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HomeYard and Garden

Getting Started with Composting

Whether you are an apartment dweller or a garden enthusiast with a large backyard, there is a composting system for you. To get started, all you need is a compost bin and a little bit of knowledge. But before starting composting, there is a lot that you need to consider about the system, such as:

  1. Will it be indoors or outdoors?
  2. Hot or cold?
  3. Aerobic or anaerobic?
  4. A batch system or a continuous one?

What stops people from starting this amazing process is that they are worried about the smell, or it could get occupied by bugs. You need those bugs to do their job and eat the waste in order to produce the compost.

What is Composting?

In simple words, composting helps food trash and other organic items to decompose into a natural substance that is turned into nutrient-rich soil over time, which is nutritious for plants. To start the process of composting certain bacteria activators are added to the organic material to produce heat. Heat is important as it causes the organic material to decompose rapidly than it would out in nature.

Advantages of Adding Compost to Your Garden

  • Makes plants healthy, hence reduces the need for fungicides and pesticides.
  • Improves soil structure.
  • Slows the nutrients’ leaching, hence preventing them from reaching and contaminating water.
  • Improves water retention in sandy, loose soils.
  • Improves soil retention of nutrients, hence increasing the time they are available to plants.
  • Improves drainage in clayey and heavy soils.
  • Increases the Cation-exchange Capacity (CEC) of soil.
  • Eases the emergence of seedlings.
  • Prevents the soil from crusting.
  • Equipped with many micronutrients and low levels of micronutrients that are great for the soil.
  • Eases roots to penetrate the soil by resisting compaction.
  • Reduces the need for fertilizers.
  • Nourishes microbes that protect against some plant diseases.
  • Helps in balancing pH.
  • Provides a healthy environment to microbes, insects, and earthworms to break down soil constituents into important plant nutrients.

Benefits of Compost to the Environment

  • Protects the environment by reducing the need for harmful fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Reduces garbage in landfills.
  • Less garbage means a reduction of the greenhouse gases that are produced by hauling waste.
  • Helps decontaminate polluted soils by binding some contaminants in the soil.
  • Helps prevent soil erosion and runoff.

Basically, anything that grows, can be composted. Following are some items that can be composted:

  • Leaves
  • Melon rinds
  • Fruit and vegetable peels
  • Coffee grounds
  • Legumes and beans
  • Partially eaten apples
  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Bones
  • Dairy products

The last four items are fine for composting, but they create a strong smell that attracts scavenger so you might want to skip them.

What Are The Things That I Cannot Compost?

While dairy or animal products are compostable, they will start to smell and attract scavengers. If you are doing composting for your home’s backyard, then we recommend tossing these things in your garbage can as they will rot and start to smell pretty bad in no time. The same goes for pet waste, oil, and fats. Additionally, if you have an insect ridden plant, don’t add it to the compost pile as it could contaminate your compost, making it useless.

How Long The Composting Process Takes?

Over a few weeks, your food scraps and other organic material will turn into nutrient-rich soil. Use a shovel or garden fork to turn your compost mixture and mix it up, every week or two. If you don’t notice any progress even after a few weeks, go ahead and add some more green material, and don’t forget to make sure that the pile remains moist.

If your compost is wet and smelly, add more brown material and turn it more frequently. Also, if you have added any big material such as branches, break them apart to keep air flowing. At last, when your compost smells and looks like soil, it is ready to be added to your yard!

According to the experts from Good Housekeeping Institute, following are two tips for making composting work for you regardless of the place you live:

Product
Visual
Where to Buy

OXO, White Good Grips Easy Clean Compost Bin, 0.75 Gallon, 3 pounds

FCMP Outdoor IM4000 Tumbling Composter, 37 gallon, Black

BioBag, The Original Compostable Bag, Kitchen Food Scrap Bags, ASTMD6400 Certified 100% Compostable Bags, Biodegradable Products Institute & VINCOTTE OK Home Certified, Non GMO, 3 Gallon, 100Count

 

  • Buy a High-Quality Compost Bin with a Tight-Fitting Lid

There are two versions of compost bin available: plastic bin and stainless steel bin. No matter which one you buy, make sure it comes with a tight-fitting lid. We highly recommend using a stainless steel bin to collect compostable material because plastic versions may absorb odor.

