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Reduce trash and boost the nutrients in your soil at the same time! Composting is easy, and it saves a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. Learn how to do it properly!
The benefits of composting
The largest part of our garbage is compostable: according to statistics, 46% of the global trash can is made up of organic matter, but less than 1% gets composted. This means, that if everybody on Earth was composting, we could significantly reduce the waste that goes to the landfills and unregulated dumps! That is important, because the organic matter which ends up on the landfills won’t degrade easily, or if it does, it often rots in an anaerobic environment, while producing methane: a strong greenhouse gas that warms the climate 21 times more than CO2. Landfills are the third largest source of anthropogenic methane emissions. In addition, if you compost and use it in your garden, then less garbage will be transported. On the other hand, we could also nourish our soil for free, without artificial manures! The production of artificial manures is highly dependent on fossil fuels, as it needs huge amounts of energy! Also, they end up polluting the land and the groundwater. In a nutshell: composting leads to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution too!
Why is it great for your soil? Compost improves the structure and texture of the soil enabling it to better retain nutrients, moisture, and air. Crumbly soil allows air to penetrate and holds moisture well but allows excess water to drain away. This means that less watering is required – a great benefit in our world where draughts are more and more frequent. A well-structured soil with lots of small aggregates stays loose and is easy to cultivate. Tender young roots also have an easier time penetrating into the soil. Compost contains a variety of the basic nutrients that plants require for healthy growth. In addition to the main three; nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, of special importance are the micronutrients found in compost such as manganese, copper, iron, and zinc. Micronutrients are only needed in small doses, like vitamins in our diet, but they play an important role in the plant's ability to extract nutrients. In a commercial fertilizer, micronutrients are often missing. Compost is basically a free nutrient boost for your plants. The different ingredients of compost are released over a long period of time. Soil pH also benefits with the addition of compost, and that makes nutrients more available for plants. Research is showing us that soil treated with compost tends to produce plants with fewer pest problems. Compost helps to control diseases and insects that might otherwise overrun a more sterile soil lacking natural checks against their spread. This quality makes it excellent for organic farming.
What is compostable?
• Food scraps: fruit and vegetable peels and parts, egg shells (broken into small pieces), coffee grounds, tea leaves (not all tea bags are compostable tough, compost it only if its 100% paper without any metal particles or plastic in it!)
• Garden waste: cut grass, fallen leaves, wood chips, branches and twigs (cut into small pieces), ashes of untreated wood (except if your soil is highly alkaline). Weeds can be composted, but if the compost won’t be hot enough, then their seeds may not degrade, so you should probably not include them if you aren’t an experienced composter yet. The same applies for rotten vegetable, flowers, or sick plants, as their pathogens might not die on a lower temperature.
• 100% cotton balls, fur, hair, toothpicks, wine corks (the natural ones, not the plastic)
• Feces of herbivore pets
• Although untreated paper is biodegradable, it is also easily recycled, and that is a better choice environmentally. However, small pieces of food contaminated but untreated paper can be composted, as those are not suitable for recycling.
• Natural cotton and canvas are biodegradable, but they can be repurposed in other ways too, so composting isn’t the best idea. Instead find textile recycling businesses or institutions like schools that use it for art projects.
Don’t put in the pile:
• Any kind of glass, metal, plastic or other synthetic materials
• Paint, lacquer, or lumber that was treated with these
• Pesticides and other chemicals
• Plastic tea bags, colored paper
• Bones and meat scraps can contain pathogens and can attract animals into the garden
• Oily cooked food (simple boiled vegetables are fine)
• Bread and other foods with yeast
• Feces of carnivore pets can contain parasites and other pathogens
• Walnut leaves and pine tree parts aren’t beneficial in the compost pile, but very small amounts won’t hurt
• Tropical fruits are usually treated with chemicals such as fungicides that can counteract the process of composting
• Dust from the vacuum cleaner, as they can bind toxic materials, such as heavy metals, that harm the soil and can accumulate, eventually making their way up the food chain
Green and brown matter ratio
The ideal pile contains 25-30 times more carbon than nitrogen. Green matter refers to scraps with more nitrogen, and brown matter to those with more carbon. Vegetables, fruits, flowers and grass are green matter, whereas twigs, branches and wood chips are brown. It would be really exhausting to count the exact numbers, but the main rule is not to put huge amount of the same kind in together. For example, when you cut the grass, mix in some wood chips with it. The proportions help the work of microorganisms that will make the temperatures ideal.
Other tips for best results:
• If you have a garden you can easily place the composter bin there. We have two types of composters suitable for gardens; both are made of recycled plastic. The smaller has a volume of 340 liters, and the bigger can hold 810 liters of compost.
• If you don’t have a garden, we recommend you the mini kitchen composter, it's an anaerobic composter, which needs Bokashi dry starter culture. This method of composting differs from the way that we describe in this article, so a lot of the rules don’t apply. The Greenman Compost additive is also for anaerobic composting.
• The ideal place for composting in the garden is a partial shade, which is also easily accessible from the kitchen. To avoid conflicts with your neighbor, you may not want to place it directly next the fence.
• All the scraps should be small in size (around 5 cm), as the more surface for microorganisms to work, the faster the process!
• Allow it to breath! Oxygen is necessary for the process, so use a composter with openings, plus add looseners like twigs or straws into the pile. Both of our garden composters have openings for this exact reason.
• The pile should be wet but not soaking! You can use the water from washing or cooking vegetables and fruits, or rainwater. How to know if it’s good? If you can squeeze water out of it, it’s too wet! Also too much water can make it stink. It is ideal, if it slightly sticks when pressed together.
• The compost is best when it is mixed every 5-6 weeks. This is a right time for checking the wetness and temperature too.
• When is it ready? Approximately 8-12 months depending on the achieved temperatures. You can recognize finished compost from its crumbly texture, dark brown color, and earth-like smell.
• Before using finished compost you can screen it, especially if you want to use it for starting seeds. If some scraps remain on the screen, you can put them back in the pile. However there is another approach, which says some scraps are perfectly fine, and screening is not necessary. The decision is yours!
• Uses of finished compost: Soil amendment for the garden and room plants, mulch around trees and shrubs, compost tea or seed starting mix are all great ways to use your compost!
If you want to read more on this topic, check out this amazing article on composting from Clive on the DIY Garden blog!