Amy’s Zero Waste Quest: Backyard Composting
Food waste and yard waste together make up about 25% of what we throw away. That means almost ¼ of what we throw away can be composted! We can recycle nutrient-rich “stuff” like leaves, twigs, grass clippings, weed and shrub cuttings, garden waste, and food waste back into the soil by letting nature do her thing.
Composting reduces the need to water because of organic matter’s great water-holding capacity. This can be a great way to save money if you are on city water. Compost can also replace the need for chemical fertilizers, improves soil structure (which cuts down on erosion), improves yields of fruit and vegetable gardens, and it can be fun!
Try composting! No matter what you cannot mess it up. Compost happens. There are many different styles of composting, but they will all result in rich organic material that can be a great soil amendment.
- Soil Incorporation – add food scraps other than meats into a hole about 1 foot deep, then cover with at least 8” of soil, so animals won’t dig it up.
- Bin or Pile-Deciding which one to use will depend on how fancy or neat you want your compost to be. If you live in a residential area, it might be a good idea to keep it contained somehow to avoid neighbor complaints about how it looks. A bin can also help to keep the pile from spreading as they will tend to do over time. Bins can be pallets lined up to make a box, plastic bins, chicken wire, or a trash can with no bottom and air holes in the sides. A pile should be at least 3’x3’ and preferably more like 6’x6’.
- Where to place it – A pile or bin should be kept in a somewhat shaded area so that it won’t dry out so quickly. It is also important to keep it close the where you will eventually use the compost. Some people choose to put the pile where they plan to plant next year’s crops so that they can just spread it right where it is. If you can, you may want to have your bin close to the kitchen if you plan to put kitchen scraps in it.
- Tools – Basically all you need is a long-handled pitchfork for turning and aerating the compost. A compost thermometer is sometimes helpful, as well.
- Recipe-Start with bare soil. Exposed soil allows the flora and fauna living in the soil to travel into your compost and aid in the decomposition of your waste. In general, a compost pile is made in layers of brown and green materials. The exposed soil serves as the first layer of brown material. Add a layer of “green” which could include young weeds, grass clippings, or food waste. Add some “browns” like twigs, branches, shrubbery clippings, dry leaves or straw. Add some moisture to the pile until it feels like a wrung-out sponge. Turn the pile every week.
If you don’t want to have to wait long for that black gold we call compost, then here are some ways to help speed up the process a bit. Vary the materials for a balanced food supply for microorganisms. Mix all the ingredients instead of layering, make scratches and cuts in stems and leaves for easy access to microorganisms. Finally, turn frequently.