Sustainability Challenge: Composting

How to Compost

Before we built our garden, I had thought that there wouldn’t be any use for compost, so we waited to start, but I now know that you can use it for indoor plants, outdoor plants, or for your lawn. Even if you don’t have a vegetable garden, composting is a great way to reuse food waste. So join me in this month’s sustainability challenge and let’s compost together!

If you want to compost but don’t have anywhere to use it, you could donate it to a local farm or community garden. And if you live in a city, you might be able to donate food scraps like you can in NYC. Check out this impressive list of compost pick up services all over the country. If you’re local to Fairfield County, you can join a food scrap recycling program here.

I always thought that composting consisted of throwing scraps into a bin, calling it a day, then dealing with a gross smelling pile. While it’s slightly more complicated than that, it’s still very doable and not as yucky as I had anticipated.

Anel leads the composting and gardening way in our house so I had him help me write this post. Everyone seems to do composting a little differently but read on for our take on it. We’ve been composting for about a month now so we’re open to all and any tips from composting pros.

Why Compost?

Composting is good for the environment for a whole host of reasons including:

  1. Decreases food waste– Not only do our leftover food scraps not end up in the trash, but we’re able to recycle them from our own home. It has felt really good to see how much less trash we have now.
  2. Cuts out chemical fertilizers- Compost is a natural fertilizer that returns nutrients to our soil. It will (hopefully) lead to better yields in the garden so we can buy even less produce at the grocery store.
  3. Cuts down on greenhouse gas– “You may think there’s little difference between sending your organic waste to a landfill site to rot and putting it in a compost box to decompose in the garden. However, waste broken down in landfill sites produces harmful greenhouse gas emissions, whereas that decomposed by composting does not.” – source

How to Compost: What to Buy

Inside: Indoors, we have a small compost bucket ($40, pictured above) that lives in our kitchen counter. We fill it up every few days and then bring it out to the larger one outside. OXO makes a good one too ($29).

Outside: A large tumbling composter ($150) lives behind our garden. We went with a tumbler because it’s easier to tumble than it is to hand turn. Anel turns it 5 or 6 times every 2 days and whenever he adds something new to it. The one we chose also has two compartments so you can be making two batches at once. One side can be cooking (is that the right word?) as you add to the other. But the most important thing to look out for is something that will keep rodents out. Ours is lifted off the ground so the chance of small animals getting in, is pretty low. Even better, it’s made from 100% post-consumer recycled waste.

Compost starter: Anel used soil and worms that he found in the garden to start ours out, but a compost starter is helpful if you don’t have soil or worms readily available.

Brown vs Green Matter

When you compost, you want to keep the ratio of 2 parts brown matter and one part green matter. This ratio can change depending on who you ask, the climate where you live, etc. Let me explain…

What is brown compost? Brown materials are high in carbon and good a source of energy for the microbes found in compost.

Examples of brown compost:
– Sticks
– Leaves
– Twigs
– Tree bark
– Pine needles
– Corn stalks
– Sawdust
– Paper and cardboard (A lot of people use newspaper but Anel stays away from it because it is chemically treated), we use non-bleached paper towels and compost those.

What is green compost? Green materials consist mostly of wet or recently growing materials. Green materials are usually green or come from plants that were green at some point.

Examples of green compost:
– Coffee grinds
– Banana peels
– Apple cores
– Eggshells
– Fruit and veggie scraps
– Grass
– Teabags

Want more ideas? Here is a list of 50 green and brown materials you can compost.

What Not to Compost

– Fish or meat scraps
– Bones
– Dairy products
– Fats, grease, and oils
– Pet wastes
– Any grasses or plants treated with pesticides
– Diseased plants

Here is a longer list of items to avoid composting.

Nurture it

Keep an eye on your compost and make sure your ratios are right. If you have too much green, it will start to smell and if you have too much brown, it will get too dry. Anel adds soil and water as needed to move it along.

How long does it take? 

The answer depends on a lot of factors but it can be anywhere from 1-4 months to make a usable compost pile. The warmer the weather, the faster it goes. It can also take some time to figure out your ratios, but once you get that down, it will move faster. You’ll know when to take it out when it’s a dark brown color, looks like dirt, smells earthy, and crumbles in your hand.

More questions?

Anel will answer them below! Go follow him on IG (@botanicalbosnian) for more composting and gardening tips. He has a whole highlight on composting there.

Photo by Julia Dags.

Interested in learning more? Join the conversation in the Lemon Stripes Sustainability Facebook group!

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Comments

  1. Kirsten said:

    I’m in Trumbull and use Curbside Compost (we have a small yard and didn’t think we’d use the compost so decided to outsource) and they’ve been wonderful. They service most of southern Fairfield county and Westchester.

    6.22.20 · Reply
    • I’m in Trumbull too! I will look into this company.. the one Julia suggested also seems like they make it super convenient and easy…

      6.22.20 · Reply
  2. Valerie said:

    Love this challenge! In Orlando, we use O-Town Compost. All we have to do is collect our scraps and they do the composting on our behalf. So convenient for apartment living in the city!

    6.22.20 · Reply
  3. Emily said:

    Yay I am so glad you’re sharing this!! Composting is one of the biggest ways to cut household waste. My two tips are that you can start a compost bin in just a cardboard box and cover it with a rag for a cheaper method, and also for anyone that is not ready to make the full jump to composting, you can start by freezing vegetable scraps and turning them into stock when you have enough 🙂

    6.22.20 · Reply