Everything You Need to Know About Composting

by Lauren Verini

Composting is an easy way to recycle food scraps, yard trimmings, coffee grinds, egg shells and saw dust, among other things, while turning them into a fertilizer rich in nutrients that can be used to enhance gardens, lawns and potted plants. Just like recycling, composting is good for the environment because it reduces landfill waste, which accounts for 17 percent of all methane emissions, and is a great substitute for harmful chemical fertilizers commonly used on plants and lawns.

We’ve talked a lot about composting recently in our holiday and New Year’s articles, mainly because it’s an easy way to go green at home. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more and more people are getting onboard this eco-friendly trend. An estimated 57.5 percent of yard trimmings were composted in 2010, compared to 12 percent in 1990, and the number of composting facilities has increased by 56 percent from 1988 to 2010.

To get started on creating a compost of your own, decide if you are going to have an indoor or outdoor compost, or both. Even people living in the city with no outdoor space can compost effectively with the right tools. You can find all of your indoor and outdoor composting materials for a reasonable price at Home Depot, Lowes, Target, Sears or your local gardening center. For those looking for the ultimate soil enhancer, your best bet is Vermicomposting, or a worm bin. While it may not be appealing to everyone, using earthworms will speed up the composting process and further enhance the compost with added nutrients. If composting in your home isn’t for you, you can still get involved through community composting sites and drop off locations. Take a look online to find one in your community.

Once you set up your indoor or outdoor compost, its important to know what materials you can compost. Maintaining a 50/50 mix of brown, carbon rich materials like dried leaves, coffee grinds, saw dust and egg shells, with green, nitrogen based materials like fresh yard trimmings, and fruit and vegetable scraps, is key. Materials that should never be composted are meat, dairy, processed foods and diseased or chemically treated plants or weeds.

The entire composting process can take as little as three months or as long as a year or more, depending on how often the compost is tended to. Cutting up materials into smaller pieces, keeping the compost moist (not wet or dry) and mixing the compost every two to four weeks will help speed up the process. When the compost is ready to be used in the garden or lawn, it will be dark like topsoil and will have an earthy smell. To test out if the compost is done, put some in a bag and after a week, smell the compost.  If it smells like ammonia then it’s not done and needs more time.

Let us know if you compost and if there’s any tips or advice that we left out!


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