A Starter’s Guide to Composting

A Starter's Guide to CompostingMonday was Earth Day and if you’re anything like me, the holiday came and went without much thought. I know it’s not popular to admit, but with so many things to worry about and crusade against in this world, the Earth has just never been at the top of my list. Yes I recycle (okay, sporadically) and I bring my own burlap bags to the grocery store (almost all of the time) but I had a major “aha!” moment last night while watching The Planet Earth series on TV. Something about Sigourney Weaver’s matter of fact narration and soothing voice made me sit straight up and think, “It’s time to prioritize the environment.” Since I’m not one to tackle any projects half-assed, I went all-in and determined that composting would be my new spring activity.

After all, composting is the most effective way to recycle waste, feed the ground, and make use of all the pulp I’ve got left over from my juicer. Win-win right? Wrong. Turns out that composting can be messy with a certain ick-factor that I wasn’t quite prepared for. Essentially, composting means that you take all your “living” scraps and garbage, put it in a container and let it marinate with bugs and bacteria until it all breaks down into nutrient-rich food for your garden. Bugs? Bacteria? Yikes. The good news for you is that this former prissy girl rolled up her sleeves and did all the research to help you get on the road to happily composting soon.

My Top 5 Tips on Getting Started (no Birkenstocks or dirty fingernails required!):

1. Pick out a Container:  As with most new projects, I suggest starting small. No one is asking you to open up a worm factory in your apartment. Instead, invest in a container made specifically for composting that has a handle that lets you turn the contents inside (aerate) without actually touching it.

2. ’Browns’ vs. ‘Greens’: The secret to composting waste effectively is to get the right balance of nitrogen and carbon. Nitrogen-rich waste is wetter, called “greens” and includes vegetable and fruit scraps, pulp from your juicer, grass clippings, coffee grounds, egg shells, etc…Conversely, drier components like shredded newspaper, leaves, and twigs are called “browns” and are full of carbon. The best ratio for your compost pile is roughly 30 parts browns to greens. Too many greens and you’ll have a smelly mess on your hands. Too many browns and it will take for-ev-er to break down. Make sure to keep an eye out of your ratios and mix everything up on a regular basis to keep the nitrogen and carbon in contact with each other.

3. Composting no-no’s: Never ever compost dairy or meat products–these items hold onto dangerous bacteria and become smelly, pest attractors. Nobody wants that! Toss any leftover meat or dairy scraps in the regular garbage.

4. Location, location, location: How effective your compost pile is all comes down to where you keep it. Since spring is finally here, most of us can keep our compost pile outside, in a sunny, level spot. Keep in mind that your compost bin should be close enough to the kitchen that you actually remember to use it!

5. Compost complete, now what?:  Give yourself a pat on the back your Earth-loving warrior! You’ll know your compost is ready when it’s rich, black, and even in appearance. Use it in your garden, in planters, and more! There’s no such thing as too much compost soil so go crazy and revel in the miracle of transformation.

Photo credit: Inga Ropsa

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