Piling Up the Proper Way to Compost: What Composting is, Why it’s Important, and How to Compost Properly
Food waste harms everything. From the resources discarded in the production stage and the transportation used to move the produce to the unnecessary area taken up in landfills and the hungry people on the street wishing they had a tiny morsel, the disregard of edible items is causing damage to both the planet and humans - and it’s only getting worse.
But there are many sustainable solutions to this wasteful plight, one being composting. This simple yet effective practice can be done by almost anyone and requires little effort. In fact, it’s so beneficial in myriad ways that the process is enjoyable.
Caption: An autumn compost heap consists of many leaves.
Source: Annie Spratt, Unsplash
What is composting?
Composting is the process of decomposing organic materials that create simple organic compounds filled with nutrients once broken down. The result is a rich, healthy fertiliser that can be used on your plants.
The benefits of composting
Food scraps make up 30% of the garbage we throw away. Most of this ends up in landfills, not only taking up space but emitting harmful methane.
Composting tackles this problem in many ways while also creating additional benefits such as:
- The encouragement of healthy bacteria and fungi.
- Lowers carbon footprints.
- Enriches soil.
- Suppresses plant disease.
- Makes a natural fertiliser that saves you money.
- Reduces methane emissions.
Caption: A compost heap is made up of brown and green organic materials.
Compostable vs Biodegradable
Not all things are compostable, and what can go into your compost must not be mistaken as a biodegradable object.
Compostable means that the item breaks down into non-toxic components, whereas biodegradable refers to breaking down something into smaller pieces.
Eventually, compostable items will completely disappear and return to the Earth within a matter of weeks. Biodegradable objects may take decades or even centuries to vanish.
The Basics: What you need to start composting
Honestly, you don’t need much at all to start your compost heap.
Here are the bare basics and essentials:
1) Some space. This can either be outside in your garden, balcony, or even a little corner in your kitchen.
2) A tub, bucket, or bin. If you’re composting outdoors, make sure your container does not have a bottom or has drilled holes in the bottom. (If you’re opting for the indoor small compost bin, I recommend using a clay bowl)
3) Some organic, compostable produce made up of green and brown material (this is explained later in the article.)
Caption: All you need is some space and a container to start your compost heap.
Source: Edward Howell, Unsplash
What can you compost?
A healthy compost consists of one part carbon, referred to as dry brown materials such as cardboard; and one part nitrogen, which is called the green materials. These are your coffee grounds and organic matter. Finally, the last ingredient to the nutrient-rich soup is moisture, which can be provided with some water. You’ll need to assess your compost heap regularly to make sure it doesn’t have too much liquid but isn’t too dry either.
So, all in all, you have your browns, your greens, and your moisture.
Below is a list of things you can chuck into your compost heap:
- Fruits and vegetables (raw, uncooked)
- Coffee grounds (extremely healthy, but don’t throw in too much as you don’t want your heap to be nitrogen focused)
- Teabags (with any staples removed)
- Newspaper (remember to shred it first)
- Cardboard/paper (again, cut it up into bite-sized bits)
- Woodchips/ sticks
- Hair/ fur
Caption: Make sure your compost heap has equal parts of brown and green ingredients.
How to make a compost heap
First, seek out a shady spot in your garden or a cosy corner in your kitchen. Then start your heap by adding in equal parts of brown and green materials. Always cut up your larger chunks of produce - it will accelerate the process.
Moisten your dry materials with some water as you proceed. Once a pile is established, mix the green waste into the bottom half of the pile. Remember to stir your compost every one-two weeks.
When the bottom half of your compost heap is a rich, dark brown, it’s ready! Apply the compost to your plants and, if you don’t have many plants, head on over to your local park or communal garden and help out the foliage by applying your own compost - teamwork!
It can take anything from two months to two years for your compost heap to be ready, as it all depends on your size, components, and how you take care of it during the process.
Caption: Your compost is ready when it’s a rich, dark colour. This can take two months or more to reach.
Source: Heather Ford, Unsplash
What not to do when composting: Mistakes to avoid
There are a few common things people do when attending to their compost heap that will destroy it. Here are a few things to avoid in order to maintain the health of your compost heap:
- No meat as it attracts pests and creates a terrible smell. It also messes with the pH of the heap itself.
- No cooked ingredients.
- No dairy
- No diseased plants as the disease might survive and be carried onto your other plants when applying the compost.
- No coal. It’s toxic.
- No fat/ grease/ oil/ lard.
Frequently asked questions and answers.
Do I need a bin to make compost?
Caption: Compost is highly nutritious for your plants!
Source: Maarten van den Heuvel, Unsplash
By: Georgia Carter