Composting is a great way to reduce waste and create nutritious fertilizer for plants by recycling household food scraps and other organic materials. With a few simple techniques and tools, I can turn my kitchen leftovers and yard trimmings into black gold for my garden. In this comprehensive guide, I will walk through everything I need to know to compost successfully using just my household scraps.
Selecting a Composting Method
The first step in composting with household scraps is deciding on a composting method. There are three main options:
Outdoor Compost Pile or Bin
This involves collecting scraps in a designated outdoor spot, either in a simple pile, homemade enclosure, or purchased compost bin. This allows for larger volumes, but requires more space and effort.
– Handles large amounts of scraps
– Less odor issues
– Requires outdoor space
– More maintenance to mix and aerate
Vermicomposting uses red wiggler worms to break down scraps into a nutrient-dense fertilizer called worm castings. It can be done indoors with a relatively small bin.
– Can be done indoors
– Produces excellent fertilizer
– Smaller capacity
– Requires managing worm population
Indoor Compost Pails
Special ventilated pails allow small-scale composting right in the kitchen. Scraps are stored and decompose in the pail, then emptied periodically into an outdoor compost pile.
– Extremely convenient for kitchen scraps
– No outdoor pile needed
– Small capacity
– Potential odors if not managed well
I need to consider factors like available space, volume of scraps, and desired effort when selecting my method. An outdoor pile works well for my needs. Vermicomposting could be an interesting supplemental option for a small indoor bin.
Choosing a Composting Site
Since I am composting outside, finding the right location is important. Here are some key considerations:
- Accessible spot near the house for convenience
- Directly on soil is best for drainage and organisms
- At least 3 ft x 3 ft in size
- Partial sun to light shade to help heat pile
- Avoid areas near wells or water sources
I have decided the back right corner of my yard meets these criteria perfectly. It is flat, exposed soil close to the back door and in light afternoon shade. This is where I will set up my new compost pile.
Building the Compost Pile
Now it’s time to build the pile by layering compost ingredients. Having the right carbon-to-nitrogen ratio is essential for effective decomposition.
“Browns” (carbon sources) like leaves, cardboard, or wood chips provide carbon and should make up approximately two thirds of the pile. I stockpiled bags of dried leaves last fall that will be perfect.
“Greens” (nitrogen sources) like food scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds provide nitrogen and should make up one third of the pile. I can gather these from my kitchen and yard waste.
Ideally, each layer should be 2-4 inches thick. I am constructing my pile by following these steps:
- Place twigs or chopped wood at the base for air flow
- Add a 4 inch layer of browns
- Add a 2 inch layer of greens
- Repeat alternating brown and green layers
- Top off pile with browns
Finally, I wet down the pile as I build it until moist like a wrung-out sponge. My compost pile is ready for decomposition!
Maintaining the Compost Pile
Proper maintenance is crucial to facilitate effective breaking down of the organic matter. There are a few key tasks:
- Aerating – I use a pitchfork to fluff and mix the pile weekly. This improves airflow.
- Moisture – The pile should always be moist like a wrung-out sponge. I monitor and add water as needed.
- Temperature – The microbes generating heat is a sign of decomposition. I check that the center reaches 100-140°F.
- Size – Minimum 3ft x 3ft x 3ft is ideal. I add more scraps as the pile shrinks.
- Turning – Every few weeks, I turn the pile using a pitchfork to mix in new layers.
With regular maintenance, I find my compost is ready in approximately 3-4 months. The finished result is dark, crumbly, and earthy-smelling compost to add nutrients to my garden!
Troubleshooting Common Compost Problems
Even with the best methods, I sometimes encounter composting challenges:
Odor – A rotten egg smell means there is too much nitrogen. I add additional carbon sources like sawdust to balance it.
Pests – Flies, rats, or raccoons can be attracted to the pile. Covering with an additional dry layer solves this issue.
Slow decomposition – If the pile is too dry, small, or compacted, I remix it and monitor the moisture and aeration closely.
Ammonia smell – This indicates too much nitrogen. Adding more carbon materials helps eliminate the odor.
With a well-built and managed compost system, I can turn mountains of kitchen scraps and yard waste into nutritious food for my plants. What once went to waste is transformed into a vital resource for my garden. Composting my household scraps is one of the best things I can do for the health of my soil and plants. With a small investment of time and effort, I gain an incredible natural fertilizer that nourishes my lawn, garden, and indoor plants all year long.