Composting is becoming a more common practice and for good reason, as it helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our overall carbon footprint. Since 30% of our trash is food and yard scraps, why let it pile up in a landfill where it can release methane into our air? Instead, our waste can decompose back into the earth, help nourish our soil and even reduce the impact of droughts on our plants. While there may be a facility in your hometown to take your scraps to be composted, like Atlas Organics, it is possible to create your own compost, even if you live in an apartment or a house with no yard. We’ve answered some common questions and we hope to inspire you to begin your own compost at home.
What exactly is composting?
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, composting is the natural process of recycling organic waste into fertilizer for soil and plants. Organic waste can include food scraps from fruits and vegetables and leaves from your yard. Composting speeds up the decomposition process by creating a healthy environment for bacteria, fungi and other decomposing organisms to naturally break down organic matter. The result leaves rich soil that can then be used for your garden and potted plants. Because of its natural composition and richness in nutrients, the soil reduces the need of chemical fertilizers, retains more moisture, and minimizes plant diseases and pests.
How do I create compost?
A thriving compost needs a balance of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water. Brown materials such as dead leaves and branches provide carbon, while green materials like vegetable scraps and cut grass provide nitrogen. Adding water will help break down the matter and natural aeration will speed up the composting process.
Closed bins are ideal for indoor composting, especially if you live in an apartment. To get started, you’ll need a compost bin, at least a 3-foot cube. This can be a simple plastic storage bin from the dollar store. Drill in some holes to allow airflow. Don’t be grossed out, but you’ll also need worms, which you can find at your local gardening store. Worms will help eat and digest the food scraps, adding nutrients into the soil. If you have a backyard compost (see below), you can skip this step as worms will naturally find their way to your compost.
After that, it’s all about layering. Place shredded or ripped up newspaper in the bottom of the bin, drop in the worms, put a few inches of potting soil and water the soil so it’s moist. Now your bin is ready for composting! Take your food scraps and bury them at least one inch into the soil to prevent mold and fungi from growing. Every once in a while, you’ll need to move around the dirt for airflow. In two to five weeks, your compost should be ready and used for soil.
Composting in your yard requires less preparation, as it uses the space’s natural elements to get started. First, designate a dry, shaded spot in your yard and fence off the area so that it’s at least a 3-foot cube but no larger than a 5-foot cube. Like the indoor bin, your compost starts with layers. First, add at least four inches of brown materials, four inches of green materials, then alternate between layers so you have that balance of nitrogen and carbon. Once a week, you’ll need to mix the materials and add water. While this decomposition process may take longer than in a closed bin, you’ll know your soil is ready for use when it’s dark and crumbly.
What else can I compost?
We discussed a variety of brown and green materials that are healthy for a compost, but there are other natural scraps you may not realize are also allowed:
Coffee grounds and filters
Sawdust and wood chips
Cotton and wool rags
Hair and fur
Pro tip: The smaller you shred or trim your scraps, the faster they’ll decompose.
Avoid adding meat scraps and oils, as they can attract rodents and create odor problems. Scraps from diseased and insect-ridden plants should not be included either, as they can infect the soil and transfer to other plants once removed from the compost and used for topsoil. Check out the EPA for more tips on creating and maintaining a compost.
In addition to our client projects, our team at Tioga is always looking for ways to do our part as individuals to give back to the earth and protect it. Learn more about our mission and values.