Ultimate Guide to Composting

Ultimate Guide to Composting

Not only is home composting a sustainable alternative to disposing of your kitchen and garden waste, but it also is an excellent option for providing the highest quality nutrients and microorganisms for your plants as well. Contrary to popular belief, you by no means have to have a huge garden or a green thumb to get started.

Here is a beginner's guide to composting to help you start living a more sustainable lifestyle today.

Why Compost?

Composting kitchen waste

As previously mentioned, composting is not only a more sustainable alternative to get rid of waste from home scraps and outdoor plants, but it can also help to feed your future vege patch nourishment. 

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Did you know that nearly 50% of Australia’s rubbish waste would have much better use in compost than in the bin? Another frightening statistic to consider is that this potentially composted material being piled into landfills accounts for over 3% of greenhouse gases emitted annually from Australia alone.

Increase Plant Growth

Your compost heap that is full of nutrients can turn into fuel for your garden beds. Not only does it contain natural vitamins and minerals that your plants can’t always find in the soil, but it can reduce watering demand for your plants by nearly 30% on average. You can grow plentiful produce and see cost savings on your water bill.

Minimize Food Waste

A common byproduct of composting is that often you will begin seeing exactly how much food you waste because you are handling it much more intimately. Through the composting process, you will likely start rethinking your shopping cart in terms of food waste.

Make Use of Garden Waste

Rather than throwing your garden waste away to the landfill, throw it into your compost heap to be reused for gardening. Ultimately,  in the future, it will become even more full of nutrients.

Beginner's Guide to Composting

There are a few steps to follow if you are looking to create black gold, another name for a compost heap, of your own. Follow these easy steps to begin composting for beginners.

1. Choose Your Location

The amount of space you have available for your compost bin will likely determine the location. For example, if you have a large yard, you will probably want to place your compost bin further away from the house to avoid any smell wafting into your home. With more space,  you can even opt to have multiple compost bin locations in different stages.

man shovelling compost heap

On the other hand, if space is limited, you might not have this option. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a yard. You can still compost using a tumbling bin on a patio. Compost does not always have to be in a giant heap.

 Whichever your method may be, try your best to keep your compost bin in a shaded area to avoid drying out the material within it.

2. Educate Yourself

Setting up your compost heap location is just the beginning of the process. You’ll have to spend some time getting educated on what you can and can not compost for it to be effective. Although food scraps are the most commonly known, there are several other material options out there. Generally speaking, the two main categories for your compost are either green or brown.

Green Compost

mowings cuts into compost pile

Green materials are commonly known as household or garden composting and include:

  • Kitchen scraps (fruits and vegetables)
  • Used tea leaves
  • Old coffee grounds
  • Grass clippings
  • Eggshells
  • Lawn clippings
  • Yard waste
  • Cuttings from your garden
  • Flowers
  • Weeds

Brown Compost

Compostable coffee cup

Brown materials are less commonly known as composting items and include:

3. What Not to Add to Your Compost Pile

Equally as important as knowing what to compost includes what not to add to your compost heap. A few big no-nos are:

  • Plants with disease
  • Pet droppings (chook manure is okay)
  • Fat used in cooking
  • High gloss paper
  • Weed seeds
  • Treated wood
  • Large tree branches

If you have a smaller composting system, you also might want to avoid adding any sort of meat or bones as well.

4. Layer

Learning the art of compost heap layering is crucial to the success of your materials in being able to reuse it properly. Here are a few layering composting tips for beginners:

First Layer

Start your compost pile, regardless of size or method, using a base layer made up of some ingredients that combine sticks, mulch, or potting mix. These mixed materials will help to promote air circulation while encouraging proper drainage.

Second Layer

After you have established your base layer, follow up with layers alternating between green and brown materials. For example, have your next layer contain kitchen food scraps and lawn clippings, followed by dried leaves and cardboard strips. As a rule of thumb, try to add two parts of brown material to every one part green material.

Remember that after each layer you add, you want to add enough water to keep the pile moist but not soaking. You can also add a fresh layer of soil after each layer to help minimize odors permeating from your compost pile.

Every week or two, you will want to turn your compost to provide proper aeration with a fork. Otherwise, you can also use garden stakes or posts throughout the pile to help provide airflow.

