By: Tiffany Naticchioni, RDN, LD
From coffee grounds to melon rinds and beyond, composting is changing the way we look at our garbage. Adding nutrient-rich compost to your garden and flower beds is the most natural way to enrich the soil. As a bonus, the process can significantly reduce the amount of organic matter waste that comes from your home and yard.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, composting can also reduce the amount of methane gas produced from landfills, thus improving air quality and helping preserve the environment. The process may seem daunting, but trust us, you’ll be turning scraps into soil-nourishing compost in no time if you follow these four steps.
1. Create a composting space compatible with your lifestyle.
If you live in a moderate-temperature climate, you can use a three-square-foot space in your yard, starting the pile directly on the ground. Using a black compost container, which enhances heat production, is another option. Consider priming the pile with an organic compost starter, which contains ready-to-grow microbes. Next, you’ll add your material to the starter (see step #2 below). If your accommodations keep you from starting your own composting pile just yet, look for a composting service in your area. Many have pick-up services for low monthly fees.
2. Add “green” and “brown” materials in a 2:1 ratio.
Green materials are wet and consist of food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peels, cores, stems, whole pieces of produce, coffee grounds with the filter paper and grass clippings. They contribute moisture and nitrogen to your composting pile.
Brown materials are dry and consist of dried leaves, nutshells, saw dust, shredded cardboard and yard trimmings. Brown matter allows microbes to contribute carbon to your composting pile and balance the moisture of the green materials.
3. Don’t adore the odor? Consider skipping these items in your compost pile.
- Eggshells – these can take longer to break down
- Garlic and onions – they may create strong odors
- Cooked items, fats/oils, meat and dairy scraps – they may carry pathogens, attract pests and produce offensive odors
- Black walnut tree leaves and twigs, coal and charcoal ash – these might release substances that are harmful to plants
- Pet feces – these can be dangerous to humans
4. Maintain the right conditions for the best results.
As mentioned in step #2, it’s crucial to nurture your composting pile by adding green and brown materials in a 2:1 ratio for the correct nitrogen to carbon balance. Adjust as needed to keep it moist, not too wet and not too dry. If the pile looks a little wet, add brown material. If it looks dry, add green material. Support the composting process by mixing the pile with a shovel once a week in the summer and once every three to four weeks in the winter.
Over the course of approximately 90 days, the combination of heat, moisture and microbial action will work together to form a dark brown, crumbly mixture. It should resemble chocolate cake crumbs and smell slightly sweet, musty and a bit earthy. That’s the sign you’re looking for: it means you’re doing the most with your compost!
If you find yourself with surplus compost, you can donate to the community, friends and family. Think of those in your life who may not have the space or resources for composting. Compost is a much-loved gift for all the apartment-dwelling houseplant lovers in your life; their plants and the environment will appreciate your trash-turned-treasure!