According to the EPA, 23 percent of waste can be composted. Aside from freeing up landfill space, composting is a natural and free source of fertilizer and soil for gardens, trees, shrubs and lawns.
There are many ways to construct a compost pile or bin as well as ready-to-use commercial products. With the right container you can even make compost inside your home (ideal for city living).
Indoor commercial composters require little to no upkeep, aside from adding organic matter. You can also create your own composting system for kitchen scraps using a plastic container and worms through a process called vericomposting, which is great for kitchen scraps.
The simplest approach to composting outdoors is cold composting. There is no maintenance aside from adding your waste, and the pile will turn into mature compost, humus, in about a year.
The decayed organic matter will smell earthy and will be a dark brown or black crumbly soil-like product. You can purchase a commercial composter, construct a crude structure yourself out of wood or flexible metal wire, or you can create a pile directly on the ground. Enclosing your compost will keep out pests.
Although meat and dairy products are discouraged because they attract animals, you can compost most biodegradable household items and yard waste. Examples include produce, eggshells, nutshells, coffee grounds and filters, clean shredded paper, sawdust, leaves, yard clippings, livestock manure, hair/fur, ashes, lint, and wool and cotton rags.
If you are an avid gardener you may want to try hot composting. This process should coincide with the growing season in your area and will generate usable humus in a few weeks. The method takes some effort and controlled conditions. With hot composting you want a pile that is about 5 feet in each dimension, preferably enclosed within a bin to hold in moisture and heat. Quick decay of your organic matter will require that the middle of your pile reach temperatures between 110 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit, at which time you should turn your pile with a pitchfork or shovel. To check temperature you can purchase a compost thermometer or check with your hand. If the middle is uncomfortably warm it is ready to be turned. Hot composting also requires you to have your carbon- rich (leaves, sawdust and wood chips) and nitrogen-rich (grass) materials kept at an equal ratio. The pile, whether it is open or enclosed should be moist and aerated. Good, regular ventilation can be achieved by placing your compost pile on a bed of branches and stones. You may need to turn your compost if it cools down (a sign that it is too dry — make sure it stays moist) or starts to smell (may be too moist). Turn your pile again in three to seven days and then once more after two weeks. Soon your gardens will enjoy the humus of your labors!
There is a wealth of information available on composting. Useful online guides include: the EPA, Natural Resources Conservation Service and HowtoCompost.org.
Alethea Kehas is a writer from Bow, N.H. who believes green is the color of health and happiness.
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