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Home Composting: The Basics

This post is the first in a series of three that will help you start a home composting bin. Then check out the next two posts, which will help you determine what type of compost bin is best for you and how to use the compost!

Composting is a great way to reduce food waste in your home and feed the garden with a wonderfully rich, healthy soil. Fruit and vegetable scraps — along with a number of other things — can be easily composted and used for making your garden, large or small, a place for plants to thrive. As the scraps break down organically, they become a super nutritious additive for your garden’s soil.

What Can I Compost?

While composting is very easy, it’s important to follow a few key guidelines. Understanding what makes good compost isn’t tough: a healthy compost bin will have a fairly even mixture of  “green” (nitrogen-rich items) and “brown” materials (carbon-rich items). Think of the “greens” as stuff that comes from the kitchen; the “browns” generally come from the yard.

GREENS

Fruit and vegetable scraps

Plate scrapings, excluding meat and bones

Coffee grounds (and the filter, provided it’s unbleached paper)

Tea bags

Egg shells

BROWNS

Small twigs

Dry leaves

Dry grass clippings or hay

Wood shavings

Sawdust from untreated wood

Shredded paper, newspaper or cardboard (as long as it’s non-glossy)

Paper towels

Now, keep these things OUT of the compost bin:

Meat or animal fat: This will attract too many pests to your compost, and will not break down properly.

Infested plants: If your squash plants suffered a borer infestation or your broccoli plants were attacked by aphids, those plants shouldn’t be added to the compost. The bugs may infest the compost bin and your future gardens.

High levels of fat: Home compost bins generally don’t get hot enough to properly break down a lot of fat, so don’t pour that oil you used to fry hushpuppies into your compost bin.

Pet waste: Leave this stuff out if you’re going to use your compost on edible plants. Some folks say it’s okay to compost for ornamentals, but I like to err on the side of safety and find a different way to dispose of my pet’s waste.

Non-organic materials or compounds: Plastics, chemicals, pesticides…if you wouldn’t want it in your garden, don’t put it in your compost!

With a good mix of “greens” and “browns” plus a little moisture, your compost bin will be thriving and decomposing — in a very healthy and non-smelly way — in no time. (Well, a batch of good compost can take about six months to be ready, but you get my point.)

A Few More Tips

Chopping food scraps prior to adding them to the bin makes for quicker compost.. You could even blend all your kitchen scraps prior to putting them in the compost bin, and add layers of browns in between. If you’re short on time (or like me, a little bit lazy), it’s okay to toss a whole banana peel in there every once in a while.

To keep food scraps from getting too smelly before they make it outside. try a small kitchen compost pail fitted with a carbon filter. Collect scraps under the sink a few days at a time, and make one trip out to the compost bin once you’re ready. While the filter keeps most smells at bay, it’s best to take scraps out every three days.

Are you composting at home? How did you get started?

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