It’s nearly Thanksgiving, which means in the coming days, many of us will be busy preparing and consuming decadent and delicious feasts. It also means some of us will find ourselves with an alarming quantity of food waste to dispose of, so we here at Sustainable Summer thought the time was ripe for a blog post to introduce our readers to the basics of composting.
There are many myths and urban legends surrounding composting. Some people believe they need vast outdoor space to create a compost pile. Others think composting inevitably means living with noxious odors. There are even those who have heard horror stories of earthworms invading the apartments of well-intentioned city composters. Well, we are here to tell you that you can safely begin composting food scraps at your own home this Thanksgiving, regardless of its size or location, without fear of unwanted smells or invertebrates.
General Notes on Composting:
The key to any successful composting operation is to maintain a proper balance of “greens” and “browns.” Greens are your nitrogen rich items, which, as their name suggests, will often be fresh food waste or plant matter. Greens could be freshly cut grass, fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, used coffee or tea. Your browns will provide your compost pile with much needed carbon, to complement the nitrogen from your greens. Browns typically include dried leaves, sawdust and twigs, and you can even use shredded newspaper or cardboard.
Every time you add new material to your compost bin, you want to be sure you are keeping an equal ratio of greens to browns. Most of the compost coming out of your kitchen will likely fall into the greens category, so you may want to keep a bucket of browns near your compost bin. Be sure that everything going into your compost is relatively small – the larger the scraps you add to your pile, the longer it will take for them to decompose.
Two other key components of composting are water and air. You want to be sure your compost has sufficient moisture, so every week or so you should grab and handful and assess the consistency. Ideally, your compost should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. If it feels too dry, sprinkle in a bit of water until you reach the ideal consistency. If it feels too wet, add some browns to the pile to absorb the excess moisture. You will also want to “turn” your compost every few weeks to make sure your compost is getting enough oxygen. Turning simply means taking the compost on the bottom of the bin, and moving it to the top, and vice versa, so the oldest compost does not remain buried at the bottom of your pile.
If your home has a yard or other outdoor space, you will want to set up your compost bin outside within close proximity to your kitchen, or the entrance to your house you use most often. You may also want to leave a small storage bin by the trashcan in your kitchen, so you need not go outside every time you have a new item to compost. If you are pressed for time or concerned with aesthetics, you can purchase a premade compost bin from any number of garden or hardware stores, or even online retailers like Amazon. There are dozens of different designs available, depending on the scale of your intended compost operation, and how quickly you want to be able to use your compost. For most home composters, a very basic wooden bin like this one should be perfectly fine.
You can also easily build your own compost bin if you have the time, some basic tools and just a little bit of craftiness. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of websites with detailed instructions of how to build a compost bin. Rather than include our own instructions, we thought it might be best to direct readers to two of our favorite designs from Sunset Magazine and The Art of Simple.
If you are an apartment dweller, or don’t have sufficient outdoor space to compost, you can certain set up a small operation in your kitchen or elsewhere indoors. Once again, there are many indoor composting bins available for purchase in stores and online, but keep in mind many of these products are only intended to store compost on a short-term basis until it is transported to a larger pile. These options will work just fine if you are planning to drop off your compost at a local greenmarket, or another organization that collects food waste. You can also store compostable food scraps in the freezer temporarily if you are participating in a composting program at your school, local farmer’s market, etc.
If you are committed to actually composting indoors, a good option to consider is a Bokashi bucket. Bokashi composting uses microorganisms to speed up the process of decomposition, so it’s ideal for small scale, indoor operations. A number of different organizations sell Bokashi kits like this one, complete with a leak-proof bucket and compost starter. You could certainly also craft your own Bokashi bucket, but you may still want to purchase a starter to ensure your compost breaks down quickly and with minimal odor.
Composting may seem difficult or work intensive, particularly as winter sets in and that trip to the compost bin gets a bit chilly, but it’s really an easy way to minimize your family’s food waste. This post only scratches the surface of all there is to know about composting, but students who participate in our Seeds of Change and Bridge to the Future program can looking forward to learning much more this summer! Until then, happy Thanksgiving and happy composting!