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  • Writer's pictureAlex Russell

Composting Series: From Landfill to Garden

Composting has been a big buzz word for awhile now but honestly, what is it and how does it work? Composting is taking your kitchen scraps and other common household waste and turning them into rich, amazing soil for your garden/lawn/flower or whatever! On average, a household can divert up-to 33% of their waste from a landfill the land!

So, how do us mortals turn this rotting food into a prolific base for plant life?! A mix of carbon and nitrogen in a 50/50ish split.

This is a composite composter I assembled recently for a client. This fancy three bin system will hold a ton of compostables

To start your pile, use some wood scraps or sawdust (carbon) as the base of each compartment. Adding in more wood products like paper, newspaper, cardboard can help get your carbon levels in the compost up. You will also need the food scraps from your kitchen (nitrogen). Food scraps meaning mostly plant parts. Garlic skin? Great! Onion root? Awesome! Seeds? Old lettuce? Apple cores? Produce thats too ripe? These all make amazing compost! So keep those coffee grounds and those orange skins and add them to your favorite composting method. In a few months, you'll have black gold compost. Pro Tip: Having a separate container in your kitchen for compostables is a good idea. I have a bin in my kitchen and use paper grocery bags as liners for it. When I feel its time, I throw the entire thing, bag and all, into my composter. The bags will compost quickly and the food scraps inside will take more time.

Egg shells are one of the only animal products I put in my compost. Meats, bones and dairy are technically compostable, but do better in a sealed container and enzymes for anaerobic composting. If there is any interest in composting animal scraps, I can do a post about Bokashi composting in the future.

If we want to keep it simple, aerobic composting in bins or piles are easier and lower maintenance. Here is a step-by-step: 1. A good mix of carbon and nitrogen. Most food scrap/greens=nitrogen, wood based products=carbon. Try to aim for a 50/50 split.

2. Water - I just let the rain do this for me. I rarely add water to my composter unless it has been especially dry for a long time. in smaller piles, you will need to add moisture more often to keep the process active.

3. Turning - I turn my compost once every 2-4 weeks. Turning more often will increase the speed of the process. I recommend turning once every couple weeks but its easy to forget and not the end of the world if you do.

4. Time - It takes months. This is one of the benefits of having a multi-bin system. By the time the first bin is done, you'll probably be working on filling your other bins.

You will read a lot of articles saying to alternate between wet and dry ingredients and that you should cover the bin to retain moisture and that you should turn it every week. All of that will speed up the process, but the process will take place regardless. I often "neglect" my compost bin, but my compost always turns out great. Don't let your compost bin cause you stress. It's a natural process, so be patient and let it happen.

Fall is a great time to really bulk up the bins, as the more material there is, the longer the compost pile will stay active. It will probably eventually freeze during the winter, but while it is active, it will produce quite a bit of heat (up to ~160degrees).

And here is the part where I try my best to provide an all inclusive list of compostable things.

Lets go:

Carbon Cardboard Toilet Paper/Paper towel rolls Wine corks Hay Wood ash (no starter logs or petroleum based starters) Wood (sawdust is great) Paper (not the glossy stuff) Leaves Pine Needles (these are acidic, so don't use this as the only source of carbon) Peanut Shells Cotton clothing Silk Wool Cashmere Hemp Bamboo Egg Shells Dryer Lint Hair (human or pet fur) Nail Clippings (???)

Nitrogen Banana Peels Coffee Grounds Animal manure (Like farm animals, not your dog/cat) Flowers/Cut Flowers Dead Plants (not diseased. Fungi/diseases can sometimes survive the composting process) Grass Clippings (if you use chemical fertilizers, your compost will not be organic fyi) Citrus (skin, seeds, the entire thing) Vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, anything that looks like a plant) Old Spices Tea Leaves Popcorn Peanuts Peat moss Jack O'Lanterns As with everything, there can be some debate surrounding what is compostable and what is not. Some people say not to compost citrus, some say you can compost melted ice cream. Everything here is pretty standard composting but you can find things not mentioned above and I'm hoping people will leave some comments about what they compost. I hope that this helped clear up some mystery and will help encourage people to compost more of the waste they produce.

The composter shown in this article is a custom system I built recently that I think turned out great! Any questions? Leave a comment! Thanks for reading!

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