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A Guide to Composting for Beginners

Food scrap bin for composting at home

Composting is nature's way of recycling organic waste, such as food scraps, yard trimmings, and paper products, into nutrient-rich soil. Here’s how it works: these materials are piled together and left to decompose with the help of microorganisms like bacteria and fungi. This breakdown results in the creation of compost, a nutrient-rich substance perfect for use anywhere in your yard that will help your plants thrive. Whether you're a seasoned composter or a beginner eager to give composting a try, this guide is packed with fantastic tips just for you!


Is composting good for the environment?

The importance of composting for the environment cannot be overstated. According to the USDA and EPA, approximately 30-40% of all food available in the United States is lost or wasted [1]. Composting is an effective way to divert waste from overflowing landfills, but it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps conserve water by improving soil quality and structure. As outlined by Project Drawdown, composting ranks among the top three solutions for mitigating carbon emissions in our atmosphere [2]. Composting is a powerful tool for a more sustainable way of living which is why we are excited to learn more and share it with others.

5 composting methods to try


1. Traditional backyard composting

Traditional backyard composting is a straightforward and widely practiced method for recycling organic waste right in your backyard. This can be done by creating a compost pile or using a compost bin. After choosing your preferred method you can begin collecting your scraps. We recommend a countertop bin to collect kitchen scraps.



You'll need to maintain a balance of roughly 75% green materials and 25% brown materials. Green materials (aka nitrogen), are items such as fruit and vegetable scraps, and brown materials (aka carbon) are things like leaves or cardboard. This balance provides the necessary nutrients for decomposition. Regularly turning the compost pile or bin helps aerate the mixture, speeding up the decomposition process and preventing unpleasant odors. With just a bit of effort getting started and the right mix of materials, you can turn your kitchen and yard waste into compost.


2. Vermicomposting (worm composting)

Worm composting, also known as vermicomposting, is an excellent method for turning organic waste into nutrient-rich compost using worms, particularly red wiggler worms. Perfect for small spaces and indoor composting setups, worm composting is easy to set up and maintain. You can either buy one or make your own. To get started, you'll need a multi-tiered container with air holes, bedding material like shredded newspaper or cardboard, and, of course, some hungry worms. Add your organic waste to the bin, and let the worms do their magic. They'll break down the materials into nutrient-rich compost, which you can then use to fertilize your plants. Give it a try and watch your garden thrive with healthy, worm-crafted compost.


3. Trench composting

Trench composting is a low-cost, low-effort method for enriching your soil without the need for a large compost bin. This simple, yet effective, technique involves burying kitchen scraps directly in a trench dug in your garden. To get started, dig a trench about 12-18 inches deep in your garden bed. Then, layer your kitchen scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peelings, directly into the trench. Cover the scraps with soil and water thoroughly. Over time, the buried organic matter will decompose, enriching the soil with valuable nutrients. Trench composting is an efficient way to recycle kitchen waste without the need for a large compost bin.


4. Electric kitchen composting bins

Electric composting bins offer a convenient solution for creating compost quickly and are great for small living spaces. While this option isn't the most sustainable of our methods, electric composters are designed for those who want to reduce food waste but don't have the space to compost outdoors or feel intimidated by traditional composting. With electric composting bins simply add your organic waste to the bin, press start, and let it work its magic. Many indoor composters are designed to be odor-free and compact, making them perfect for indoor use. Fun fact: this is the method I first tried before moving on to an outdoor composting method. With an electric kitchen compost bin, you can reduce food waste, all from the comfort of your home.


5. Curbside composting service

If do-it-yourself composting isn’t for you, don’t worry, we have you covered. Most cities offer food scrap curbside collection services as a convenient way to recycle organic waste right from your doorstep. In 2018, according to USDA and EPA data, the residential sector produced a staggering 25 million tons of food waste. Shockingly, 66% of this waste ended up in landfills, while a mere 3% was composted [1]. Let’s change that. This hassle-free service allows you to dispose of food scraps like fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, and eggshells without worrying about them ending up in landfills. Simply separate your food scraps into a designated bin provided by your local compost company, and they'll take care of the rest. These services are a great way to reduce waste and contribute to the production of nutrient-rich compost for you and your local community. If you are local to Colorado, we recommend Castle Rock Composting. By participating in a food scrap curbside collection service, you're taking a simple yet impactful step towards a more sustainable future.


Ingredients to include in your compost

Creating nutrient-rich compost starts with understanding the balance between green and brown materials. Green materials provide nitrogen, while brown materials offer carbon; both are essential in creating balance in your compost. The goal is to have about 75% green materials (aka nitrogen) and 25% brown materials (aka carbon).

Composting Ingredients Chart_Plastic Detox

Green materials (75%) include:

  • Grass clippings

  • Fruit and vegetable scraps, 

  • Eggshells

  • Plant trimmings

  • Coffee grounds


Brown materials (25%) include:

  • Fall leaves

  • Twigs

  • Sawdust

  • Paper

  • 100% Cotton Fabric

  • Corrugated cardboard


By mixing these ingredients properly, you create the ideal environment for microorganisms to break down the organic matter into compost. Achieving the right balance of these components is key to successful composting. It’s also what keeps unwanted odors and pests out of your compost. Remember, diversity is key—mixing different types of waste ensures a balanced diet for your compost pile.


Beginner dos and don'ts of composting

Let's talk about what not to put in your compost. Avoid adding meat, dairy, and oily foods, as they can attract pests and create unpleasant odors. Also, steer clear of pet waste, which can introduce harmful bacteria to your compost. For a full list of items to steer clear of check out, what to avoid adding to a backyard compost pile [3].


Now, onto the do's. Keep your compost pile healthy by turning your compost pile or bin every 3-4 days to aerate the materials and speed up decomposition. You want your compost to be moist, similar to a wrung-out rag, this will help keep those microorganisms happy and active. 


Signs that your compost is ready to use

  • Finished compost should have a dark, crumbly texture that resembles rich soil. It should no longer resemble the original materials you put into the pile.

  • Ready-to-use compost should have an earthy, pleasant smell, similar to freshly turned soil. If your compost has a strong, unpleasant odor, it may need more time to decompose fully.

  • As organic materials decompose, they generate heat. A compost pile that has finished decomposing will no longer feel warm to the touch.

  • Depending on factors such as the size of the pile, the mix of materials, and environmental conditions, composting can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 12 months. 


By observing these signs, you can determine when your compost is ready to be used as a nutrient-rich soil amendment in your garden beds or containers, providing your plants with the nourishment they need to thrive.


As we conclude, it's evident that this simple yet powerful practice of composting holds immense value by diverting organic waste from landfills and harnessing its potential to enrich our soil. Whether you're just starting to compost or looking to enhance your existing skills, the key lies in understanding the basics. Remember, composting is a journey, not a destination, so don't be afraid to experiment and learn along the way.


Stay connected with us for more tips, guides, and inspiration by subscribing to our blog page. Together, let's continue nurturing our planet and reaping the rewards of a greener, more vibrant world. Happy composting!




 

References:

[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2018). Don’t Waste Uneaten Food! Retrieved from: https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/usda-food-waste-infographic.pdf

[2] Project Drawdown (n.d.) Table of Solutions. Retrieved from: https://drawdown.org/solutions/table-of-solutions

[3] U.S. EPA (Dec. 2023). Composting at Home. Retrieved from: https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home#ingred

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