Composting 101

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What is it?

Composting is not food scraps rotting on the ground. Composting is an art that turns organic matter into fertilized soil. It is a great way to use up all your unwanted food, plant, yard waste and turn it into carbon rich soil. Composting is the second step in the circle of life IMO.

First we grow the plant: Whether that plant creates yummy food or for your own visual enjoyment does not matter. Once the plant has neared the end of its lifecycle, food and or plant is added to the compost.

Introducing us to the second step: creating your compost. The is where you add all the scraps in a simple layering system, keep damp and turn and the end result your beautiful black gold that will be used to grow more plants.

Last step: Grow more plants with your soil. Add your composted soil to your plants because it is rich in nutrients and promotes soil microbes that aid in plant growth.

Here’s a little infographic for my visual learners out there:

How is it done?

Starting your compost: you need to decide whether you want an outdoor compost pile, want to buy a compost bin or make your own. For this intro course I’ll explain how to make your own very cheaply. This is what I did.

  1. Buy a large plastic bin
  2. Drill holes all over the sides and bottom of your bin

Ta-Da! Your compost bin is complete.

The next step is filling up your bin, when I started, I layered green and brown matter in my bin to ensure a good balance of nitrogen and carbon material. NOTE: A good rule of thumb is 2 parts brown material 1 part green material. This is what I’ve learned works best:

Once you have created your foundation, you can continue to add materials in a similar process. You don’t need to be strict about the layering of it however because you’ll be turning it frequently.

Turning your pile:

Turning your compost pile can be the difference between developing compost in 4 to 8 weeks versus 3 to 4 months. It also prevents your compost pile from smelling. Every week I suggest going out and turning your pile. This means use a shovel or pitchfork to rotate the material in your compost pile. This is critical in because it adds oxygen to your compost pile. Think of your pile as a burning fire, it needs air to keep going or in this case, decomposing.

Some tips to keep in mind are:

  • Break up your materials, the bigger it is the longer it takes to break down
  • You want to keep your compost damp like a wrung out washcloth
  • If your compost starts to stink you are not turning enough. A properly made compost pile should smell like pure earthy goodness
  • To avoid stench in my kitchen I like to store my food scraps in an old protein container that I keep in the freezer until I am ready to add it to my pile
  • Once your compost pile seems full or is where you want it to be I suggest starting a new one that you can continue to add too, so your full pile can fully ferment

Depending on how you take care of your compost pile, how large it is, and what you put in it will determine how long it takes your compost pile to turn into soil. A good range is anywhere between three months to two years. So don’t be discouraged if by month three your pile is not complete. I have been working on my pile in September and I’m just now starting to see the soil develop.

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