Composting Made Easy: Turn Food Waste into ‘Black Gold’
Just 3 percent of uneaten food in the U.S. is composted, reported the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2012. The remaining food scraps rotting in landfills account for 23 percent of U.S. methane emissions, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful than carbon monoxide in global warming. With minimal planning and effort, however, food scraps can be recycled through composting into an organic, high-nutrient fertilizer.
Compost is called “black gold” for its high value in gardening, but it’s simply decayed organic material. Consider all the organic materials that fall to the forest floor, break down and return to the earth. This process can be easily recreated at home.
To start composting, get a couple of containers.
• A covered kitchen bucket. Beautiful containers abound, but an old pan will work. Countertop positioning makes it easy to toss in kitchen scraps, but it could also be placed under the sink or in the freezer. A review of several options can be found at The Spruce Eats.
• A yard bin or pile. Due to critters and pets, a lid is recommended. Gardening stores sell compost bins, but they can be made using instructions at Homesteading.
Bins in place, start collecting and piling. Organic materials will break down—it’s just a matter of time. The pile should consist of yard waste (grass clippings, plant scraps, small sticks) and kitchen waste (peels, cores, eggshells, tea leaves, coffee grounds, bread). Do not include invasive weeds, meat, bones, dairy products, oils or pet excrement.
The basic recipe is a mix of nitrogen-rich/green materials (food waste, grass clippings, plant trimmings) and carbon-rich/brown materials (dried leaves, sticks, shredded newspaper or cardboard). Shoot for 25 percent green materials.
An unbalanced pile can be amended.
• If it’s wet, moldy or stinky, add more brown materials and stir with a pitchfork to increase oxygen flow and loosen the pile.
• A pile that is too dry will take longer to break down. Add kitchen scraps, green grass clippings or sprinkle with water to encourage microbial activity.
A balanced pile that is stirred or turned weekly will decay the fastest. Seeing worms and other soil organisms in the pile is a good sign that the process is working.
Finished compost looks like dark, rich soil. Spread it onto the garden in the spring. Scoop some into the holes for new plants. Side dress plants all season.
Compost releases nutrients gradually, improves soil condition and helps retain water. Plants thrive with better root systems. Compost gardeners reap bountiful harvests.