A large portion of what you throw away could be benefitting your garden through composting. Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow! When you compost instead of throw your food scraps in the garbage, you keep them out of landfills, where they take up space and release greenhouse gas into the air. Composting is easy once you know the basics and how you are making a direct impact.
There are three crucial components to composting: browns, greens, and water. The browns are materials such as dead leaves, sticks, and branches. Greens include vegetable waste, fruit scraps, grass clippings, and, of course, coffee grounds! Finally, you need water to encourage the compost development between the browns and the greens. You should aim for your compost pile to have an equal amount of browns to greens. It is also helpful to alternate layers of organic materials of different sizes. The browns provide carbon for your compost, the greens provide nitrogen, and the water provides moisture for the organic matter to break down. It’s all about balance!
Most of your organics can be composted, but it is important to know what you should and should not include in your compost. Some materials can hurt your garden.
Good Materials to Compost:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Tea bags
- Nut shells
- Yard trimmings
- Grass clippings
- Dry leaves
- Wood chips (untreated)
- Cotton and wool rags
- Hair or fur
- Fireplace ashes
When properly composted, these materials stimulate plant growth and make for a healthy garden. They even help keep out pests! It is important to note that composting onion, garlic, or citrus peels can repel earthworms, which play an important role in helping your garden. So it may be better to just throw those three materials away.
Materials that SHOULD NOT be Composted:
- Yard trimmings that have been treated with pesticides
- Pet waste
- Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
- Dairy products
- Coal or charcoal ash
- Diseased or insect-infested plants
- Fats, grease, lard, or oil
- Meat or fish bones/scraps
These items should continue to be thrown in the garbage due to their toxicity that could negatively affect your garden.
Now that you know the basics, why is composting so beneficial?
Compost can drastically reduce the need for chemical fertilizers in your garden, encouraging healthy, natural growth. It also stimulates the production of helpful bacteria and fungi that assist in breaking down the organic matter. This creates humus, a rich nutrient-filled material perfect for your plants. Compost also enriches the soil, helping to retain moisture and repel pests and plant disease. Since these materials are going into your garden rather than the landfill, you are directly reducing methane emissions, reducing your own carbon footprint.
Where to Start: Composting
Composting can be done either indoors or outdoors. If you would like to start an indoor compost due to lack of space, find a large bin and some gardening tools. Remember to balance your browns and greens, and don’t forget the water for moisture. Tend to your compost regularly and keep track of what you put in. When properly managed, the compost bin will not attract pests or rodents and will not emit a bad smell. Your compost should be ready to move outside to your garden after two to five weeks. You will know that it is ready to go when it looks, feels, and smells like rich, dark earth rather than old vegetables. The material should be dark brown and crumbly. If you leave your compost alone for too long, it will gradually break down, releasing the nutrients vital to your garden as it begins to rot. You can prevent this by controlling the moisture levels, covering it, and storing it in a dry place.
To start your outdoor compost, find a dry, shady spot near a water source for your pile or bin. Add brown and green materials as they are collected. Chopping or shredding larger pieces will make the composting process quicker and easier. Moisten dry materials as they are added to the pile. Once your compost pile is established, mix grass clippings and green waste into the pile and bury fruit and vegetable waste under 10 inches of compost material. Covering the top of your compost pile with a tarp will help keep it moist. Once the material at the bottom is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use. This could take anywhere from two months to two years.
Not only are you reducing your own carbon footprint through composting, but you’re revitalizing your outdoor spaces and prioritizing conservation. With the future pointing toward renewable energy and sustainability, this is a perfect first step in your personal plan to help the environment. Once you know the rules, it’s easy to make this small change in your life to positively affect the earth.