I have received a number of inquiries lately about composting of food scraps. Composting your food scraps can be an active process that requires a good amount of attention, or it can be a very passive process with very little or no attention.
What do you need to start?
- Food Scrap Container – Instead of scrapping your plates into the trash can or the garbage disposal place your scraps into a designated “compost” container, near the sink or trash can. I have a nifty counter top container with compostable liners (virtually NO foul odors!). Feel free to compost all food waste EXCEPT meats, fats, oils, and large quantities of citrus peels.
- Outdoor Bin – Once your indoor container is full you need to empty it into some sort of an outdoor bin. Check your local zoning codes, codified ordinances, and health department codes before constructing a bin. I have five 3×3 pallets tied together with electrical wiring to create “boxes”. If you choose the pallet option, place a few twigs no thicker than your finger at the very bottom staggered as to create air shafts for the composting process. Each week, in the nice weather, I turn the materials, water if it hasn’t rained and make sure I have an appropriate ratio of green to brown – I will explain this later. However, if you are on smaller acreage in an urban setting a bin is probably the best option. The bin, pictured left, is very simple- less work involved. All you have to do is turn the tumbler.
- Proper ratio of greens to browns – The rule of thumb is 1 part “green” to 2 parts “brown”. The green material provides the needed nitrogen and the brown provides the needed carbon. Examples of green materials include: veggies, food scraps, coffee grounds, manure, animal fur, and dryer lint. Examples of brown materials include: leaves, hay, corn stalks, straw, shredded newspaper and junk mail (minus the plastic windows), and chemical free grass clippings and weeds.
- Water and Air – If you have a covered bin or rainfall has been limited make sure to water your compost bin with non-chlorinated water. Turning your compost is necessary too. New compost needs turned more frequently. If you are too busy to water and turn your compost, let it rot! It will break down on its own in about three years.
- Worms (optional) – You do not need worms to compost. However, the litter buggers speed the process up. Red Wigglers are the best option, but will probably die in the NE Ohio winters. You can order red wigglers on-line! I use night-crawlers. My boys dig a few hundred up for me and we throw them in the pile. They are indigenous to our farm and don’t die in the winter.
How do I know if my compost is done?
- To test your compost, place a handful or two into a plastic sealed bag and let it sit at room temperature for a week. When you open the bag, if it smells foul = not done. If it smells like sweet earth = done.
How much compost do I need for my garden?
- You should place a 1”-2” layer on your garden in the spring and in the fall. Blend it with topsoil if desired at a 25% to 75% topsoil ratio.
- Rule of green thumbs say 2-4 cubic foot of compost per 100 square foot of garden to retain the soils fertility. (2 – 4 cubic feet is equal to 5 – 6, 5 gallon buckets)
Where can I get more information on composting?
I have a few really helpful resources:
Let it Rot! the book.
Basic Composting the book.
BioCycle the journal composting & organics recycling (magazine that can be ordered on-line http://www.biocycle.net/)
Purchase composting containers and compostable items at www.letsgogreen.biz (Make sure to designate Countryside Conservancy as your fundraiser at check out!)