What’s smelly, known as “black gold,” and has a huge impact on the environment? Compost! (What did you think I was going to say?) Yes friends, compost has a musky, earthy smell, is worth its weight in gold for the nutrients it puts back into the soil, and helps lighten the pressure on our landfills by transforming organic waste material into a soil-enriching substance that can improve your garden and feed your plants! So let’s talk about how you can get your hands on some of this crumbly goodness – specifically, how you can make it yourself with food scraps, garden waste, and other materials that you’d otherwise chuck in the trash can.
First, the container. There’s a variety of ways to compost at home; you can build a compost pile in the corner of your yard, buy a square bin, use an indoor composter, or even make a worm bin! It just depends on your needs – the size of your yard, for example, or the amount of kitchen scraps you generate each week. Fair warning – fruit flies love compost (and help the process along) but if you want to keep them away be sure to get a bin with a cover, and if you have an indoor bin, wash all fruit that comes into your home to prevent them from hitching a ride. You do not want to deal with a fruit fly infestation in your home compost bin. Seriously.
Next, the ingredients! Proper composting needs a mix of “brown” and “green” materials to maintain a healthy pH. But what does that mean? Well, “brown” materials are things like dead leaves, fallen branches, and shredded newspaper – items that are rich in carbon. “Green” materials are those that are rich in nitrogen, and include grass trimmings, coffee grinds, and produce scraps. Unless you have an industrial-sized compost pile or a machine composter that specifically says you can, avoid adding meat or dairy products to your compost. They decompose more slowly, and smell while they’re doing it. Not good!
Now you have to maintain the compost bin. You want to make sure that you’re putting in a good mix of brown and green materials. Too much of either, and the decomposition process grinds to a halt. A good way to prevent that is to alternate layers – so put in a pile of kitchen scraps, and top it with shredded newspaper. Not sure if your compost is healthy? Take a big whiff – compost should smell earthy and musky, but not bad. If it smells like rot, something is off. You also want to make sure that the compost is getting plenty of air throughout. This may involve turning it regularly, or using a bin with vents in the side for circulation. But decomp requires oxygen (thanks CSI!), so make sure your compost has plenty of it.
Now that you have your precious, precious compost, what do you do with it? What don’t you do with it? Compost can replace fertilizer in your garden, giving your plants the humus and nutrients they need to thrive. You can also use compost as mulch – don’t buy the commercial stuff, just put your free compost around the base of your plants to prevent weeds from growing and help the soil retain moisture. You can also transform your compost into compost tea, which replaces chemical-based fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides – the tea increases plant growth, provides nutrients to plants and soil, and helps to suppress disease. Awesome!
Interested in getting started? Great! Check your local government, because a lot of them provide free or cheap compost bins to residents to encourage them to reduce waste. And once you get going, be sure to check out the EPA, whose site is full of resources and information. Happy composting!
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