How to Compost Food Waste and Yard Waste
Food Waste makes up more than 25% of the average US household’s garbage. By composting or using a worm bin, you can convert your kitchen and yard waste into a rich soil enhancer. Kitchen scraps should go in a worm bin, and yard scraps should be composted outside. This guide is an introduction to the benefits of composting, how to establish a worm bin and compost pile, how to build a compost bin, troubleshooting tips for successful composting, and creative ideas for composting decor and design.
The Benefits of Composting
Composting is simply controlling the natural decomposition of organic material such as leaves, grass clippings, prunings, and fruit and vegetable scraps. This decomposition happens with the help of oxygen-using microorganisms that transform these materials into compost, a nutrient-rich soil enhancer. Composting has many benefits:
- Diverts valuable organic materials from the landfill or incinerator
- Conserves water by helping the soil hold more moisture
- Improves soil health and fertility
- Saves money by reducing the need to purchase fertilizers and soil amendments
- Helps prevent erosion
Kitchen Scraps and Worm Bins
Worm composting is an easy and low maintenance way to turn your kitchen scraps into rich compost. You can do it in any loft, apartment, condominium or home. All the worms require is a moist, dark home with a comfortable temperature and plenty of vegetable and fruit matter for food. A worm bin under the kitchen sink or in the basement will do the trick. Outdoor worm bins are a possibility, but they need to be sturdy and large so the worms can stay cozy in the winter.
Composting saves you money by reducing the need to purchase fertilizers and soil amendments.
What to put in a Worm Bin
- Vegetable scraps
- Fruit scraps
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Egg shells
- Grains and bread
Grains and bread are difficult to break down, so compost them in small quantities.
Yard Waste and Compost Bins or Compost Piles
To start a compost pile, you simply need a space in your backyard and a receptacle for the compost. Outdoor compost bins are easy to make out of wood, scrap pallets, wire fencing, fence boards, or barrels. Hay bales, mud blocks, and even bricks can be used as composter walls.
Another option is to insert five-foot-high branches into the ground in a three- or four-foot-diameter circle. Space the branches three inches apart to let in air but hold the pile securely, or space them four or more inches apart and weave grapevines or willow branches through them for a more secure structure that hides the contents.
Compost piles that are larger than 5 feet by 5 feet may not allow enough air to reach the center.
You can make an enclosed composter by drilling air holes in a barrel or any other attractive plastic container. Remember that the ideal composter size is three or four feet high and wide to allows for a critical mass of organics and biology. If your bin is smaller, insulate it to keep the biology cooking, and add worms.
What to Compost in a Compost Pile
- Grass clippings
- Leaves, plant stalks and hedge trimmings
- Annual weeds without seed heads
- Old potting soil and plants
- Twigs or wood chips
- Manure from poultry or livestock
- Egg Shells
- Shredded Newspaper
Newspaper is difficult to break down, so compost it in small quantities. Turn your compoast pile weekly to increase air circulation and accelerate the natural decomposition process.
Troubleshooting Common Problems with Compost Bins and Compost Piles
- If you experience a fruit fly problem indoors, your compost container is probably not airtight. Ensure it has a tight-fitting lid that gets sealed shut.
- If you experience an odor from your kitchen compost container, and do not wish to empty it more often, try a pail with an activated carbon filter in the lid. These pails will allow you to empty it a few days less often. Links to a few styles are suggested below.
- Compost piles that are smaller than 3 feet by 3 feet will have trouble heating up, particularly in cool climates.
- Compost piles that are larger than 5 feet by 5 feet may not allow enough air to reach the center.
- If you find rodents or skunks hanging around your compost pile, bury hardware cloth up and around the bottom of your compost bin. Avoid putting meat or any fatty foods on your pile. They will attract many sorts of wildlife.
More Great Composting Tips
- Cover your pile. It will deter pests, hold in heat, and keep the moisture level more constant. A pile that’s dry or too water-logged can take long time to break down. You can use a tarp, a piece of plastic, or even a piece of old carpet.
- If you shred your compost, it will decompose very rapidly. The more surface area there is for microbes to attack, the sooner you’ll have usable soil. You can run the material over with your lawnmower, chop it with a machete or shovel, or run it through a shredder.
- Bury your kitchen scraps right in the garden. Simply dig a 12 to 15 inch deep hole, pour in the scraps, and cover them with soil.
- Find places in your town with plentiful sources of free organic material. Some good places to start looking are horse farms, food processing plants, local wood shops, and grounds maintenance services.
- Keep a supply of dry leaves, kitty litter, straw or peat moss near your compost pile. Each time you add fresh material or kitchen scraps, sprinkle a little on the top of the pile. These high-carbon materials will help keep the Carbon/Nitrogen ratio in balance.
Composting Decor and Compost Bin Design
With a little creativity, kitchen compost containers can complement your kitchen style and backyard compost bins can become a part of the scenery. Here are some design tips to help you blend your lifestyle with convenient composting.
Kitchen compost containers filled with scraps of stale bread and vgetable pairings do not have to detract from your kitchen decor. A handpainted bowl covered with a perforated lid, a colander, or a cloth shields the contents from view and insects and still allows air to circulate, preventing any mold and odors. Another option might be a china soup tureen. The ladle opening will conveniently let in air.
Gardener’s Supply Outlet makes several beautiful compost pail options for the kitchen that are as attractive as chinaware and can compliment your existing kitchen decor. All of their pails are odor-free, and biodegradable cornstarch plastic liners are available to keep your countertop container from getting messy. Here are a few stylish examples:
- 3.5 quart Kitchen Compost Crock, Brilliant White ,also available in cobalt blue. An activated carbon filter in the lid prevents odors, so you can go days before emptying it.
- 5-quart Copper Compost Pail
- 5-quart Stainless Steel Compost Pail
- Gallon Country Compost Crock
- 3 gallon Compost Step Can
Low-cost outdoor composters can become attractive with the addition of finished siding. Picket or bamboo fencing could make an easy composter or enclose an existing one. Choose fencing that has hardy slats and weather-resistant wiring. Bamboo and Rattan Works offers half-inch bamboo-slat fencing and others made from flexible willow, twigs, and reeds.
If you’d like to purchase an outdoor compost bin rather than build your own, try any of the bins pictured to the right, or check out Pyramid Composter, Black, or the Large Batch Rolling Composter from Gardener’s Supply Outlet.