How To Start Composting

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I was raised on a farm in Upstate New York where composting and reusing things was part of our daily lives. We had several large compost piles that we rotated each year. When a pile had matured, we would empty it and spread the fresh, nutrient-rich soil on our gardens. Even at that young age, I was learning valuable life lessons on how to reuse and repurpose something that most people throw out.

Interested in learning more about composting? Below I've shared some tips on how you can benefit from it, whether you live in small town or a city.

Why is composting important?

The typical household produces 650 pounds of organic waste per year, and most of it goes straight to a landfill. In fact, about 60% of landfills are made up of organic waste.  

But this waste does not break down into that nice dirt I was talking about earlier. Landfills aren't aerated like your compost should be, so the oxygen-deprived waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This is extremely harmful for our environment and quite frankly, irresponsible of us.

Composting, however, is great for the environment and your gardens! Decomposed organic material improves soil structure so that soil can easily hold the correct amounts of moisture, nutrients, and air. Plus, you get some amazing nutrient-rich soil to use on your gardens or to spread around your yard.

How to compost on your property

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Find an unused area a good distance from your house, (so you don't have to smell it) and then create a perimeter around your compost site. I used pallets, but be creative! The goal is to create a wall that will retain the compost.  The walls don't need to be too tall, but you will want them at least 3 feet high so that you can build up your pile and to keep animals out of it.

Once you have your perimeter set up you are done! It's really that easy! 

Now, every time you have kitchen scraps, you can start dumping them on your new compost pile.

I keep a small bucket with a lid on my counter and throw my kitchen scraps in there. When it gets full I empty it into the compost, give it a good rinse, and start over. 

Every few weeks you will want to take a shovel or another garden tool, and turn the compost  to aerate the decomposing material. This will give the food waste on top a chance to get lower, where it will naturally be decomposed more. 

When the composted material is ready to use, it will be crumbly, have a rich earthy smell, and look like nutritious soil. Turning it more often will help speed up the overall process. Since the bottom of the compost pile will decompose faster, you can scoop the dirt from the bottom and keep adding to the top. 

Some things that you can compost

  • Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
  • Cardboard Egg Cartons
  • Paper Bags
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Unbleached paper, towels, and napkins
  • Flowers
  • Grass Clippings
  • Hay, Straw and Wood Chips
  • And more!

If you are in a town or city

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Some cities offer municipal food-waste collection, which is an amazing amenity! If this available in your area, the city will provide a compost bin that will get picked up from your curb on a regular basis for a monthly fee.

Other places have public compost bins as well, typically set up near a community garden or Farmers Market. Drop off times can vary, but a quick google search should show whether you have this option in your town.

If you do have a place for dropping off compost, keep a bucket with a sealable lid in your house or on your porch and add food scraps to that weekly until you have a chance to take it to be emptied.

In Harrisonburg, VA, where we live, the Farmer's Market Pavilion downtown has two to three compost bins set up year round where you can dump your food waste. These are set up on the edge of the Turner Pavilion and are an amazing resource that you can take advantage of! You can also drop off your compost at the Farmers Market composting station (April-October).

*For a full list of what is allowed in the bins check out this link.

Overall your composting journey should be a fairly easy one, and you will reap the benefits of knowing that your food waste is going back to the earth whether it's in your garden or a community one!

If you have any questions about composting, please post in the comments and I will do my best to help! Good luck!

Written by Anneke Lamb