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At Home Composting Guide

At Home Composting Guide

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. It is a common mantra in our society today as more and more people are finding ways to help the environment. While recycling, eating locally grown food and using public transportation are all great ways to reduce your carbon footprint, there is another way you can care for mother nature in your own home: composting.

Composting is growing in popularity as more states around the country are trying to implement programs and encourage citizens to get involved. And people everywhere are jumping on board. But how exactly does at-home composting work? It’s pretty simple, actually, but it requires a lot of dedication. Read on to learn how you can create your own compost at home.

What is Composting?

Composting is natural recycling, controlled decomposition of organic material into rich soil. Composting returns nutrients back to the earth, keeping the life cycle going. There are different forms of composting that can be done on-site, at the location of waste generation or at a professional facility. For those looking for on-site options, there are a couple methods to choose from: backyard composting, worm composting or grasscycling. Of these techniques, backyard composting is probably the most common.

What are the Benefits of At-Home Composting?

Currently, yard and food waste make up almost 30% of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. Composting diverts a large amount of that waste from landfills and water treatment facilities. At-home composting reduces the cost of hauling materials, cutting down on air pollution.

Apart from the environmental impact, composting also helps nourish the soil in people’s backyards, making it a great substitute for purchased fertilizer that many people use in their gardens. In fact, the organic materials used in composting help to feed plants better, so gardens look brighter and healthier. At-home composting can also save you money, since you can use the resulting compost in place of soil conditioner or bagged manure. Composting can even make you healthier since you can grow nutrient-rich produce in your own backyard. Plants grown in depleted soil do not have as many health-boosting nutrients.

Where Can You Practice At-Home Composting?

As mentioned before, most people will participate in backyard composting. If you are planning on composting in your backyard, the first thing you need to do is figure out where you will do it. You need to make sure it is an area with good air circulation and adequate drainage. Do not do it too close to your house or a wooden structure as the composting could cause rotting. It is a good idea to keep it in partial shade so it does not get too dry.

Once you determine the best location, you need to decide if you want to use a home-made composting bin, a manufactured one or an open pile. Most states do not encourage or allow piles for composting, so it is best to use a container of some kind. If you choose to make the bin yourself, you can use a variety of materials such as scrap wood, snow fencing or old garbage cans. There are plenty of pre-made bins which you can purchase, and these require a lot less work because they are already fixed with proper ventilation and turning units.

Now that you have your bin and your location selected, you can start composting at home.

How Do You Compost?

Composting involves mixing yard and household organic waste in conditions suitable for decomposition. It might sound a little complicated, but it only takes a bit of work to get it right. Your bin should be no bigger than one square yard, the ideal size for composting. You need to combine a balanced amount of carbon and nitrogen into the bin, along with moderate amounts of water.

You may be wondering how you accurately monitor these elements, and truthfully it can be a challenge. Experts say that you need to have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio of around 25:1, which means you need to add more high-carbon, brown substances to the mix than high-nitrogen, green items.

Carbon elements include:

  • Ashes, wood, bark, leaves, pine needles, stems and twigs
  • Cardboard, newspaper and sawdust
  • corn stalks, fruit waste, peanut shells and vegetable stalks

Nitrogen elements include:

  • Algae, clover, grass clippings, hedge clippings and seaweed
  • Coffee grounds, food waste, garden waste and vegetable scraps

When adding these ingredients, be sure to shred and dice them to make smaller pieces. This makes it easier for the organisms to break them down. Moisture is essential to the at-home composting process, without it the organisms cannot survive. However, too much water could prolong composting, leaving you with a soppy, smelly mess. A good test to make sure your compost is properly hydrated is by grabbing a handful and squeezing it. If a few drops come out, it is probably fine; if nothing happens, add water. It should be moist, but not sopping wet.

Air is just as important as water in composting. To create ventilation, turn the pile often—about once a week or so—with a pitch fork or spade to maintain airflow. If you are using a manufactured bin with a turning unit, all you have to do is spin the handle and the mechanism takes care of the rest.

When is Composting Complete?

At-home composting does not have a quick turn-around time. In fact, composting can take anywhere from 3 to 12 months depending on a few factors:

  • Temperature
  • The type of organic matter used
  • The kind of bin
  • How the waste was chopped up
  • How often the waste was turned

When the process is done, the compost is a dark, rich color that crumbles easily. It will have an earthy, sweet smell. If you can still pick out the original ingredients, then it is not ready, and needs more time to decompose.

What Can Compost Be Used For?

As previously stated, compost can be used to enrich soil in your gardens. You can also use it for mulch or landscaping projects. It is a good stand-in for fertilizer or manure, and avid gardeners can take full advantage of its nutrients to feed their plants. You can keep your compost in a bag and use it whenever you need to pot a plant or add to your soil.

Are There Easier Alternatives for At-Home Composting?

If you are interested in composting, but you do not have the time or space to dedicate to it, there are some other options:

  • State sponsored composting programs
  • Kitchen composting systems

At-home composting, no matter how you do it, is a great way to help the environment and go green. If you want to be a part of the composting movement, but need more information on how to get started, there are many helpful contractors in our network who can help. Contact us today to find out more about at-home composting or to set up a consultation with a well-qualified contractor in your area.

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