How to Upcycle Food Scraps into Compost

How to Upcycle Food Scraps into Compost

Composting food scraps is a great way to reduce waste and create a nutrient-rich material to improve your garden soil. With some simple steps, a little effort, and the right conditions, you can upcycle scraps from your kitchen into black gold for your plants.

Gathering Food Scraps to Compost

The first step is collecting appropriate food waste to compost. Here are some dos and don’ts on what to include:

Compostable Food Scraps

  • Fruits and vegetables – Fresh or spoiled produce are great additions. Chop larger pieces to speed decomposition.
  • Eggshells – Crushed shells provide calcium for your compost.
  • Coffee grounds and filters – Coffee grounds contain nitrogen.
  • Tea bags – Make sure bags are certified compostable. Remove paper tags.
  • Nut shells – Crushed nut shells add carbon.
  • Breads and grains – Moldy or stale bread, pasta, rice, and grains all break down well.
  • Dairy products – Small amounts of cheese, yogurt and other dairy are okay.
  • Paper towels and napkins – These provide carbon and break down easily.

Avoid Non-Compostable Items

  • Meat, fish, bones – These can attract pests and rodents.
  • Grease, oil, lard, or butter – These break down very slowly and attract pests.
  • Pet waste – This can contain parasites and bacteria harmful to compost.
  • Invasive weeds with seeds or root bits – Weeds can overtake your compost.
  • Diseased plant materials – Pathogens can persist and spread disease.
  • Large branches or logs – These decompose very slowly. Chip or shred first.

To collect scraps, keep a small bin or bag in your kitchen. Empty it into your compost pile or bin frequently to reduce odors and pests inside.

Choosing a Composting Method

There are several composting methods to convert scraps into usable compost. Choose the one that fits your space and needs:

Compost Piles

  • Pros: Very simple; little work involved.
  • Cons: Takes 6-12 months to produce finished compost. Needs frequent turning.

Compost Bins

  • Pros: Keeps pile tidy; blocks pests. Allows air circulation.
  • Cons: Smaller capacity than piles. Turning can be difficult.

Tumblers/Rotating Bins

  • Pros: Fast compost; easy turning. No bending over to turn piles.
  • Cons: Small batches; not for large amounts. Can jam when full.

Vermicomposting (Worm Bins)

  • Pros: Fast composting indoors. Produces compost and worm casting fertilizer.
  • Cons: Needs temperature control. Requires proper bedding and care of worms.

Choosing a Location

Pick a dry, shaded spot near a water source and garden area for your compost pile or bin. Here are important factors in siting your compost:

  • Ensure good airflow to provide oxygen for aerobic decomposition.
  • Prevent standing water or puddles, which cause anaerobic rotting.
  • Keep pile or bin in partial shade to prevent it drying out.
  • Use a waterproof base if needed to prevent leaching of nutrients.
  • Keep compost accessible for turning and harvesting finished compost.

Building and Maintaining a Pile

With an appropriate spot selected, you can begin building and maintaining your compost pile:

  • Start pile on bare ground, soil, leaves, or woodchips to allow microbes and worms access.
  • Mix both green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials as you build the pile. This provides balance.
  • For proper aeration, use coarse materials like small branches, twigs, and straw in pile.
  • Chop or shred large pieces like fruit rinds to speed decomposition.
  • Turn or mix the pile weekly or bi-weekly to introduce oxygen.
  • Moisten pile like a wrung-out sponge as needed, but not saturated.
  • Once pile reaches 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft, let it sit and decompose for 6-12 months.
  • Harvest finished compost from bottom and sides of pile once decomposed.

Troubleshooting Problems

Some common composting problems and their solutions:

Problem: Rotten egg odor
Solution: Lack of oxygen. Turn pile to aerate and add dry brown matter.

Problem: Ammonia smell
Solution: Too much nitrogen. Add sawdust, dry leaves, paper, or cardboard.

Problem: Pile doesn’t heat up
Solution: Too small, dry, or lacks nitrogen. Make pile larger, moisten, and add green matter.

Problem: Pile doesn’t decompose
Solution: Lack of oxygen, nitrogen, or moisture. Turn pile and add nitrogen and water.

Problem: Pests around pile
Solution: Avoid meat, oils, etc. Cover pile with soil, yard waste, or lid.

With the right materials and some basic maintenance, you can successfully compost food scraps into a rich fertilizer for plants. It just takes a little time and effort for big rewards!