It is estimated that the average person throws away around 4 pounds of garbage per day. Around 75 percent of that garbage is comprised of organic matter, which means it is compostable. Isn’t it time we started doing our part to reduce the amount of garbage ending up in landfills and learned how to compost?
Composting is a way to speed up the natural, biological process through which organic wastes are reduced to humus, which is dark, earth like organic matter that has reached the point where it will not break down any further. This finished compost or humus greatly improves soil texture and better enables the soil to retain nutrients, moisture and air for the support of healthy flowers and vegetables. Composting is something we can all do to help the environment, and it is rather easy to learn how to compost.
It is important to remember that there is no “right or wrong” way to compost. You can make good compost in a pile or heap in your backyard or you can make good compost in a manufactured composter.
The secret to making good compost is the proper mix of organic material. There are three main ingredients involved in composting.
1. Browns-dead leaves, branches, cardboard, paper, etc.
2. Greens-grass clippings, fruit and vegetable wastes and coffee grounds
The browns add carbon to your compost pile, the greens add nitrogen and the water provides moisture to assist in the breakdown of organic matter. Your compost pile or composter should contain equal amounts (50%/50%) of browns and greens with enough water to make the organic matter moist but not soggy.
In learning how to compost, let’s now consider the four stages of the composting process:
1. Fresh: At stage one, the materials being composed are dark in color and still easily recognizable; micro-organisms are sparse and just beginning their activity; a rise in temperature can be observed: This is the heat phase.
2. Partially Decomposed: At stage two the compost has a mild, not unpleasant odor; it contains many micro-organisms the materials being composted are very loose and brittle, and almost unrecognizable; mushroom may be present, aiding to decompose the most resistant materials: cellulose, lignin, and wood; chemical exchange takes place during this stage: This is the gaseous and liquid phase.
3. Mature: At stage three, recombination of decomposition products from preceding stages occurs: This is the humidification phase.
4. Aged Compost: At stage four, the compost looks almost like soil (loam); it resembles natural topsoil; its organic matter and nitrogen content are low: This is the mineralization phase.
At this point we should have a better idea of how to compost. Now, you may be asking yourself, “How do I start composting?”
1. Determine which method you desire to use. Will you create a compost pile or heap? Will you build a compost bin? Or, will you purchase a manufactured composter?
2. Next, start being diligent in separating your garbage. Start setting aside materials that can be added to your compost pile or composter. Of course organic materials such as vegetable peelings, coffee grounds and egg shells can be added. But, you can also add things like toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls and shredded cardboard as well.
I have a cross-cut shredder and shred all “white” paper from my junk mail, and I add this shredded paper to my compost bin. Do not use colored paper or paper printed with colored inks as these are not good for your compost. Also, be sure to keep out things such as envelopes with glassine windows, as these materials do not readily break down in the composting process.
Finally, yard waste, such as grass clippings, is a great nitrogen-rich additive to your compost pile or composter. Be careful not to put weeds or invasive plants in your compost pile or composter because you do not want to run the risk of these plants “infecting” your compost.
3. Remain committed to your composting endeavors. With some diligence you should have your first batch of compost in 3-4 months using a compost pile or heap and even sooner if you use a composter. Composters retain the heat generated from the composting process, which in turns breaks down the organic materials more quickly. Also, compost tumblers assure that the compost is well mixed, which further aids in thorough decomposition. With compost tumblers you can have finished compost in as little as 3 weeks.
As you can see, learning how to compost is not as difficult a task as you may have expected. The biggest challenge is changing your lifestyle so that you are more conscious of what, in your “world,” can be composted. Composting is a wonderful way to recycle your garbage and turn it into nutrient-rich compost to be used in your garden, while at the same time reducing the amount of garbage that ends up in landfills.