  • Equip Your Compost Bin with BiodegradableBags

While it may look like an easy task to reuse plastic bags from the grocery store, they can ruin the purpose of your composting because these are not biodegradable. We recommend using BioBag as they are 100% certified biodegradablebags – an excellent choice for composting.

The Perfect Compost Recipe

There are lots of organisms, bacteria, and fungus involved in the composting process, but the perfect compost recipe should have an equal blend of Nitrogen, Carbon, Water, and Air.

Excellent sources of Nitrogen are wet:

  • Green leaves
  • Grass clippings
  • Fruit and vegetable peels
  • Weeds
  • Tea leaves
  • Coffee grounds

Excellent sources of Carbon are dry:

  • Leaves
  • Shredded paper
  • Shredded cardboard
  • Twigs
  • Sawdust

As already mentioned in the start, for efficient composting, you should avoid things like animal products, pet waste, cooked items such as leftover pasta, bread, chips, candy or sugary foods, and veggies that have been made with oils or other fats.

Need a general rule of thumb? Use food scraps that are as close to their natural state as possible.

Moreover, make sure the food scraps you are adding to the compost bin have not gone to seed, because soon those seeds will turn to healthy new seedlings in the compost. An equal blend of all those four essential components will attract the required organisms that will do their job to break down the compost mixture before it rots.

The Composting Process

Finally, when your composting starts to work, it is an interesting process to watch. The microbes and other organisms begin to feed on the compost materials that you have added, and your pile starts to rise in temperature.

To pile your compost materials for the composting process, consider the following things:

  • Start the process by adding a large layer of brown material as the base.
  • Alternate the layers between brown and green.
  • Break your materials into small pieces because they will be easier and faster to break down during the process.
  • Cover your green layer with a brown layer immediately to avoid any odors.

Once you have added all the materials to the compost bin, be patient and watch out for problems such as:

  • Stinky, soggy compost
  • Compost that is attracting rodents
  • Bugs may be getting excess water
  • Your compost may contain rancid materials like meat or fatty, starchy foods that need to be removed right away before they destroy the compost

If your compost looks dry, smells fragrantly earthy, and doesn’t activate, it may need more nitrogen-rich materials (refer to the list above) or water. Still, if your compost doesn’t seem to activate after adding more nitrogen-rich materials and water, you should add a starter bag of compost from your local nursery. It will help you get the balance right with your own food scraps. Plus, it is a great way to begin your composting process, especially when you are just getting started with it for the first time.

Conditions Needed For Composting

For good composting, the following four conditions must be fulfilled:

1. Adequate Pile Size

Bacteria feed on the compost pile and generate heat as a by-product, making the pile as hot as 180° F. The bacteria that is great for your composting thrives on this produced heat, but they can only maintain that proper heat level if the pile they are working in is big enough. As a rule of thumb, you should have a cubical pile of at least one meter on a side to get started with. As long as it is getting enough air, a pile larger than 1 meter is perfectly fine as well.

2. Sufficient Air Movement 

Bacteria need air to do the work of digesting dead things. For better air movement throughout the pile, make sure that it isn’t too big (one meter is excellent). If you are composting in a compost bin or container, it should have enough holes on all sides to allow air movement. For better results, you can also turn your compost pile three to four times at intervals from 4 to 14 days, in order to get air to all parts of the compost pile.

If your compost pile doesn’t have enough air movement into it, the aerobic bacteria (oxygen-independent) will be unable to live and reproduce, and the anaerobic bacteria will take over instead (it can survive without oxygen but will break down compost pile very slowly as compared to aerobic bacteria). On top of everything, anaerobic bacteria also make your compost smell bad.

3. Sufficient Water Availability 

Like all living things, bacteria that do the job of composting, also need water to live and reproduce. Since watering your compost pile encourages anaerobic bacteria, you should water it thoroughly by digging into the area that appears dry (6 to 12 inches into the pile). To water thoroughly, you can poke holes using a stick or the handle of a garden tool.

4. As already discussed above, A Proper Carbon-To-Nitrogen Ratio

As a general rule of thumb, for every 30 units (kilogram, pound, etc.) of carbon, 1 unit of nitrogen is required to bacteria that do the work of composting. 30:1 (C:N) is the best ratio for your composting process to work out great.

Final Words

You need patience for composting because it is a slow process, but once the food scraps turn into nutrient-rich soil, you will love the results that it will provide you in your yard. If you love home gardening or want your yard to grow the best plants, you should start composting ASAP! Follow our guide thoroughly to get started with your first composting!

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