Posted on October 21 2019
More and more people in cities, suburbs, and the country are taking up composting for its earth-friendly benefits. Roughly half of the trash that goes to landfills is food waste. Vacuum sealing helps reduce the amount of wasted food by preserving your food longer. Composting is another fabulous way to help reduce the harmful effects of excess food waste and scraps.
Have you been tempted to try home composting but been nervous about how to get started or worried about things like vermin or a smell? This article will help you learn more about what is involved with home composting so you can make an informed decision and know how to get started should you decide to give it a try.
What is composting?
Composting uses a natural process to turn solid organic waste (like food scraps, paper, and leaves) into a material (compost) that can be used in gardens and around trees and plants to improve soil conditions. Microbes, worms, and small insects in the soil do the work to break down your organic/food waste into compost. The process also requires moisture and air. This is a great article that outlines All About the Benefits of Composting.
Will it smell?
A good mix of compost should smell like soil and earth, not like rotting food. If your compost is stinky, it is likely too wet or has an imbalanced mixture. Using a closed or covered composter may help you better control the moisture content. Your compost should be like a damp sponge. Still, it's a good idea to place your compost bin or pile a reasonable distance from your home just in case.
Does home composting require a lot of work?
Composting shouldn't require much more effort than throwing out a bag of trash. The process will create compost quicker with some occasional stirring of the material in the compost bin, but you can even leave it and forget it. It should be fine over time as long as you're adding a good mix of materials and allowing it to get some air and water.
How do you know what to put in it (or not)?
There are a few simple rules to follow to make compost at home.
Add a mixture of the following:
- "Wet" materials: Food scraps such as vegetables, fruits, egg shells, and coffee grounds
- "Dry" materials such as breads, plain paper, leaves, garden debris, and grass clippings
- Alternate a layer of "dry" material in the compost pile with other "wet" organic material to prevent matting
Don't add any of the following:
- Foods with oils, including dairy or meat
- Human or pet waste
You should mix in some soil when you first start composting to get it started or you can buy and use a commercial starter.
How should you store your scraps?
If you will be composting outdoors, keep a small container in your kitchen to fill with scraps until you're ready to empty it outside in your compost bin. If you're worried about a smell or bugs, you can use a container with a lid or keep a small bin in your freezer. Remember, it's just temporary storage and should be emptied frequently to avoid bugs and smell inside your home. Some containers offer features like ventilation or filtration for odors, though simpler canister styles can also work just fine. Biodegradable container liners are an option for ease of emptying but not mandatory as many containers are dishwasher safe.
Do you need to have a big yard?
There are many ways to compost and many bin options available to fit almost any living situation. The smallest options are made for indoor use in cities or apartments. These include worm compost bins or electric compost machines that turn waste into compost in just a few hours.
When outdoor space is available, composting does not require a large yard. Many commercially available compost bins are about the size of a regular outdoor trash can. You can also construct your own using instructions found online.
You'll want to place your compost bin far enough away from your home to not have to worry about the sight or smells but still close enough so it's convenient to use and tend to regularly.
When a large yard is available, a larger open compost pile or bin can be an option.
What about vermin or bugs?
Using a closed compost bin and avoiding meat and dairy scraps will keep vermin away. Unless you use a worm composter for indoor use, there will be bugs in your compost pile--in fact, that's the idea. But don't worry, they're after the organic material and shouldn't spread to your home. Still, don't keep your outdoor composting right up against your home.
Is composting expensive?
The cost of composting is largely in the initial setup. Bins vary in price depending on the complexity and features. On the high end are the electric versions mentioned. Next on the price scale are rotating outdoor compost bins that make turning easier and composting quicker. A trash can style bin with open bottom, cover on top, and vents can be quite affordable.
The most economical options are the open pile and DIY bin, which can be made from things like wood and chicken wire or plastic buckets or trash cans. As you can see, a variety of options are available to suit your situation and budget. Indoor countertop containers (for temporary scrap storage, as previously described) also vary in price from simple thrifty options to sleek designed versions.
Aside from the initial setup, the cost of composting should be minimal to none. You should use less plastic trash bags with greatly reduced waste amounts, and you'll also be creating material that benefits your garden.
It should be noted that some municipalities will subsidize the purchase of a compost bin and others even offer separate waste collection for composting. It's a good idea to check what's available in your area so you know your options. Commercial collection for composting may be able to accept a wider variety of scraps than home composting.
How long does it take to compost?
With the exception of the electric composters, composting takes several months to generate a finished usable product. It's an ongoing process where you continuously add more scraps, while the broken-down finished compost settles to the bottom. Compost that is stirred regularly, which exposes the material to air, will break down more quickly. Still, it is a slow process. Try to sit back and let nature take its course.
Can you compost all year round?
You may be surprised to learn that composting is an activity you can and should do year round.
In fact, each season offers its own special composting benefits. We found this informative guide to find out how to compost during all four seasons of the year.
Getting Started Composting
Many people find composting is a rewarding way to be kinder to the environment. With some basic knowledge and a few materials, composting can be accessible to almost anyone.