Composting is a great practice for all gardeners, regardless of scale, and it’s wonderful for the environment as well. Composting safely breaks down and recycles food and other biological waste that would otherwise go to landfills and provides an abundance of rich, organic soil. With a strong cycle of compost, you’ll be able to curb your need for commercial fertilizers and other soil additives and put your food and plant waste to good use.
Beginning with the smallest composting solution, a worm bin, or vermiculture / vermicompost is a great place to start. This inexpensive, indoor solution can be done in bins as small as 10 gallons and requires little maintenance, making it ideal for winter composting. Also, worms are a fun family project– kid-approved!
In a large bin, create a thick layer of moist bedding. This bedding can be dead leaves, shredded paper, shredded cardboard, straw, or a mix. Add redworms (eisenia fetida) and you’re ready to go– bury your food waste and let the worms take care of the rest. Once you’re ready to harvest your compost, move all the material to one side of the bin and add new bedding and food to the other side, the worms will migrate over the next week or two days, then you can take the finished compost. Keep bins under 85 degrees F (high nitrogen levels will increase heat), keep the bedding moist, and don’t over-feed worms, which can lead to fruit flies.
Not the most attractive way to compost, but certainly one of the cheapest and very easy. The pile compost method is just what it sounds like: a large mound of dirt mixed with whatever compostables you throw into it. All that’s required is an open / exposed space for the pile and the occasional mixing with a pitchfork or similar tool. Don’t build your pile up too high though, or it’ll compress it and it’ll loose the pockets of air that allows heat to generate, stunting the breaking down of biological material.
Tumblers are the ideal closed-bin option, as it’s a super-easy low to medium volume solution. Unlike the other methods mentioned in this blog (other than vermiculture), tumblers and other closed-bins are generally unsuitable for hot compost (compost that reaches over 120 degrees), but it requires minimal work. Throw in some soil, add your food and plant waste, and give is a spin every week or so. If your waste material is very dry, add a quart or two of water to the mix as well.
Open bin(s) Composting
This is the best larger-scale solution and is the most versatile as well. The typical design includes three large (around 4′ x 4′) open wooden bins to contain the composting material. The freshest, greenest compost is contained in one bin, then the material is moved to the second and third bins as it decomposes. The openness of the bins makes it easy to mix and maintain, but can require up to 48 square feet of space (if using three bins), and this can be the most expensive method, unless you can build the bins yourself.
A few general tips
- Compost a wide range of materials, including non-vegetable matter, like coffee grinds with filters, teabags, and eggshells. A diverse range of material means a more diverse makeup within the compost.
- Don’t add meat, fish or bone, these items won’t break down easily and will attract pests.
- Check the temperature and moisture of your compost regularly to ensure optimal process—the hotter the better, except for in the case of vermiculture.
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