It’s hard to believe that this past weekend was the autumnal equinox and that summer is really and truly over for another year. I spent time this summer assessing my living habits and determining how I could further reduce my own environmental footprint. As a result, I had a great time experimenting with gardening, canning, composting, and living local. With the turn of the season, I find I’m actually grieving the loss of my garden as I prepare to winter over and turn the remaining vegetables—already struggling to stay alive in our cold Colorado climate—into humus for next spring’s planting season.
Composting has been easier than I ever thought it would be; truth be told, I’d avoided doing it for years from fear of the unknown. Thanks to the education I received through my county extension office, I jumped in this summer with both feet and have found it an extremely gratifying sustainability practice.
Composting is nature’s ultimate form of recycling. Taking all kinds of food and plant waste and turning it into rich, dark loam, composting allows us to divert significant amounts of matter from the landfill. Back in May, I posted another blog on waste and shared some scary statistics about landfills. Most landfills contain municipal waste like food scraps—an estimated 23% of municipal waste–that are then trapped in such a way that they cannot naturally decompose. Instead, they end up releasing carbon dioxide and methane as by-products, significantly contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
Composting helps divert that food waste from the landfill and instead return the wasted nutrients into a useable form. Homegrown compost can be used to mulch gardens, flower beds, and houseplants, or can be brewed in water to form a nutrient rich “tea” that can be used to fertilize these same plants.
How I Did It
After getting myself some education, I decided to start with an outdoor compost pile. Getting started is very simple. First, choose a location for your compost pile. There are lots of fancy containers on the market, but I learned that the best container is a 3 x 3 x 3’ box I bought from my composting teacher. Depending on where you live, you may choose to make your own container or purchase something else to work better for your needs. I also bought a pitchfork for turning the compost, which has been invaluable in the process.
Then, I saved up some food scraps and some “browns.” This is important: the ratio of high-nitrogen items and high-carbon items is important to get your compost pile going. You can’t just throw in food scraps! Instead, a recommended ratio is 2:1 browns (high carbon) to greens (high nitrogen). For me, that means that each time I put my kitchen waste into the bin, I also throw in dry leaves, cardboard, newspaper, or other high carbon paper waste.
For my first layer, I put in a layer of browns (leaves, in my case), then a layer of greens (food waste), and then another layer of browns. Then I threw in a couple of handfuls of good, microbe-rich dirt from my garden, and abracadabra, I had a compost pile!
Keep in mind that decomposing foods need what they can’t get in the landfill: water and oxygen. It’s important to turn your compost regularly (my teacher said no more than once a week) to aerate it and to keep the pile moist, by adding water if necessary until the contents are about as wet as a wrung out sponge. Too much turning, or too much water, can upset the microorganisms living in the pile.
It is extremely gratifying to fill up a bin with food waste, and bags with yard waste, and then put them into my bin and let them do their thing. We have significantly reduced our trash over the summer, and now, as I prepare to wrap up my garden, I have the most earthy smelling, dark, rich compost to put into the soil to help nourish it.
If you’re looking to reduce your environmental footprint, I invite you to try home composting—it’s easier than you think! And if home composting isn’t an option for you, encourage your employer to offer composting instead!