Most of you gardeners out there think compost is a beautiful thing, but most other folks might ask “why compost? It’s smelly, dirty, and it’s a huge hassle.” I wouldn’t disagree with that, however, I believe compost to be a hugely important practice, not only for gardeners but for society as a whole. As introduction to the topic, here are just a couple of reasons that EVERYBODY should take interest in composting.
Not only does composting in your backyard or taking your organic waste to a certified composter decrease the overall volume of trash going into landfills, it decreases the greenhouse gases that are coming out of landfills. When food scraps and yard waste are treated as compost and are properly tended to as they break down, they decompose aerobically (with oxygen) through the process of turning the compost time after time, or introducing worms to aerate the compost. If organic material is thrown into a landfill and is not tended to as compost, it breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) because it’s not getting turned and maintained. Anaerobic decomposition produces methane gases, which are harmful to the ozone layer.
DECREASE SMELLY TRASH:
When I started composting my food scraps, I was immediately impressed with the improvement of my trash situation. I filled up my trash can way less often, and it didn’t start to stink after only a few days. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I suggest giving it a try. You’ll discover the magic of an unobtrusive trash can.
Those are only two reasons of many that compost can appeal to a larger crowd than gardeners, and there are countless reasons compost is important to people using it in their gardens or on their farms.
Want to give composting a try? Here are the bare bones basics to starting your own compost pile.
THINGS TO PUT IN:
If you are composting on a small scale in your backyard, there are some categories of organic waste that you should try to keep OUT of your compost: meat, dairy, highly salty and/or oily foods, carcasses, and most excrements (there are some animal manures you can use, like chicken, rabbit, sheep, and other small livestock. But stay away from dog, human, even cow if you’re just starting out). These things break down slowly, attract animals, and can carry harmful pathogens. Pretty much everything else that was once a living thing is free game: vegetables, fruits, breads, coffee grounds, egg shells, any yard waste, wood chips, etc.
As long as your neighborhood covenants and your neighbors don’t mind if you compost, you can really do it just about anywhere. A couple things to think about though, you’ll want to keep it contained/enclosed somehow, especially if you have a dog who wants to get herself sick eating composted carrots (my dog). You’ll also want a good sunny spot for it if possible to aid in heating up the pile. Not required though, it will still warm itself up without the sun.
This one will be different for every person due to different climates and different raw materials going into the compost. However, I’ll tell you what I do and some general guidelines that should apply to everyone. The three big things to keep in mind are heat, water, and oxygen. Your compost pile needs all three to do it’s work. You’ll need to flip your compost pile every once in a while (this introduces oxygen to the compost), and if you’re in a dry climate, give it some water while you are doing it. Don’t flip it all the time though because a compost pile needs to sit and get warm as the microbes work hard to break down the material. In the past, my formula for maintaining a pile was to flip it and sprinkle it with water as I flipped it once every month. As I am getting more scientific about it, I don’t follow that as strictly and I am paying attention to more factors, but I produced some really good compost from using that formula, so that might be a good place to start. There is so much more I can say about proper maintenance, but for this article I will leave it at that. Read Part 2 if you want some more specifics about how to improve your compost pile.
Like gardening, compost can be as complicated or as simple as you want to make it. There’s a lot of science to it, but it’s also just as simple as dirt… throw some plant matter in a pile and let it decompose. If this inspires you to give it a try, awesome. Just go for it! If you want to do it just for environmental responsibility or to decrease your smelly trash but don’t want to get your hands dirty or sacrifice some of your yard space to do it, research your area and find out if there is a compost pick-up service. A lot of new businesses are doing this, offering to pick up your food scraps and yard waste for a small monthly fee and turn it into rich community made compost. My company Brown’s Greens offers this service in Colorado Springs, CO. Support local business, there’s another reason to do it!