Keeping your compost covered will help you retain heat and moisture, which are crucial elements for the composting process. Remember that smaller items added to your compost will decompose faster than larger items.

5. Distribute

Depending on the size of your compost pile or bin, it could take a few months to be able to use your compost heap. You will know it is ready to be used once the color has turned to a rich brown and crumbles easily.

Types of Composting

Remember that there are other categories, including on-farm and commercial, that have unique characteristics of their own in addition to residential composting.

Residential Composting

Rather than dumping household waste items into the bin, opt for a composting system. Some of the benefits you will see as a result include:

  • Improvement in soil quality
  • Reduction in plant diseases and pests
  • Minimize methane gas emissions in the landfill heap
  • Increase soil moisture retention

While residential compost bins continue to increase in popularity, it is important to educate individuals on how simple the process can be. A lot of eco-friendly products such as bamboo toothbrushes are gaining in popularity due to their ability to be composted.

On-Farm Composting

tractor next to manure heap

The commercialization of farming has caused an increase in chemical fertilizers to increase production. Unfortunately, there are no chemical formulas out there that can replace organic matter levels, such as carbon and micro organisms in the soil. In addition to not replicating the effectiveness of compost for farming, chemical fertilizers are also expensive and can deplete soil nutrient levels.

Some of the benefits of on-farm composting include:

  • Rehabilitation of degraded soils
  • Reduces needs for irrigation water
  • Eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers
  • Increases production
  • Heightens quality of soil
  • Cost savings

Composting is an excellent option for rural and semi-rural areas where the benefits can be felt increasingly. In these areas, farmers can easily make their compost using farm by-products, including straw, manure, or other organic matter leftovers. In Australia, this is still a relatively new concept but is slowly gaining momentum.

Commercial Composting

Commercial composting

Several Australian councils offer collection services for garden materials to process them and use them in compost-based products. Some of the products that result from this commercial composting include:

  • Soil conditioner
  • Mulch
  • Garden soil
  • Topdressing soil
  • Potting mix

There are nearly 140 different businesses in Australia that make up the Australian Organics Recycling Association (AORA). These businesses work to recover over 5 million tons of organic waste reused as other materials annually. Any leftover material is either applied to Australia or used to help generate energy through heat or electricity.

FAQ

You might have some additional questions about starting the composting process. Check out this list of frequently asked questions for some additional information.

When Can I Compost?

You can successfully compost all year round, making it easy to start up any time. Usually, regardless of the weather, you can have a thriving compost pile in six months. This time frame allows the microorganisms to do their work in turning over the compost to more usable material.

How Can I Speed up the Process?

If you are feeling impatient, you can speed up the decomposition process in your compost heap. The most effective way to do so is by frequently turning over your black gold or compost bins using a garden fork. Make sure you use a long-handled fork to help minimize the effort that goes into it.

Worm farming is another alternative that can help you to compost even faster. Through this process, earthworms eat food and kitchen waste they come in contact with. Your worm farm will then turn it into compost as it passes through each of their bodies.

What Are Common Composting Concerns?

A healthy compost heap ensures that microorganisms work cohesively to break down the waste.  Here are a few symptoms of an unhealthy compost system that you might face and a quick guide on how to fix them.

Slimy

Add a brown material, like straw sawdust, to minimize slime in your composter.

Moldy

Add water, grass clippings, or some combination of both to help balance water levels in your composting bin.

Dry

Add greens, like garden clippings or coffee grounds, to help bring more natural moisture and water retention to your composting materials.

Flies

To avoid too high moisture levels, make sure to always cover kitchen waste, including vegetable scraps, with garden waste.

Weeds

Weeds should die on their own as your compost bin begins emitting heat. While this temperature is not always attainable in all regions, it's a good idea to avoid adding any weed seeds to your pile.

Where Can I Go for More Information?

If you are looking to learn more, there are tons of materials out there. You can begin by following Costa Georgiadis, known as the Greek God of Gardening, for more up to date news on composting.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this beginner's guide to composting will be a helpful tool providing you with all the information needed for your composting journey. Remember that you are not only benefiting yourself by effectively composting, but you are also giving back to the planet by reducing your carbon footprint. And, it's as simple as collecting your food scraps and grass clippings.

If you are looking to learn more eco-friendly products, you can visit our blog on bamboo sustainability to learn why bamboo is replacing cotton and plastic products all around the home.


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