Nowadays, no matter where you turn, there’s information on how to “go green”, or reuse everyday items to minimize our effect on earth. Composting just happens to be an amazing way to go green. When you recycle organic material, you get a soil-like substance that is nutrient rich called compost. You can use this compost as a fertilizer for your garden, instead of the more harmful chemicals used in many store bought fertilizers.
Composting helps minimize the immense amount of garbage we toss out every day, about four pounds per person. For the average family, this adds up to almost 200 pounds a year. This doesn’t include the huge quantity of organic waste from gardening and yard work. When you consider that more than half of what you throw away every day is organic and can be composted, you begin to see how beneficial composting is for the environment.
There are three main categories of organic matter that can be used for compost: Brown, Green, and Wet. Brown matter consists of things like cardboard, leaves, and branches. Green matter is any fruit or vegetable discards, grass, or coffee grounds, which surprisingly enough aren’t considered brown. And the wet is the little bit of water you need to add to keep the compost damp. Creating this mixture will give you the best quality compost.
There are certain things you’ll want to avoid placing in your compost heap. Any meats or dairy products won’t compost well and might even cause your compost area to stink. Think of compost as vegan. You can put all the fruits and veggies in that you want, but avoid the things vegans avoid. Also, if you’re using paper and cardboard, breaking them up will make things tear down faster.
The Four Composting Methods
Before you run off and begin piling all your recyclable garbage in a pile, there are a few more things you should know. There are four different types of compost methods.
1. Window Composting
The first approach is known as windrow composting. This is when you place your organic trash in rows and aerate them by turning the piles every now and then. Windrow composting works best with large piles of compost because then all the heat is kept inside, which speeds up the composting process.
2. Static Pile Composting
The second method is static pile composting, which is similar to windrow, but doesn’t require the turning of the piles. In this case, your organic waste is placed in one big heap instead of rows. This heap is aerated by layering the piles with separators, like wood chips, cardboard, or newspaper. An amazing application of aerated static pile composting is that these heaps can be laid over water pipes. The heat from the composting is then used to heat the water. In some reports, the water has gotten up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit! This is usually the compost method of choice for the everyday person.
3. In-Vessel Composting
In-vessel composting is typically used for larger composting heaps, though there are smaller vessels available. These are completely mechanical compost heaps. You put your organic waste in the equipment, which can be anything from a trough to a silo, and everything is controlled electronically. The heat is monitored and the aerating is done automatically to make sure there is the perfect amount of air in the pile. If you’re planning on having a large compost pile and don’t want to do all the manual work, an in-vessel might be your best option.
The fourth option is not for the faint of heart. If you don’t like grubs, you might want to skip this paragraph. Vermicomposting is the use of worms, or “wormeries”, to help breakdown the compost. There are two main worms used – red and field worms. They’re put in with the organic waste and help break down the garbage until it becomes castings. This is actually a very high-quality, expensive type of compost. It’s a good option if you do a lot of gardening and have a lot of yard waste.
Where to Setup
If you’re ready to set up your own compost bin, you’ll want to find the best place to set it up. Because you’ll be hauling your garbage out to it regularly, it needs to be close to where most of your garbage is or within easy walking distance from your kitchen. You’ll want to place it in an area that gets a lot of direct sunlight, since heat is very important for the process. You might want to consider keeping it away from windy areas, as this can cool down the compost.
The best place to put your bin, whether it is store bought or homemade, is in a flat space accessible to the earth. You shouldn’t put it on man-made material, like on your porch or veranda. Even if you don’t choose vermicomposting, there are certain organisms that will get into the bin if you let it sit in the dirt. These micro-organisms get into the compost and help break it down faster.
How Long It Takes
Compost piles can take a while to break down. If you work on it, you can keep the heat levels in your compost heap high, allowing it to break down faster. If you do work at it, you could have your first batch of compost in as few as three months. If you don’t have the time or energy to put into up keeping your compost heap, you can leave it to break down on its own. It will still be warm and rot, but it will happen at a slower rate. It can take as long as six months for compost in a low-heat, unmanaged compost heap.
If you want to speed up the composting process, there are quite a few options, for both a managed and unmanaged compost pile. As mentioned above, you can add worms and they’ll help with the converting of organic matter to compost. If you have the money, there are also mechanical activators that will monitor the heat of the compost pile and aerate when needed. A simple, cheap option to speed up the process is to add a bit of manure or soil periodically.
While composting is a long term commitment and can take a little work, once you start, you’ll discover how rewarding it is to help reduce waste. A few simple acts will not only save you money, but also help save the environment.