You hate throwing away all that kitchen waste: coffee grounds and tea bags, apple and potato peels, tops of strawberries, outer layers of an onion, and more. Most of it probably goes in the waste bin, right?
But what if you could turn that waste into good garden soil by composting it? Let's take a look at what's involved with composting and how to get started.
- What Can You Compost?
You can compost most vegetable scraps, grass clippings, leaves (it's better if big, tough leaves have been cut up first by a lawnmower), and even eggs shells (wash them first). Avoid adding cooked or oily food, meat, so-called compostable bags and wipes, and bones. Protein and oily foods can attract rodents. Store compostable bits in the fridge or freezer in a bag until you're ready to add them to the mix.
- Choose Your Composting Site Carefully
A backyard compost site should be in at least partial sun so that it will "cook" faster. But the compost may also dry out faster, so be sure to wet it now and then. Beware of starting a compost pile in the backyard if you have a dog.
Or buy a compost bin, where you can add the compostable stuff, and if it's the turnable type, mix it up a couple of times a day. Another method is to place the compostable material in a sealable container with some Bokashi mix, which is a colony of bacteria that ferments food scraps.
- Add Your Greens and Browns
There are two types of material to compost. Green material is nitrogen-rich and includes fruits and vegetables, coffee grounds, grass clippings -- all crucial for microbial growth.
But you also need browns to provide carbon. Typical sources are paper, such as egg cartons and newspaper, dried leaves, and other dried plant material.
Greens are wet, and browns are dry. You generally should have more browns than greens, with browns layered on the bottom and greens on top. Typically layers are 2 inches each, and you continue to create new layers as you go so that aeration can take place between them and break the material down. If it doesn't break down, you will have a stagnant mess. Stir the compost or toss it after a time with a pitchfork. If you're using a compost bin, give it a turn a couple of times a day.
- How Long Does it Take?
In cold weather, it could take six months or so for compost to break down, but in hot weather, compost can break down in two months.
Be mindful of the smell of your compost. If it starts to stink -- like a landfill or a dumpster -- you may need to add brown material. Compost, when finished, should smell woody and earthy and may have a sweet or even somewhat sour smell -- but never rotten. When you've achieved fluffy compost, then it's ready to put in your garden or even to donate to a community garden.
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