Getting Familiar With Composting - What Is It and How to Do It?

Getting Familiar With Composting - What Is It and How to Do It?

Gardening
Outdoor and Gardening
By Dikran Seferian November 01, 2021

Whether you have a garden, indoor plants, or both, you are probably interested in ways you can nurture your beloved greenery. Fortunately, the answer is right there in your kitchen, and you're most likely throwing it away every day. A lot of the organic matter that goes in the trash can actually end up as compost for your plants. Moreover, getting the process started and going is a piece of cake with minimal maintenance on your part. Composting is pretty much a free giveaway in regards to how easy it is and the value of its many benefits. By getting started now, you can welcome the next blooming season with shovelfuls of rich compost. 

What Is Composting?

Just as you would recycle plastic, aluminum, or any other material, you can also turn organic matter into something useful. The recycling process of organic matter is referred to as composting, which you can use as a natural fertilizer to nurture your plants and soil. Basically, composting involves speeding up the decomposing process of any organic matter. This is achieved by providing the perfect atmosphere for decomposers such as worms, bugs, and other organisms to work their magic. The end result — which will essentially look a lot like garden soil — is compost. Due to its high amount of nutrients, farmers aptly call it “black gold”. While composting can apply to industrial-scale agriculture, you can also process your own organic waste at home.

Home composting is divided into two main categories. These depend on the availability of space, amount, kind of waste you produce, as well as the amount of time you can spare. The two types are known as cold and hot composting. The former also referred to as passive composting, decomposes the organic waste at a natural pace and with little intervention. The latter, however, involves more of an active approach where you need to monitor moisture and oxygen levels. In regards to the time span, the hot composting process can take anywhere from four months to a year. The cold process is relatively longer, taking up to two years for the compost to be ready for usage. 

Benefits of Composting

Conserving Water

Adding organic matter to soil helps it retain water more efficiently. This would reduce the amount of water you’d need to irrigate your plants by a considerable margin.

Recycling Backyard and Kitchen Waste

Composting reduces as much as 30% of kitchen and household waste, diverting it from the garbage can to your garden. The organic matter that would otherwise end up in a landfill — creating harmful methane — will be enriching your garden instead.

Conditioning the Soil

The beneficial bacteria that are present in compost help in aerating the soil. Moreover, organic waste nourishes your plants by introducing nutrients such as nitrogen and carbon.

Environment-Friendly

Compost is basically an organic alternative to chemical fertilizers, making it an ideal option if you lead an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Basic Composting Steps for the Average Homeowner

Basic Composting Steps for the Average Homeowner

How to Compost at Home

Composting at home is one of the biggest favors you can do for your plants, water consumption, as well as the environment. It's quite easy to get started with, and even easier to keep it going. 

Choose a Spot for Your Compost

Consider placing your compost in a well-drained and partially shaded location. You may also want to make sure that it is easy to access, especially in winter when snow might block pathways. An ideal spot could be next to a downspout, where a drain is already available.

Contain Your Compost

While you can opt for an open compost pile in your backyard, a more suitable choice for a residential backyard is a compost bin. The latter tends to preserve heat and looks much neater. You can either buy one from your local gardening store or simply craft your own bin. To make a basic compost bin, grab yourself an empty plastic garbage bin and drill a few holes on the sides and on the bottom. Alternatively, you can build one out of wooden boards.

Meanwhile, you may also want to consider a compost pail for the kitchen. You will use this to collect food waste and other organic matter before adding them to the compost bin later on. A Tupperware container or a pitcher with a lid can be a good alternative. If you live in an apartment, however, you can still have a pail to compost food waste, which you could later use for your house plants.

How to Build Your Own Compost Bin?

How to Build Your Own Compost Bin?

Accumulate Your Compost

Once your composter is ready, you can start adding the organic matter. A good idea, however, can be to add a layer of twigs on the bottom, followed by a layer of dead leaves. This essentially allows for proper drainage.

As you start tossing in your organic waste, consider layering green and brown waste. The green waste consists of fruit peels, vegetables, eggshells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, table scraps, flowers, and the like. Brown waste, on the other hand, is made up of dead leaves, pieces of cardboard, coffee filters, evergreen needles, egg cartons (paper, not plastic), torn-up paper bags, and so on. Layering these two types of waste allows for an even distribution of nitrogen (from green waste) and carbon (from brown waste). Adding a shovelful of moist soil from your garden will power up the composting process.

Items you definitely don’t want to add are dairy products, eggs, fish bones, meat, charcoal, greasy foods, diseased plants, plastic, colored paper, and pet feces. These are harmful to your compost as most of them tend to attract unwanted pests while others are simply toxic.

Eco-Friendly Practices That Reduce Household Waste

Eco-Friendly Practices That Reduce Household Waste

How to Maintain Your Compost

While passive composting does not require much maintenance, active composting is a little more of a hands-on process. Even then, a few simple measures are all it takes to maintain a hot compost. After all, it is a natural process and your intervention only means speeding it up — considerably.

Precaution: When handling compost, make sure to take safety measures by washing your hands immediately afterward, and avoiding touching your face. Consider wearing gloves and a mask if you have allergies to any of the organic matter.

Mix Fresh Material With Older Layers

Consider mixing the top of the pile with lower layers every time you throw in fresh waste. This would allow for evenly processed compost and an overall active pile.

Maintaining Your Backyard Compost Should Not Be Too Difficult

Maintaining Your Backyard Compost Should Not Be Too Difficult

Maintain a Certain Moisture Level

Maintaining the right level of moisture is important for a healthy pile of compost. If the pile is too dry, the composting process will slow down. In this case, you may need to add a bit of water or toss in some more wet waste to restore the moisture level. Overly moist compost, however, can lead to a nasty smell and also impede decomposition. You can counter the wetness by adding brown waste to your bin.

Turn the Compost 

Using a shovel or a pitchfork, turn the compost once a week to aerate the entire mix. This stimulates the decomposers, therefore boosting the process. Moreover, aerating your compost leaves it smelling fresher, eventually turning it into an excellent batch of natural fertilizer.

Make Use of Your 'Black Gold' 

  • Sprinkle the compost on your garden several times a year. 
  • Lay it on the surface of flower beds like icing on a cake.
  • Apply it at the base of trees and shrubbery. The nutrients will seep into the soil and nourish the plants. 
  • Mix your compost with the soil in garden beds. 
  • Use it to condition the soil when planting or moving trees, shrubbery, and flowers by sealing the hole with a 50/50 mix of both compost and soil. 
  • Try making 'compost tea' by wrapping a liter of compost with a cheesecloth like a teabag. Next, dip your compost tea bag in an empty garbage bin filled with water and leave it overnight. Use the resulting compost tea to water your greenery.

Tip: Before using your compost, make sure that it is fully matured. Compost that is not ready may be harmful to your greenery and can attract pests to your garden. Mature compost should be dark in color, have an earthy smell, and crumble easily.

DS

Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian

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