QUESTION: Can you compost at home?
ANSWER: Composting at home is a great way to recycle your food scraps, lawn waste, paper waste, and keep your carbon footprint as low as possible. Composting these materials keeps them from taking up space in our landfills and releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is terrible for the environment.
Aside from being an environmentally friendly practice, composting creates a nutrient-rich soil amendment that enriches your soil, helps soil retain moisture, and suppresses plant diseases and pests. Using compost in your home garden reduces the need for chemically-based fertilizers and promotes beneficial bacteria and fungi that help break down organic matter.
If you have a backyard, or any viable outdoor space, creating an outdoor compost pile is easy. Just pick out a dry, shady location that is near a water source for your pile or bin and add brown and green organic materials as you collect them.
Brown materials include dead leaves, branches, and twigs, and shredded paper products, such as junk mail, and other unwanted documents. Green materials include kitchen scraps such as vegetable waste, fruit scraps, and coffee grounds, and lawn waste, such as grass clippings. You will also need to occasionally add a small amount of water to your compost pile to keep it slightly moist.
Your pile should always have an equal amount of brown and green materials layered into the pile or bin. You should also alternate layers of organic materials in different-sized particles, though you should always make sure that larger pieces are chopped or shredded in order to speed up the composting process, as larger pieces of organic matter take longer to break down and decompose in the pile.
Add several inches of topsoil to the pile once you have a good amount of green and brown materials. Make sure to use actual topsoil, not potting soil, or any other packaged material, as you need the beneficial organisms found in topsoil to help you process and break down the organic materials in your pile.
The brown materials give your compost carbon, while the green materials provide nitrogen. Water gives the pile moisture which helps to break down the organic matter. As you add in layers of brown and green materials, occasionally moisten the dry materials as you add them in. Ideally, the moisture levels of your compost should feel like a sponge that has been wrung out. In other words, the mixture should remain slightly damp at all times.
Once the pile is established, mix in grass clippings and green waste and bury food scraps under 10 inches of compost material. Putting a cover over your compost bin or pile is optional, but it will help to keep your pile moist and will help keep out animals and unwanted pests. Turn your pile once or twice per month to help stir up the ingredients and bury kitchen scraps to help them decompose faster. When the material at the bottom of your bin or pile is dark and rich in color, your compost is ready to use in the garden. The decomposition process can take anywhere between two months to two years.
If you do not have the space outdoors for a compost pile, you can purchase or make a special type of composting bin that is suitable for indoor composting. Indoor composting systems are available to purchase at hardware stores or gardening supply stores, or you can make it yourself. Just be sure to keep track of what you throw into your pile and tend it regularly. A well-managed compost pile will not smell bad, or attract pests or rodents.
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