Do you toss out vegetables, coffee grounds, and other biodegradable food products? Most of us create more kitchen waste than we realize, but composting allows us to turn organic waste into healthy soil feeder for our yard and garden instead.
Now that we’re all spending more time at home, we’re cooking more meals in our kitchens too. As a result, we’re likely sending even more waste to landfills than pre-pandemic levels.
Composting is a great at-home project that lets us reuse some kitchen scraps while putting our best eco-friendly foot forward. Below, find out what materials you should compost, how to start a compost in your backyard, and pick up a free printable compost list.
What is Compost?
In order to get really excited about an at-home compost project, you first need to understand what compost is and how it helps the earth.
Compost is a crumbly and nutrient-rich top soil, and composting is the process that creates it. Compost is made up of organic matter that naturally decomposes over time, but the act of composting speeds up the process from months or years to just weeks. By breaking down kitchen scraps fast, we’re able to reuse the resulting high-nutrient soil mixture in our yards and gardens as plant fertilizer.
When we send waste to landfills, harmful chemicals such as CO2 gas are released into the air. Compost actually reverses this process by releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, meaning that your small at-home compost pile is actually helping fight climate change.
Know What Materials Can (and Can’t) be Composted
While composting kitchen scraps is a great alternative to the trash can, you can’t compost everything. Some materials will slow down decomposition, or worse, poison your pile. Paying attention to what you compost is essential to create thriving soil that will help your plants grow big and strong.
Compost is made up of two organic waste categories: greens and browns. Greens are nitrogen-rich and the scraps most commonly found in your kitchen, such as fruits and vegetables. Browns are carbon-rich and more commonly found in the yard, such as leaves and twigs.
Examples of materials that can poison your pile include meat, coal, dairy, and oils. The free kitchen printable below on what you can (and can’t) compost can serve as a daily reminder for what to compost and what to toss out.
Free Printable Compost List
Click the image below to get your free printable compost list.
Familiarize Yourself with the Composting Process
Now it’s time to start assembling your compost pile! This simple outdoor activity is fully customizable and easy to tackle solo or with little helpers. All you need to get started is your greens and browns, some outdoor space, and some water. Once your pile is set up, maintaining it takes just a few minutes each week.
First, you’ll want to find a shady spot that is not in direct sunlight. You can also make a DIY shaded bin made from wooden pallets, or dig a hole to compost in the ground if your yard doesn’t get much shade.
Now it’s time to start layering your compost. You’ll start with a thick layer of browns, followed by a smaller layer of greens — the ratio of browns to greens should always be three to one. Sprinkle topsoil and add water onto each layer to help increase the speed of decomposition, and continue layering until you run out of organic material to work with.
When adding water, make sure that the soil feels moist but not soggy. Overwatering can cause delays in decomposition and make your pile smell like rotten eggs.
Once your pile has been created, you should stop by to check on it once or twice a week. During this time, you’ll want to aerate, or turn, your pile — this keeps it warm and humid. The easiest way to aerate compost is with a shovel.
Over the next two to four months, watch as your waste breaks down into topsoil. When additions such as egg shells and newspaper shreds are barely recognizable, you’ll know that the process is working. Here are three signs that your compost is nearing completion:
- An earthy, healthy smell (it shouldn’t smell spoiled)
- A crumbly texture
- No large chunks or scraps of organic matter
When you’ve observed these three things, it’s time to sprinkle your compost onto your yard and garden. Watch as your hard work comes to fruition and your nutrient-rich plants and grass grow big, strong, and full of life.
For even more information on building a backyard compost pile, check out the following visual from The Zebra.
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