5 Basics of Home Composting

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Composting Can Have a Major Environmental Impact

Why You Should Compost

Why You Should Compost

Every year, the average household produces hundreds of pounds of food and yard waste. Collectively, food and yard waste comprises nearly one-third of waste in the U.S. Landfills and incineration are the primary destinations of that waste, further polluting our environment.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Composting can transform that waste matter into a sustainable and useful soil additive–while at the same time diverting nearly a half-ton of waste on average from the waste stream per home per year.

Organic materials naturally decompose with the help of microorganisms, insects and earthworms. That process can be contained and expedited to help naturally recycle household food and yard waste.

The Basics of Home Composting

Effective composting requires careful management of 5 basic factors:

  1. Composter Organisms
  2. Moisture Content
  3. Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio
  4. Aeration
  5. Temperature
Where the Magic Happens

Where the Magic Happens

Composter Organisms

Invertebrates and microorganisms are the engines of decomposition. They consume organic material and turn it into nutrient rich compost. Having a wide variety of composting organisms helps speed the process up.

Old compost, cow, chicken and horse manure, soil, and composting starters are often teeming with worms, insects and microbes that drive the composting process. Adding them into your composting container is the first step toward a successful composting operation.

Ideal Moisture Content for Composting

Compost materials should be damp, but not soaking wet. Microorganisms require moisture to process organic material; when there’s not enough water present, the composting process can slow or even stop altogether. However, too much water can also be a problem, as it can deprive the pile of oxygen and leech minerals from the material. Ideal moisture conditions for composting are between 40% and 60%.

Best Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio for Composting

Establishing a proper carbon to nitrogen ratio is paramount. Most yard and food waste is primarily composed of carbon, but the composting process also requires a small amount of nitrogen. “Browns,” such as dead plants and leaves, twigs, sawdust, and straw, are all high in carbon, while so-called “greens,” such as grass, weeds, seaweed, manure, and alfalfa, are high in nitrogen. A rule of thumb for composting is to use 75% browns and 25% greens. This helps maintain the ideal carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1.

How to Keep Your Compost Aerated

The End Result

The End Result

Aeration is also critical to effective composting. Making sure the materials have adequate exposure to oxygen allows aerobic microorganisms–which are far more efficient and less odorous than their anaerobic cousins–to thrive. Shredding materials helps ensure they have plenty of surface area to come into contact with oxygen. Turning or churning the compost container helps oxygen get evenly dispersed, especially into the center where it has the hardest time penetrating.

Maintaining Ideal Temperature for Composting

The composting process both requires and naturally produces heat. Ideal conditions are between 90 and 140 Fahrenheit, but there’s not a whole lot that can be done to affect the temperature of a composting unit unless you care to move it into the garage during winter months. While the process will almost inevitably slow in the winter, making sure all the other conditions are ideal will help move the process along and produce heat, which can mitigate the deceleration.

With these 5 basic factors in mind, you’ll be well on your way to successful composting!

[photocredit: Miss Earth Beauties; Amara Eats; Organic Garden Info]

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