If you’ve ever tried your hand at gardening, even of the container variety, chances are you’ve heard at least a little about the importance of compost. That’s for good reason: healthy compost mixed with soil will give your plants the nutrients they need to thrive.
Compost is also a fantastic way to help combat a huge problem — food waste. A recent paper from the National Resources Defense council opens in a new tab shows that Americans waste up to 40 percent of their food, and much of that wasted food winds up in landfills, making methane and generally having a negative effect on the environment. Small changes like composting at home can make a big difference. We can turn food waste into fuel for new vegetables and fruits. There are plenty of ways to accomplish composting — from small to large.
From coffee grounds to banana peels, the “in” list is long. It’s easier to tell you what to leave out of the bin: meat or bone pieces, pet waste, glossy paper, chemically treated wood, diseased plants (or those decimated by insects, which may stay in the stems) and coal or ash. Items to compost with care, and in smaller amounts: dairy and fats, which can go rancid, and highly acidic items such as pine straw, as they may cause imbalances in your compost.
A properly kept compost bin or pile should not stink. If it does, you’ll want to troubleshoot the pile: is it too wet? Too dry? Is there too much of a bad thing present?
The finished product can be spread throughout the garden and worked into the soil. I add compost to the garden at the beginning of each new season, just before I plant seeds and transplants.
Add spent coffee grounds to your houseplants (but be sure the pets stay away!) and collect the rest of your food scraps in a countertop container fitted with a carbon filter to control the smell. Enroll in a local composting pick-up service, or find a friend with his own bin and ask to add to it. If your apartment complex has its own community garden, help start a composting initiative.
Bokashi composting opens in a new tab can be done in a small space and speeds up the process with fermentation, making for an odorless method of composting right on your countertop. The process takes just a few days. For the tech-savvy home, try a smart composter like the Nature Mill Composter opens in a new tab. Fill it with scraps, and it does the work! Leave it to compost for a week, pumping in oxygen and grinding as it goes.
Indoor vermicomposting opens in a new tab is another great option for small spaces. Sure, you have to be ok with worms cohabiting in your space, but vermicomposting is easy — and worm castings make some of the healthiest compost on the market. Look for local classes, or turn to the Internet for plenty of how-to videos. The upside of worms is that their bin can fit easily under a kitchen counter, or in a storage closet.
Space to Grow
For a small back yard or balcony garden, give a compost tumbler a try. Compost tumblers are great options for folks who want to keep things off the ground (no critters!) and don’t have enough room for a farm-sized composting area. Compost tumblers also allow you to turn the compost, aerating it, by flipping the entire pile inside a plastic bin. This helps speed up the process.
Pitchforks and Pastures
If you have plenty of room, build a multi-bin system that will allow for different stages of compost to happen simultaneously. There are myriad resources for how to do this; I am working on building mine from free wooden pallets. The open-air method requires that you aerate manually by flipping the pile periodically with a shovel or pitchfork. Having multiple bins means you can allow one side to compost while adding fresh scraps to the other. Build it close to your garden; once you have the finished product, you’ll be able to easily get it to the plants.
Do you compost? Which method do you prefer?