Composting 101

I actually started composting by mistake. Back when I was a child my grandfather asked me to rake and pick up the leaves on the backyard. After collecting six huge black plastic bags I put them against the fence and forgot about them until six months later when he asked me to rake the new leaves that had fallen. As I was raking the second batch I remember I forgot to take to the curb the first batch. When I opened one of the bags I noticed they were now a mixture of soil and broken leaves.

If I was able to make compost by mistake before the internet took over my household, we definitely can make compost today.

What would you need?

A bin. Place the bin outside the house, preferably in a place where the sun shines constantly throughout the day. If you place it in a shaded area, it will decompose but it will just take longer.

Patience. Patience is a virtue that is absolutely needed in this craft, there are some trial and error also involved in the mix. I have noticed that when I let the materials decompose on their own I get better results.

There are two magic ingredients to make a compost: Carbon and Nitrogen. You do not need to buy them if you have never compost before, your trash bin and backyard already have plenty. This is the main reason why you want to compost, to reduce the volume of trash you generate on weekly basis.

What are Carbons? For the sake of keeping this as simple as possible, Carbons are your dry leaves in your backyard, small skinny branches, grass clipping, dead flowers, mostly everything that is brown and organic.

What are Nitrogens? Again for the sake of keeping this as simple as possible, Nitrogens are your kitchen scraps. For example, the tomato that went bad, the top leafy part of the carrot, the banana peels, any scrap veggies or scrap fruits. Also, Coffee grounds are excellent for the compost, but they are considered Nitrogens even tho they are brown in color, this is the only exception to the rules.

Here is where the trial and error takes place, instead of telling you that there should be a ratio between the nitrogens and the carbons I will tell you to have fun learning about your compost, for me every compost is different because I never generate the same amount of kitchen scraps, and this is my biggest variable.

The general census is to have 30 parts Carbon for every 1 part of Nitrogen. What? How do you even measure that in your backyard? So instead of feeling discouraged by the math, I will tell you what to look for.

Just start by layering one layer of carbons, follow by a layer of nitrogens. In other words fill the “floor” of your compost bin with dry leaves, hay, skinny sticks or anything brown, follow with your kitchen scraps, celery, onion peels, etc. (If you have a rotating bin you don’t have to worry about the order, because you will be turning it either way.)

After the first two layers are done, just fill as the materials arrive and get a feel for it, or I should say a feel and smell for it.

Troubleshoot:

Stinky: If your compost is getting stinky all you have to do is mix the compost well with more carbons (dry leaves).

Plastering: If the compost is becoming this muddy, sticky, plaster, that when turning it doesn’t really turn, add more carbons.

Not composting: If you notice that your compost is taking forever to decompose, add nitrogens(more kitchen scraps), you might have to ask your neighbors for their scraps.

Even if you mess up you will still end up with compost.

If you have 100% carbons in your compost, for example, you only have dry leaves, they will decompose, but it would feel like an eternity.

If you have 100% nitrogens in your compost, only kitchen scraps, it will decompose at a faster rate, but it will have a foul strong smell to it, and it would feel more like mud than soil. In this case, your best bet is to mix it with soil from your backyard, worst case scenario purchase a bag of soil, this will help mitigate the smell.

This is why you need both in your compost mix, think of carbon as the smell neutralizer, and nitrogen as your speed factor, together you will make a great batch.

Ideally, you don’t let your veggies and fruit spoil, but even if you have your groceries down to a science, you will always create kitchen scraps. You could easily be sending one to two gallon of kitchen scraps into the landfill to become waste on a weekly basis, 52 to 104 gallons of waste after a year. But if you compost it, you can reduce the volume of trash you pull to the curb and reduce the amount of money you spend in the hardware store buying fertilizer and soil for your garden beds.

I personally “cook” 55 gallons of compost every three to six months, but now I am starting a new project and expect to double that without creating more waste, nor buying more groceries. 😉 more on that at a later post.

Today’s Featured Photographer: Chris Yang

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