In our household, we have two containers on the kitchen counter, Food for Chickens and Food for Worms. How else should we teach our three year old about composting? She throws the edible food waste to the chickens. We dump the inedible food waste into the compost, where it feeds the worms. Edible food waste includes stuff like fruit and vegetable peelings and scraps from the dinner table. Inedible waste includes moldy bread, coffee grounds, banana peels, etc.
Perfect compost is an art, including the precise mixing of green and brown matter, appropriate application of sun and water, and regular turning. But for every artists out there, there are us folks with jobs and families who don’t have time for perfection. Compost doesn’t have to be perfect and it’s a lot easier to get started with composting when you stop worrying about it. Honestly, compost is pretty hard to screw up. To make an adequate compost pile, all you need is a spot on the ground, some organic matter, and time. Anything else is bonus. If you leave a pile of leaves/banana peels/coffee grounds/manure/grass clippings or anything else organic on the ground long enough, it turns into dirt. Barriers of entry – minimal.
How to make your compost just a little bit better: I use relatively inexpensive Compost Bins I picked up off Amazon. This is basically a plastic sheet rolled into a cylinder and put on its side, thus making a container. This keeps my pile of yard waste tidy. It has no top, so sun, rain, and animals get in. These are all ok. Sometimes I turn my compost pile. Sometimes I don’t have the time or energy. Turning just makes it compost faster. You’ll notice that the stuff at the bottom of your compost pile turns to dirt faster than the stuff on top. If you flip it, then the un-composted stuff starts to catch up. Just unhook the plastic ring, set it aside, and shovel your compost onto a new spot right next to it. You start at the top of the pile, so it naturally ends up on the bottom. Once you’ve moved it over a couple of feet, just put the ring back up around it.
How to make your compost much better: Just like we all need a well-balanced diet, so do our gardens. If your compost consists entirely of banana peels, then the only nutrients you’re putting back into the garden are whatever makes up a banana peel. Make your compost richer by putting as diverse a supply of organic matter as possible into the mix. I have a friend with horses. I take home a bucket of manure now and then, just to dump into the compost bin. At the end of the growing season, we are left with tomato plants, raspberry vines, etc. They all get thrown into the compost. Inedible kitchen waste? Into the compost! The more, the merrier.
What not to put in compost: Anything inorganic. No metal, plastic, or rubber will break down. I tend to avoid any wood thicker than a pencil. I also avoid anything that’s going to get really smelly, like meat.
Why is compost so important: The vitamins and minerals we take in from plants don’t materialize out of thin air. They exist in the soil until whatever we planted sucks them out. If we don’t replenish those minerals by adding compost back into the soil, then next year’s plants will be less nutritious to eat and will not grow as well. Farmers used to leave their fields fallow for a year so that these minerals could replenish, as they slowly do over time (although not from thin air!). Giving your garden a multi-vitamin in the form of compost isn’t perfect, but gardens are forgiving. As a bonus, making compost means that your yard waste isn’t going into the trash.