Do you want to run a more sustainable and environmentally friendly kitchen?
There are plenty of things you can do to achieve that, but the main thing is to start composting instead of just throwing out your kitchen scraps.
Composting may sound like a complicated and smelly process, but that’s not the case at all.
In fact, it’s a simple straightforward process, and with the right know-how and some basic gear, you can quickly get started.
In this article I will cover all the questions you may have on getting started on this composting journey.
In this article I will discuss:
What is composting?
Composting is a controlled aerobic decomposition process where organic materials, like food scraps and garden waste, is broken down by microorganisms into a dark and nutrient-rich substrate called compost.
The microorganisms responsible for the decomposition process starts to break down organic matter as you add it to the compost heap or bin.
These microorganisms break down the organic matter to produce nitrogen and carbon that they use to grow and multiply.
In essence, by composting you mimic a natural process of decomposition with the aim of obtaining that nutrient-rich final product: compost.
The process is very easy: just collect all the food scraps you produce through your cooking endeavors (and garden waste like wood and dry leaves) and instead of throwing it in the garbage bin, place it into your compost pile or bin.
Why should you compost?
You should compost for two reasons. Firstly, to help the environment and reduce the biodegradable component in garbage that ends up in landfill sites, and secondly to produce a nutrient-rich soil amendment that is great for soil and plant health in the garden.
To put it into perspective, here are some stats from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org):
In the United States, trash incinerators and landfills receive a total of more than 160 million tons of trash.
More than half of the trash set out at the curb is compostable and about 1/5th is food scraps.
That’s a LOT of food scraps filling up landfill sites that could’ve been used to produce compost and gone back into the environment.
By composting at home, you can do your part to help the environment, and produce something very beneficial as a bonus.
What is the difference between compostable and biodegradable?
Compostable means that in the right conditions, the product can be fully broken down by microorganisms in a relatively short space of time. On the other hand, biodegradable means that the product can be broken down, completely or partly, and sometimes over a very long time.
These two terms are incorrectly used interchangeably.
All compostable products are biodegradable, but not all biodegradable products are compostable.
Examples of things that are compostable are the peels of fruits and vegetables.
When they end up in soil, micro-organisms will break them down relatively quickly.
An example of something that is bio-degradable but not compostable, would be a piece of iron. That is because over many years it will rust away, but you can’t compost it because it takes too long to break down.
Some products are only partly biodegradable because while it will look like it was broken down, it left behind compounds like microplastics.
What can you compost?
Composting involves layering, and therefore you need certain products in your compost while there are some you should avoid altogether.
When you layer, you make use of browns and greens.
Browns are the carbon-rich materials and greens are the nitrogen-rich materials.
Browns are materials like dry leaves, twigs and plant stalks.
Greens are fruit and vegetable scraps as well as materials like yard trimmings and lawn cuttings, coffee grounds and paper teabags, and eggshells.
What should you avoid when composting?
There are certain materials you should avoid when composting, and these include
- Plants that were treated with herbicides
- Plants that are infested with pests and disease
- Cooked food
- Weeds, especially when they have seeds
- Wood that is treated or painted
- Oils, greases and fats
- Pet waste, including cat litter
- Dairy products
- Fish, bones and meat
What are the advantages of composting?
There are several advantages of composting at home and include:
- You save money because you produce your own nutrient rich soil, and you don’t need to buy as much fertilizer and soil enhancing products like gypsum.
- You reduce the waste that ends up at landfills, thereby helping to improve the environment.
- It’s a recreational activity that takes up minimal time and effort while providing a sustainable and manageable way to get rid of your food scraps along with garden trimmings.
How to compost in your backyard?
- You first need to decide how you want to gather up and store both your greens and browns.
A good idea is to set aside a space in your backyard where you gather up your browns as they come along.
You can collect your greens in a closed container in your kitchen, preferably out of the way and out of direct sunlight, for example under the kitchen sink.
- Now decide whether you want to make your compost in a pile, or in a bin.
If you have enough space, you can easily make a compost pile in just a hole somewhere in your backyard near a water source.
Otherwise, where space is limited or you want to keep your compost pile more contained, you can use a bin.
You can either buy a compost bin, or construct one yourself with wood, wire or cinder blocks.
- The next step is to layer your compost heap.
Start with a 4 inch layer of browns, like dry leaves, twigs and plant stalks. These will elevate you initial compost heap to get the airflow going and absorb excess moisture.
- Now add a layer of greens (like fruit and vegetable scraps as well as materials like yard trimmings and lawn cuttings).
The brown layers should be about 3 times the volume as the green layers.
Break and crumble up the browns and greens as much as possible when you add them to the pile. That way the layers will be denser which is great for the breakdown process by microorganisms.
- Keep layering your heap, alternating between browns and greens until you run out of materials.
Moisten each layer if needed, but don’t drench it.
- After a couple of days, start mixing up the pile.
Make sure you keep the heap moist. It must have a fresh earthy smell. If it smells rotten, there is too much moisture. Add more browns and turn it over to dry it out a little.
If it is too dry, moisten it.
The temperature will rise when the decomposition process is underway. It could reach temperatures as high as 71° C/160° F at the center!
These high temperatures help reduce weed seeds and pathogens.
- If your compost pile does not heat up any more after mixing it up, you can let it cure for at least 4 weeks.
After this curing process, your compost is ready to use.
All-in-all this process should take around 4 months.