How to Compost: 4 Basic Questions Answered

How to Compost: 4 Basic Questions Answered

by | Energy Conservation, Energy Resources

Are you ready to get your gardening hands dirty this spring? Well, you don’t have to wait—you can dig in today by composting a lot of your household waste. By starting this winter, you’ll be well on your way to reaping the fruits of your labor later. To help get you get going, we’ve compiled some helpful answers to four basic composting questions.

How do you start a compost pile?

Composting may seem like a formidable task, but it’s quite simple. First, you’ll need to build or buy a compost bin at least one square yard in size. You can construct a bin out of pretty much anything, but we recommend using old wood pallets or other scrap lumber to keep your costs low.

If you want to make mixing your compost easier, try a large barrel with a stirring paddle—preferably made of BPA-free, durable plastic. After that, start adding organic matter to your pile. All in all, setting up your bin is something you could easily accomplish in a morning.

How do you prepare compost?

Wait . . . don’t you just throw all your scraps, leftovers, and yard waste in a bin and call it a day? Well, not so fast. You’re going to want to think a little bit about what you put in your pile. Specifically, you should shoot for a carbon to nitrogen ratio of about 30:1. Don’t let the scientific proportions intimidate or deter you, though. You can probably get away with spitballing your compost composition by adding quality materials such as:

  • Coffee grounds
  • Fruit scraps
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Egg shells
  • Shredded newspaper

Depending on how long you want to wait on your compost, you can add yard waste like grass clippings and small branches, which take longer to decompose. Whatever you decide to add, remember to turn over your pile with a shovel or pitchfork every three to seven days for better results.

What should you not put in your compost?

For optimal results, you should take care to throw some of your food and yard waste away. (Week-old pizza, we’re looking at you.) These undesirable scraps include:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Cooked food
  • Processed food
  • Most types of feces

If you learn only one thing from this post, it should be this: be careful with feces. Do not put cat feces or human feces in your compost because they can spread pathogens into your food that harm your body. (Some types of feces can be used, but we recommend avoiding them just in case.) Cooked foods can be composted, but are usually prepared with animal-based products like butter, which can throw off your nitrogen balance, produce foul odors, and create pest problems.

Steamed or dried produce, however, can be composted. Also, if you’re composting in cooler weather, steer clear of adding weeds to your pile as their seeds can survive low temperatures and spread throughout your garden.

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How long does composting take?

Composting can take anywhere from one month to one year. With a “hot pile,” it can take as little as 20 days. If you’re using a worm bin that naturally mixes your compost pile, plan on one to three months, depending on the number and maturity of your worms. Some gardening experts even suggest a “curing phase” of a couple months after your compost pile starts to cool down. This allows your pile to grow much-needed fungi and attracts helpful worms—producing a more nutrient-rich pile.

Fortunately, composting only requires some simple planning and a little elbow grease—leave the rest up to Mother Nature. Get started today and you’ll be in good shape for the next growing season. In the meantime, keep reading the Eco-Centric blog for more sustainability-related tips.

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