Compost is a decayed organic material ready to be used as fertilizer for enriching the soil your plants grow in and keeps them nourished for long periods of times. When made from organic material and strictly devoid of chemical elements (this guide will help you pick which materials to use), compost helps you grow organic food.
You should start composting for a number of reasons
- Because you want to grow plants and organic vegetables.
- Because you want to manage waste sustainably.
- And of course, because you want to reduce emissions and save the planet.
- It will be helpful to reduce waste and recycle.
- Continuity of organic life
Composting is also a sacred act of transformation of dead to regeneration and life. When you are facilitating the cycle of decay and rebirth, you are harnessing and bringing back life to your garden, to planet earth.
In a number of ways, this is nothing new. Our ancestors recognized usefulness of compost or growing plants and improving soil health. They did not, however, know how or why it worked. The science behind composting was ‘unearthed’ in the last half century, which is comparatively recent compared to the more than 2000 years since humans have been composting.
This blog is here to help you find and select an approach and technique of composting that suits your needs and lifestyle without using any technical jargon.
This is a practical guide for you to reach a decision. We will help you assess and answer a number of questions, such as
- Why you must consider preparing compost and how it will contribute towards saving this planet
- How much available space you have, whether you have acres of land, just a kitchen garden, or merely a balcony of an apartment
- How much time you want to spend or how quickly you want the compost to be ready
- What materials you have and can and should use
- How neat you want your compost pile to look like
- How you plan to use the compost
Why you must consider it?
Preparing compost is not about preparing fertilizer, merely an individual activity of growing plants. It will be your contribution for reducing waste, your participation in ensuring continuity of organic life, your strategy for saving this planet from air pollution and climate change.
When you are picking the materials for filling the compost bin or making a compost pile, you are reducing the amount of waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Depending on the kind of waste your household is generating, you can reduce it by as much as half. Speaking of waste production, you can “plan waste management at the time you buy grocery”. At the same time, the resultant fertilizer is organic (that is free of chemicals), rejuvenates the soil fertility and increases its capability to hold water for a longer period. All of this costs you nothing and if you have to pay half to trash pickup company, you will even save money.
Why you must compost?
Food and other organic material should not be allowed to go in landfills. If you allow the material that should be in your compost bin/pile to end up in a landfill, it results in producing greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Organic material in a landfill decomposes without aeration, that is technically called anaerobically or without oxygen. This results in production of methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas many times more dangerous than other gases responsible for causing a rise in atmospheric temperature, such as carbon dioxide. When you will compost food along with other organic waste, fewer landfills and emissions will reduce negative effects on the planet.
The finished product of compost looks almost uniformly black or dark brown, is soft and crumbly to the touch – completely transformed from its input materials. It is a very powerful supplement for the soil and serves the needs of plants, shrubs, vegetables for a longer period of time – several years! This is far more than any chemical fertilizer, although these two should not be compared. Also called ‘black gold’, it is essential ingredient for organic food production. A number of things happen when it is mixed into soil: it increases soil fertility, it adds nutrients (both micro and macro), buffers pH (although it is a bit complicated than that, compost depends on the material used for making it) and improves soil structure.
But even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still a vitally important practice (because you still produce waste). Soil has a limited capacity to nourish plants. From the soil, usually we take far more than we return. Soil becomes dead if it is not replenished, capable of producing nothing, or just weeds at best. Through compost, your aim is to return as much organic nutrients back to soil as possible and re-balance the nutrient cycle.
Composting is based on a fact of nature: all living things decay once they die. In order to ‘die’ they must be living in the first place. In other words, anything that once lived can be composted. But this does not mean that you should put all dead things in the pile (or bin) – there are certain organic items you should avoid.
Composting is about speeding up the process of decay by balancing the type of waste, chopping it up, and taking care of air and water. A pile of waste in the backyard is the simplest and traditional way to start making compost. However, when speed is the main concern, using compost bins is the most ‘attractive’ and effective way.
Speaking of bins, there are a lot of varieties to suit your lifestyle: there are simple bins with lids to keep the waste out of sight; tumblers make the laborious process of turning the compost very convenient, tower bins that you can use if you have small space, and worm composters that take only the space below the kitchen sink. With details on each style provided in this guide, you can select the bin that suits you the most.
Once you have reached a critical mass of scraps in your bin, it will begin to noticeably break down. After everything has decomposed and transformed, you can sprinkle it around your plants, trees, grass in the lawn, garden.
Factors to consider before starting compost
Even when left unattended, any pile of organic waste will decay and break down. When there is almost nothing for you do except put up waste in a pile or bin, it raises a question why should you invest in the effort in the first place. Firstly, you need the compost to be ready sooner than waiting for it to decompose of itself. It can take years to get the waste to break down completely. Secondly, you want it prepared properly and evenly so it remains useful for your garden for a long time. Below are a few things you should bear in mind:
Don’t worry, you are not getting lectured into chemistry of waste composition. You can identify things that contain a lot of carbon, which are dry and brown (such as chopped woods, dried leaves, paper – these take longer to decompose) and nitrogen, which is found in abundance in all green and fresh things (such as green leaves, vegetables, fruits, fresh dung or droppings of animals – these decay and break down very rapidly).
As rapid decomposition is the goal, an optimum carbon-to-nitrogen ratio ranges between 25:1 and 30:1. When the carbon: nitrogen ratio is more than 30:1, production of heat decreases and slows down decomposition. That is why a pile of leaves sits for a year or even longer without any noticeable decay. In the reverse case, when nitrogen content exceeds the appropriate ratio, the acidity levels in the pile will rise (causing harm to microorganisms) and release gases such as ammonia.
For example: When you add shredded leaves or papers to the pile/bin (carbon content), you must balance the composition by mixing it with fresh grass clippings or manure. A hint is to keep manure and straw handy to maintain balance of the pile.
Chopping, shredding, mincing – reducing surface for more action
Waste in smaller bits is more compostable – it decomposes more evenly and faster. By putting this small extra effort, you will get the returns quickly and the output will be much better. In order not to outcast the slow-composting things (larger pieces of wood, nut shells, and rope), you should consider putting these into a separate pile at the back of your lot with less expectations in terms of timeline. At the same time, keep feeding your garden by the faster compost pile.
Air and Water
Microorganisms that do their job at the smallest scale are also alive. They need air and water. To keep them in action, you need to turn your compost pile weekly, mixing and aerating it. This will help it to decompose quickly.
In case of a pile, you can do this with a pitchfork. When you have a compost tumbler bin, it makes this part of job incredibly easy.
Throughout the decay process, you need to keep the pile damp and moist. When it gets too dry, you need to put water in it. When it is too wet, you need to turn it more quickly. It is only through the right combination of both air and moisture in the pile that keeps the microorganisms doing their job – breaking down your compost.
What not to use for compost?
Technically speaking, you can compost any living item. Some things, however, are best left out of your list to compost. Main no-no category items are meat and fish. The main reason behind this piece of advice is to avoid the strong smell and invite a number of pests.
Compost preparation is not limited to a specific availability of land. No matter how much available space you have – whether you have acres of land, just a kitchen garden, or merely a balcony of an apartment – you can prepare compost.
For examples: If you only have a small compost, want to invest minimal effort, and have a smaller area to do it in, then your best choice will be the commercially available bin.
If you have ample space and want to compost vegetative food waste separately, you may find it easiest to directly incorporate them into the soil. For apartment dwellers, worm composters take only the space below the kitchen sink and do the job while keeping the odour in control.
On the other hand, if you do not lack any space and want large quantities of compost quickly, you may want to build a deluxe three bin unit.