Composting is easy, clean, and is an ideal way for us to lessen our food waste.
If you’ve been thinking about composting but decided it is a hassle or is too ick-factor, we’re going to ease your minds about it. After this article, you will have the knowledge necessary to create your own composting system – it’s just 5 steps!
What is compost?
Firstly, what the heck IS compost? Compost is a general term for the natural process of organic materials decomposing and forming a nutrient-dense material. This happens all the time in nature! But, like most things in nature, decomposition takes a long time. Composting practices simply speed up that natural process so we can enjoy all the benefits of composting year-round. All that’s needed is oxygen, water, organic materials, and heat.
Benefits of composting
Composting is good for the planet. It reduces waste in landfills which diminishes greenhouse gases. (When waste sits in landfills, it decomposes without oxygen, releasing methane gas.) Composting diminishes the need for chemical fertilizers because it supplies nutrients to the soil that make plants more resilient and resistant to disease. Composting also invites microorganisms and critters to interact and thrive within the soil, creating a healthier ecosystem.
5 Beginner Tips For Composting
1. Identify what to compost
Technically, any organic matter can be composted. But for timeliness and cleanliness, there are a few do’s and don’ts to ensure a healthy compost.
Vegetables & fruit
Dried twigs and leaves
General food scraps
Tea bags (without staples)
Paper egg cartons
Vacuum cleaner dust
Black Walnut tree debris
Any plant treated with pesticides
Dog or cat poop
2. Choose how you want to compost
There are multiple composting methods to choose from. You can pick any one that works best for your space and living situation. But for any of these below methods, we would recommend that you get a countertop composting pail. This lets you easily collect scraps throughout the day, emptying the pail into your composting system of choice when full.
a. Compost bins
This is the most standard system for people with a yard and garden space. It’s an enclosed bin that houses your compost and keeps it secure and safe from animals. You can get a wide variety of bins – some that maintain heat, some that you can turn with a handle to easily mix your compost. Check out this list of the top 10 compost bins of 2023 for ideas on your ideal composting bin.
b. 3-bin system
This system is composed of 3 compost bins that house the compost at different points of its maturation. This is ideal for committed gardeners as it allows for compost to be stored and matured throughout the year. The first bin is for fresh scraps. Once that is full, the pile is moved to the 2nd bin, freeing up #1 for more scraps and allowing a full aeration of the compost. The 3rd bin is where the compost ends up and gets to sit, maturing and “steeping” in preparation for the spring. Check out how to make a DIY 3-bin system out of recycled materials.
c. Worm compost
Worm composting is a speedier composting process because, rather than waiting for the natural decomposition, the worms process the food scraps and poop out the nutritious results. The liquid from this worm manure can be collected and used for watering. Sounds gross, but it actually doesn’t smell so you can keep this system indoors.
d. Bokashi compost
This is a composting method that provides the highest nutritional density in the shortest amount of time. Bokashi comes from the Japanese word “fermented organic matter.” The food scraps are layered in the Bokashi bucket then sprinkled with a bran made out of wheat germ, molasses, and effective microorganisms. The organisms are fed by the bran and their activity creates a fermentation process that quickly breaks down the food scraps. Within 10 days, you can empty the bin into a soil factory or larger compost bin to mature. This system also allows for meat and dairy products.
3. Keep compost healthy
Compost should, at its healthiest, be odorless and mold-free. One important practice in caring for your compost is to turn it regularly. While there is debate about how often turning should occur, try doing it at least once a week to keep your compost properly aerated. If it starts to smell, give it a turn.
Maintaining a ratio of green to brown material is also important for compost health. Compost is a balance between nitrogen-rich (green) and carbon-rich (brown) materials. Green items (veggie/fruit scraps, coffee grounds) provide adequate moisture while brown (sawdust, dead leaves) balance it out by providing some dryness. Ideally, your compost should be balanced at a 3:1 ratio of brown to green.
4. Figure out how to use your compost
For those who have yards and gardens, put that compost in everything! It can be mixed in with your topsoil for enhanced growing power, in your flowerpots, around your trees. Just be careful to not overdo it – there is a thing as too much compost! In flowerpots, it’s recommended to have 25% compost max and 30% max in ground soil. When mixing compost into your garden, it’s recommended to use 1/5” of compost to every 1” of soil.
For those who live in apartment buildings or don’t have a yard, figure out where you can donate your compost. Research local community gardens or compost centers. FB marketplace can also be a great place to donate!
5. Be open to experimenting
Composting is simple – it is nature doing its thing! But it can be tricky to discover what your compost needs based on your living situation, humidity, and temperature fluctuations. You may find it’s smelling more than you’d like or that you have a pest finding its home there. Be patient. The process will take some experimentation and learning, but we promise you – it’s worth it!
In America, the majority of our landfills are filled with food scraps. Let’s turn that waste into happy soil and flourishing gardens!
We’d love to see any of your composting experiments! Follow us on Instagram at @nj_institute_of_nature and tag us in your compost posts!