Environmental Education - Composting
Composting is a form of recycling. Composting, like recycling, lowers your impact on the environment. Composting is a process that occurs in nature. Mother Nature can only do so much to keep up. Let’s help her out! Land is also gobbled up to make way for new and larger landfills. Do your part by decreasing the amount of materials you send to the landfill. Try composting!
Guide to Composting Outdoors
- Build or buy a compost bin.
- Locate the bin or pile in a convenient area. The composting pile or bin should not be placed too close to a structure to avoid possible fires. Many local ordinances require 15 feet between a pile/bin and a structure.
- Build the compost pile. Your compost pile will be made up of materials rich in carbon and nitrogen. The microbes that break down the various wastes into compost need carbon and nitrogen sources to live.
- How to build a compost pile:
- Add brown plant materials (the carbon source) 6-8 inches of leaves, straw or other brown yard waste.
- Add green plant material (the nitrogen source) Materials might include vegetable wastes, grass clippings, or a 2-3 inch layer of dried manure.
- Add water. As the pile is built, water the layers until damp, but not soggy. A simple test is to grab a handful of material in the pile and make a baseball shaped ball. If the “ball” drips then the compost is too wet. If you can’t even make a “ball” then the compost is too dry. Over-watering can lead to unpleasant odors.
- Add soil. To speed up the composting process add a few shovel-scoops of soil. The soil contains the little helpers (microorganisms) needed to get the compost process going.
- Turn the compost pile. The microorganisms need room to breath. Turning the pile every 2 weeks will speed of the composting process and make sure the microorganisms don't become anaerobic(without air) which can lead to unpleasant odors.
- Maintain the compost pile. Add yard waste and food scraps as they become available. A simple idea is to keep a plastic ice cream bucket under your sink for vegetable and fruit scraps. Then you can take a trip to the pile when the bucket is full. Don’t forget to stir pile and add water as needed!
- The compost is finished when it is a dark brown and has an earthy smell. This happens in about 2-4 months (depending on how well the pile is watered and turned).
Compost improves the condition of your soil. Use the finished compost in your gardens, work it into new lawns, top dress 1 foot beyond the drip line around trees and shrubs (then put some mulch on that) and houseplants (potting mixture of equal parts loam or peat, sand and compost).
Guide to Composting Indoors
- Worm composting indoors might seem like more work, but during the cold winter it is worth it. Redworms, also known as red wigglers are the worm of choice for worm composting. The process of composting indoors is quite similar to outdoor composting, except the composting process gets a boost from the help of hungry worms.
- Build or buy a compost bin.
- Locate the bin in a convenient area. Worms like cool areas of the house, such as basements. The worms like a place where the temperature is between 55-75 degrees F.
- Prepare bedding. Bedding must hold moisture and, at the same time remain light and fluffy so the worms have plenty of air. Avoid materials that might contain toxins, as they might be unhealthy for the worms. Good bedding includes, paper towels, paper egg cartons, drive-through beverage holders, newspapers, leaves, sawdust. Shred newspaper into 1-inch strips or use a paper shredder. Water is a very important component for your worms. A worm’s body is 75-90% water, and the bedding/compost must be moist in order for the worm to breathe. You might have to dip the newspaper strips or sprinkle the bedding materials with water to supply enough moisture in the beginning of the composting process. Once the worm bin is “stabilized”, the food scraps should provide the moisture needed.
- Add worms. Dump your purchased redworms in the worm box on top of the bedding. Spread them out and leave the lid open. Worms do no like light and will burrow into the bedding. After a few hours, check the bin and remove dead worms from the bin and place in the regular trash (not thrown outside to avoid contamination of outside soil should the worm still be alive. Believe it or not worms are not native to North America!)
- Add food scraps. Add acceptable food item waste as you generate them. Keep a small plastic bucket under your sink to accumulate scraps so you can feed your worms every 1-2 weeks. Dig a trough in the compost, add a thin layer of bedding, place food waste on top of that, cover with compost/bedding mixture to cut down on odors.
What Can I Compost?
Follow the carbon to nitrogen ratio to ensure the decomposition process runs efficiently. By placing the approximate ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials (as well as adding appropriate amounts of water and mixing) the composting process will go quicker and smoother. Your backyard festivities won’t be as pleasant with the smell of rotting meat and feces! So…don’t compost the following items!
- Foods with meat, dairy or oils
- Pet feces (dog, cat or bird)
- Diseased plants
- Weeds gone to seed
- Ash from charcoal to coal