What is Composting?
Compost is organic matter that can be added to gardens to create rich soil nutrients. According to the EPA, 28% of the food and yard waste taken to landfills could be composted.
Click here for a short video on The Story of Composting.
Benefits of Composting
- Reduces the need for chemical fertilizers
- Enriches soil by retaining moisture and decreasing plant diseases and pests
- Lowers your carbon footprint
- Keeps food scraps and yard waste out of landfills, which saves money and reduces the release of the greenhouse gas methane
How to Compost
To successfully compost, four things are needed: carbon (browns), nitrogen (greens), air, and water. Carbon-rich browns are materials like sticks, leaves, and other dry yard waste. Fresher plant materials contribute nitrogen, and are considered greens.
- Locate the pile at least 2 feet from any building, fence, or other structure. Macro organisms such as worms and bugs will assist you in the composting process. You want them in the pile, not in the house. A bin is optional
- Make sure you have both greens and browns, as described above
- Build the pile
- Start with sticks and branches, to provide some aeration at the base
- Alternate layers of green and brown
- End with a brown layer
- Turn the pile. Composting requires proper distribution of air, moisture, and distributing heat
Do NOT add any meats, dairy items, high protein items, fats, bones, so-called “compostable” plastics, or prepared foods. Your backyard composting environment is unlikely to reach a high enough temperature to process these items, which means they could cause problems. Put these items in the trash.
When is compost finished?
Compost is finished when
- You can’t identify individual materials
- The pile has shrunk to half or even 1/4 its original volume
- It crumbles through your fingers
The whole process can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years depending on contents, moisture, and especially on how often you turn it. If you add materials as you go, the bottom of the pile will finish before the rest. You can remove the compost from the bottom of the pile for use, and return the rest of the materials to the bin or pile to continue decomposing.
Bin: A bin is not required – you can just build your pile on the ground. However, bins are useful to keep your pile looking neat, deter pests, retain heat and minimize the effects of wind and weather.
Turn: Turning the pile quickens the decomposition process by exposing the material to the hot center and aerates it. Yard waste might compost (slowly) without turning, but most materials need more oxygen and may begin to rot without proper turning.
Cover: During excessively dry or wet weather, a garbage bag over the compost will help maintain proper moisture levels.
Monitor: the middle of the pile should be hot after a few days, then heat up a little less after each turn. If your compost feels like a wrung out sponge, moisture levels are just right.
You can craft your own bin following this guide (be sure to drill plenty of holes for air!), or sign up for one of our compost workshops (check this calendar for scheduling), or purchase a bin that was locally designed and built from reclaimed materials here.