier
The preparation and use of compost by Agromisa, M Inckel, T Tersmette – 2005 – journeytoforever.org
Garden compost inoculum leads to microbial bioanodes with potential-independent characteristics by B Cercado, N Byrne, M Bertrand, D Pocaznoi… – Bioresource …, 2013 – Elsevier
This compost by W Whitman – Leaves of Grass, 1867 – spongymesophyll.com
The Rodale book of composting: easy methods for every gardener by DL Martin, G Gershuny – 1992 – books.google.com
Acetate to enhance electrochemical activity of biofilms from garden compost by S Parot, ML Délia, A Bergel – Electrochimica Acta, 2008 – Elsevier