Composting 101

Categories: Green

It’s time to let you in on a little secret: soil building done like this is the perfect lazy person’s gardening project. Unlike weeding or double-digging, which take lots of time and physical effort, a compost pile pretty much takes care of itself. Build it right, and it will transform your growing expectations.

Your trash might actually be treasure — in an environmental sense, that is.

According to the EPA, food and yard waste makes up to 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away, and all of that can actually be composted into a rich organic material that can help your garden grow. It's not only good for the environment (taking this material out of landfills can help reduce the amount of methane released in the air), but it's also a fun project for your home.

"When you see it done first-hand, it's addicting," said Justin Young, nutrition education director for High Plains Food Bank in Amarillo, Texas. He and his wife have been composting for years both at home and for work where they run the garden for the food bank. Seeing as though a huge chunk of America's waste is food product, composting is something that Young encourages people to try.

Interested in doing it? Here's what you need to know about the process:

If you're composting in your yard

Talk to your neighbors

"If you're going to be composting outside, talk to your neighbors if you think they'll have problem with it," Young said. Sometimes there is a smell, although if you're tending to it properly, there shouldn't an odor.

"You can also see if they'd be interested in doing it with you," he said. "You can benefit more by working with the people around you." For example, if you have a lot of carbon-rich yard waste and not enough nitrogen-rich food waste, it could mess up the ratio (which we'll get to in a second), making it harder for it to compost.

Choose your bin

You can buy a composting bin, or Young says there are some cool ideas for DIY'ing your own online.

"Just make sure you have proper ventilation," he said. "Otherwise, you could kill off the bacteria that's needed for the process." He also advises not to put the bin anywhere near pests, such as next to a mouse-infested abandoned house.

Start layering

An easy way to remember this step is there are green and brown layers and you're going to want to alternate between the two. Green refers to things that are high in nitrogen, so your plant-based kitchen scraps, grass, weeds, etc. Brown refers to things that are carbon-based, so dead leaves, wood chips, straw, etc.

"You'll read about a million different ratios people suggest," Young said. "But you can make this process as fast or slow as you want by using different ratios of materials. The more diversity of materials you use, the better."

He and his wife teach people to do a simple 50/50 ratio, putting a green layer, then a layer of brown, and keeping it moist with water (it should feel like a wrung-out sponge). Keep a small composting pale that sits on your kitchen counter and add scraps daily to the pile outside, making sure to cover them with a layer of brown to avoid attracting pests.

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