Making compost in your backyard or kitchen has two great benefits: First, it keeps food waste out of our landfills. Second, the compost you create will greatly enhance the soil – and the plants – in your garden!
Many waste haulers provide a compost bin for residential areas. If you do not have a bin and would like to receive one, contact your waste hauler to find out how.
25% of what Americans put in landfills is kitchen and yard waste! These are the very things that could be making your yard or garden more beautiful. Composting is easy, earth-friendly and kind of fun! Learn more about composting, either indoors or outdoors.
The following guidelines will help you create a simple compost pile:
- Start your compost pile on bare earth. This allows worms and other beneficial organisms to aerate the compost and be transported to your garden beds. Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
- Add compost materials in layers, alternating moist and dry. Moist ingredients are food scraps, tea bags, seaweed, etc. Dry materials are straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.
- Add manure, green manure (clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.
- Keep compost moist. Water occasionally, or let rain do the job.
- Cover with anything you have – wood, plastic sheeting, carpet scraps. Covering helps retain moisture and heat, two essentials for compost. Covering also prevents the compost from being over-watered rain. The compost should be moist, but not soaked and sodden.
- Turn. Every few weeks give the pile a quick turn with a pitchfork or shovel. This aerates the pile. Oxygen is required for the process to work, and turning “adds” oxygen. You can skip this step if you have a ready supply of coarse material, like straw.
Key ingredients for great compost
Compost is created when you provide the right mixture of key ingredients for the millions of microorganisms that do the dirty work. These microorganisms will eat, multiply, and convert raw materials to compost as long as the environment is right.
You need to provide: food, water, and air. The water and air are easy. The food is a little more complex. Food for your little micro friends consists of two classes of materials, simply referred to as “greens” and “browns.” Green materials are high in nitrogen, while brown materials are high in carbon. The green materials provide protein for the micro bugs, while the brown materials provide energy. The ideal mix is 75% “brown” material and 25% “green” scraps by volume. That means for every pound of kitchen scraps, it’s good to have a pound of leaves, for example.
Typical green materials are:
- Fresh (green) grass clippings
- Fresh manure (horse, chicken, rabbit, cow)
- Kitchen scraps (fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea bags)
- Green leaves
- Leftover fruits from the garden
Typical brown materials include:
- Brown, dry leaves
- Dried grass
- Cornstalks (shredded)
- Sawdust (in moderation)
Kitchen composting is a great option for city or apartment dwellers. It basically works the same as it does outdoors. There are a few differences:
- Find a 10-20 gallon bin that fits under your sink or in the garage with a tight fitting lid or carbon filter to reduce odor. Air is important for composting, so make sure you poke holes in the bottom of the bin or purchase a vermicomposting bin that aerates. Place a tray under your bin to collect materials.
- Create a bedding at the bottom of the bin that includes paper, a little soil or sand to help break down food waste, and add water. Keep the bedding as damp as a wrung out sponge.
- Purchase worms from your local bait shop for the bin. The best types of worms for composting are: red worms, red wigglers, tiger worms, brandling worms, and manure worms.
- Start composting. Kitchen composting comprises of food waste.
The following items are ideal to compost indoors:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Tea bags
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Breads, rice, pasta, beans
Avoid the following items to prevent odor and pest problems inside the home:
- Dairy products
- Banana and potato peelings
For more information about vermicomposting, visit CalRecycle.
If you don’t have the space for an indoor compost bin, don’t worry. You can easily donate your organic green waste at a community garden near you. Contact your city government to find out where you can donate.
For more advanced techniques, visit the following web sites:
Using Your Compost
Now that you have a compost pile or bin, put it to work! Use it as soil for your garden, potted plants, or flowers. Compost is much cheaper than purchasing soil, and it allows you to choose what goes into your plants—no chemicals!
Remember, around 3% of the greenhouse gas emissions through the methane is released by decomposing bio-degradable waste. By recycling organic waste or composting it if you have a garden, you can help eliminate this problem! Just make sure that you compost it properly, so it decomposes with sufficient oxygen, otherwise your compost will cause methane emissions and smell foul.
Grasscycling is the natural practice of leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. This can save time, money and other resources like landfill space. The clippings quickly decompose, returning nutrients to the soil. Proper turf management, in conjunction with the practice of grasscycling, can reduce water and fertilizer requirements, mowing time, and disposal costs.
Xeriscaping is landscaping with slow growing, drought tolerant plants to conserve water and reduce yard trimmings.
To learn how you can Xeriscape your lawn with California drought tolerant plants, or to learn more about composting and grasscycling, visit CalRecycle.