Composting 101

When I first wanted to compost I was a little overwhelmed.  It seemed so daunting to figure out the right balance of green matter versus brown matter, how I’d store food waste in my kitchen before I brought it to the composter, and then even which composter to choose!  So many things to consider.  Thankfully I had the support of my boyfriend and handy-dandy google to help out.

Step 1: Picking a Composter

Choosing the right composter depends on several factors: are you going to compost plant waste or include animal products? What kind of weather will the composter be exposed to? How often will you be prepared to replace your composter?  First things first, if you choose to compost animal products then be prepared to spend a little more on your composter to be able to open the vents as wide as needed.  Animal products require even more air than plant products to compost and they will get even more fragrant if you allow them to degrade anaerobically (without air).  The key here will be to stir often and keep your vents wide open or have an adjustable composter so when you put animal products in to it you can adjust.

Weather can affect the speed that your compost degrades.  Ideally you want it somewhere sheltered from the wind and rain, but somewhere that receives a fair amount of direct sun.  The heat will help speed up the process.  If you stir it often and keep the balance between green and brown matter it won’t smell (surprisingly).

The reason why I ask how often you are willing to replace your composter is that although the cheaper, plastic options may seem like a deal at the time, you may find the thinner plastic will crack and break with weather and you’ll end up replacing it often.  If you’re open to composting your composter in about 10 years or so, consider buying a wooden one.  As long as the wood is untreated when the composter has reached it’s time, break it down and throw it in your new composter!  Minimal eco-footprint.  The more expensive varieties last a long time and have a lot of features such as adjustable vents, removeable door at the bottom to retrieve your nutrient rich dirt, and locking lids on the top to deter wildlife.  I’d just ask that if you go for these to try and ensure they are made of recycleable material for when they reach the end of their life.  No point in filling up the landfills with composters if we can avoid it, right?

Step 2: Deciding how you will store your compost waste in your kitchen before moving it to the composter.

I don’t know about you but running outside in the dead of winter multiple times a day just to take out my compost doesn’t seem super ideal to me.  There are so many options for small storage containers and bags for your compost that you won’t have to run out at the end of the night in the freezing snow!  Check out your local grocery or health foods store for compostable bags that will fit in pretty much every standard sealing garbage can.  Looking for an even more ecofriendly way to store your compost than prepared bags?  Upcycled Folgers coffee canisteres or any other large coffee canisters work like a dream.  Because they are designed to seal in the freshness of the coffee, they seal in all the odor of your bio-waste.  Sure, it’s a little rank when it’s full and is heading for the composter, but it is definitely my number one choice.

Step 3: Knowing Your Ingredients.

The golden rule of composting is to introduce as much air as possible.  Keep stirring.  Besides that it’s keeping the right balance of brown and green matter in your composter.  Green matter consists of fresh matter that is high in nitrogen and will generate heat during the composting process.  Green matter includes fresh grass clippings, freshly pulled weeds, fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grinds, tea leaves (with the tea bags), and some animal products.  Brown matter includes dried grass clippings, egg shells, autumn leaves, cardboard (nothing with a glossy print on it, though), dead plants, small animal bedding and sawdust.  You can compost hedge trimmings and other larger pieces of wood, but be aware that they will take significantly longer to compost than everything else in your bin.

Step 4: Finding the Right Balance.

Like I said, the golden rule is to introduce as much air as possible to your mix.  If you don’t, you’ll get that vinegar-y rotting food smell.  The next crucial ingredient is water.  It’s important to keep the compost mix at the moisture level of a damp sponge.  If it’s too dry the composting process will take longer.  If it’s too wet, everything will rot rather than compost.  When starting your composter build it up layer by layer alternating between green and brown matter.  Stirring it once or twice a week for the first little bit will be beneficial to get things rolling, but then you can slow down to 3 or four times a month.

As soon as you have it up and running the maintenance of a composter is so minimal.  It’s a lot easier than it initially seemed to be, and now that we have one functioning well I can’t imagine myself without it.  Between the composter and the curb-side pickup for recycling the two of us make so little garbage it’s crazy.  We’ll keep working on getting that smaller, but for now we’ll have to settle with what we can do.

For more tips and trouble shooting check out this website.

Happy composting!

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