Composting: A Beginner's Guide
If you are new to sustainable living, then one of the most important things to consider is composting. Composting is an important element of living in a green and eco-friendly way, and the great news is that anyone can do it. In this article, we will look at what composting is, why and how we do it, before looking at the different methods for composting that you could consider where you live.
What is Composting?
Composting, speaking very simply, is the process of breaking down food scraps, organic matter and other biodegradable materials. It creates a valuable material that can be used as a seed-sowing medium, in pots and containers, or to return fertility and nutrients to garden growing areas.
Composting is one of the most valuable things that you can do if you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle. It is something that can be done whether or not you have a garden. Even in the smallest apartment in the most densely populated areas, small-scale composting can allow you to go greener. Reasons why composting is a good idea include:
- It allows you to reduce or even eliminate the food waste you send to landfill. (Food scraps and other such items in landfill add to the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.)
- It makes it easier/ cheaper to get started with growing at least some of your own food. (By providing a growing medium for pots and containers, or materials to create fertile garden beds.)
- Maintaining your garden over time is much easier if you return surplus to the system and make compost to return nutrients to the growing areas.
The Basics of Composting
Composting can be done in a range of different ways. You can compost aerobically, with the aid of bacteria and other microbiota, or anaerobically. You can compost in a small-scale bin, in much larger compost heaps or bins in a full size system, or even compost in place through sheet-mulching. You can also consider enlisting the help of special composting worms, hot composting systems, compost tumblers or fermentation techniques to speed up the process.
However you choose to compost where you live, it is important to understand that composting requires both 'green' (nitrogen rich), and 'brown' (carbon rich) materials. The key in creating good compost lies in achieving a good balance of nitrogen and carbon, along with phosphorus and potassium, and other essential nutrients required for plant life to grow.
Most composting systems require the agency of living creatures, and like all living creatures, these need certain things in order to thrive. They will require water -not too much and not too little, and oxygen to breathe.
There are many different methods that can be used for composting. However, these are the key composting techniques that are of most use for those composting at home:
Composting in a Simple Bin or Heap
The simplest and easiest way to get started with composting is simply to start a compost heap or bin. In your heap or bin, 'brown' and 'green' materials are added in layers to create a good mix that can break down in a matter of months. Brown materials include brown leaves, untreated cardboard and paper, sawdust and straw. Green materials include fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings and green leaves. In a small outside space, or even no outside space at all, you can start composting in a small,lidded 5 gallon bucket or other small receptacle. If you have a garden, you can create a heap area with reclaimed wood pallets, or simply pile materials in a corner of the space.
Composting in Place
If you have a garden and would like to start new growing areas and begin growing some of your own food, you can speed up the process of establishing your new and improved garden by creating new garden beds by composting in place.
Making a 'lasagna bed' is the process of building up a fertile growing area in the same way that you would build up the layers in a compost bin or heap. Begin by creating the edging for your new bed or beds, and lay cardboard on the grass or soil within that boundary. Next, place a layer of twigs, dry leaves, straw or other 'brown' materials, then a layer of grass clippings and fruit and vegetable kitchen waste. Add another layer of brown and green and then a top layer of compost/ soil. You can then water well and plant up your new growing areas.
As the name suggests, hot composting involves decomposition at higher temperatures. Hot composting is undertaken in special hot composting containers, or with the use of straw/ straw bales. The benefit of hot composting is that it can speed up the process considerably. It also destroys weed seeds, and can increase the number of kitchen scraps that you can deal with safely.
Composting With Worms (Vermiculture)
Vermiculture involves getting a little help in our composting from a special sort of worm. Keeping worms can allow you to compost kitchen waste and cardboard from your home quickly and efficiently. The compost you create, rich in worm castings, is a particularly fertile and valuable soil amendment/ growing medium.
Composting worms can be purchased online in many areas, and you can also buy wormeries in which to house them. However, an eco-friendly solution is to make your own wormery. You will be able to find out more about building your own wormery and keeping worms successfully online.
Things like meat, fish etc. that cannot be added to a traditional compost heap or wormery could be composted using the bokashi method. Placing layers of special bokashi bran and food scraps into a bokashi bucket can accelerate the speed at which they break down and provide a valuable fertiliser for your plants in your garden. A simple 5 gallon bucket is perfect for making your own bokashi. Add a tap to drain off the bokashi tea near the base of the bucket, and consider a second bucket so you can always have one to add to while the other is fermenting and you could reduce food waste even further in next to no time.
Composting techniques are something that can be refined over time. But getting started is easy. Learn more about this wonderful way of recycling at home, and begin composting your own waste as soon as possible to transition to a more sustainable way of life.