Composting is Good for Your Garden AND the Environment
Composting makes me happy! I love that everything in my kitchen, from cooking scraps to old newspapers, can be repurposed and recycled. Even the scientists agree: composting is beneficial both for your garden and the environment.
I try to make composting a regular habit in our household, because I believe that there are so many valuable lessons to learn from it. Collecting composting materials and using them in your garden is an important aspect of sustainable living. Teaching my children to be mindful of all the waste that we create, day after day, is important to me. Kitchen waste is more than just garbage, it has value in producing more life and resources for us to consume and enjoy.
Composting is merely the natural process of recycling organic material such as leaves and vegetable scraps into a rich soil amendment. It’s so rich, in fact, that gardeners refer to it as black gold!
Using compost to amend the soil enriches it so that the soil retains more moisture while adding vital nutrients to the soil, helping grow stronger and more disease resistant plants.
How to Make Compost for Your Garden
Don’t be intimidated; it’s super easy! The only real requirement for composting is to have a special receptacle where you will discard kitchen waste.
There are two kinds of receptacles I use: a composting collector where I collect my kitchen scraps and waste, and then an outdoor composting pile, which completes the entire process of breaking down the waste through fermentation or with the help of worms.
As I cook, clean, and do work around the kitchen, I collect compost and dump it every few days into my outdoor composting pile.
If you’re looking for a nice receptacle for collecting your kitchen compost, this ceramic crock from Lehman’s is glazed on both the inside and out and has a filter that absorbs odor. You’ve probably seen me mention Lehman’s before, and that’s because they make great multipurpose hardware. I love having them as one of my sponsors. As long as you empty the crock often (every few days or at least once a week), you shouldn’t have any problem with odor. If you do encounter the odor (it can be dreadful), the culprit is probably too much moisture. There’s a simple fix! Just add brown material such as newspaper to your compost. I’ll talk more about the difference between “brown” and “green” composting material later on in this article.
Materials You Can Use for Composting
People ask me all the time what I put in my composting crock.
Other than meats and fatty ingredients, kitchen scraps are perfect for the compost pile. Since there’s so much variety to “kitchen scraps,” collecting everything you can will introduce both major and minor nutrients to the soil.
For example, bananas are loaded with potassium, while green leafy vegetables are an abundant source of nitrogen. Eggshells are another great example. Since they’re packed with calcium, they can do wonders for your composting pile!
Here’s a list of all the things I like to put in the compost collector:
- Fruit and vegetable peelings
- Potato peelings
- Apple cores, strawberry and carrot tops
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Old herbs
- Tea bags and leaves
Note: some folks worry about the coffee filters, fearing that they may have been treated with chemicals and bleach. I feel like if that’s the case, they have pretty much dissipated by the time they make it to your compost. In my experience, they are very quick to break down (decompose), and the worms love them.
Combining “Green” and “Brown” Materials in Your Compost Pile
Along with these green ingredients, you will need a good amount of brown. I think of the green materials as “live” ingredients – they are mostly nitrogen-rich and help feed the soil. The brown ingredients, on the other hand, are carbon-rich and will become the food source for the organisms that work to break down the contents of your compost pile.
To keep a good ratio of green materials to brown, I’ll add shredded paper, peanut shells, coffee filters, etc. It’s tempting to just throw all your snail mail into the composting pile, but you’ll want to avoid adding colored papers and glossy magazine pages – there’s usually chemicals and toxins in the ink and glue.
Let’s Go Empty My Kitchen Compost into My Compost Pile.
In my opinion, the ratio of brown ingredients to green is more important in your large outdoor compost pile. You are mostly going to have green ingredients going into the kitchen compost collector, and you will empty it so often that ratios aren’t quite as important.
Don’t get obsessive or exact, but it is good to try to keep the ratio at three parts brown to one part green.
To begin composting, simply place a layer of about 6 inches of green ingredients (kitchen waste, hair, garden waste, grass clippings) in the bottom of your receptacle. Soak this layer with water, then layer about 2 inches of brown ingredients (wood chips, straw, dry leaves, sawdust). Continue to layer and turn periodically.
This is a natural process. As long as you continue to turn the pile and keep it moist, you’ll be in great shape. Nature will do the work for you.
The pile will tell you what to do. If it begins to smell, you have too much green or too much water. Give it some brown to feed on and turn more often. It should be warm and constantly decomposing.
The two main components to keep in mind are air and water.
In the summer, you should have lots of green materials such as grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and plant trimmings. In the fall, you will have lots of brown materials like leaves, straw, and pine needles. You can have fun composting all year round!
You can tell the compost is ready to use when it is rich and crumbly and has an earthy smell. A good tip is to keep a few different piles going at one time. Then you can let one pile completely decompose and get ready to spread while you’re putting the other to good use.
As I said, I really believe composting is a good practice for all gardeners, especially if you’re regularly producing a lot of waste. It’s good for the environment, it’s good for your garden and kitchen, and it’s good for your home. As unappealing as they might be, I want to see your composting piles! Show me on Facebook; I love hearing from you guys.