The benefits of composting are widely accepted, but details can be daunting. What to compost? When to stir? What to keep out? Here are six starter tips to demystify the process.
This is one of a series of stories written by students in the Sustainable Communities class at the University of Minnesota.
1. What to add
A common misconception is that you only throw in parts of fruits and vegetables and leaves from your yard. While all of those work, there is so much more that can be composted! You can add cardboard, egg cartons and even lint from your dryer.
For more information, here is a link to the US EPA’s website of what and what not to add
TIP: For whole fruits and veggies that have gone bad make sure you cut them up into small chunks so they can decompose and compost faster.
2. What NOT to add
Avoid adding meat to a compost bin. Although compostable, meat will attract all sorts of unwanted pests. Avoid dairy for the same reasons. Meat and dairy can cause the compost to stink, which could attract big pests such as rats, raccoons and neighborhood pets.
TIP: To avoid a lot of swarming flies and other noticeable pests, use a bin with a cover for the compost pile. Make sure you stir it regularly and always keep it damp, but not wet. A dried out compost pile will not decompose quickly!
3. Browns and greens
The browns add carbon to the compost pile and greens add nitrogen. Browns consist of cardboard, lawn trimmings, egg cartons etc. while greens consist of kitchen scraps. Make sure there is good ratio of both. Too much of one or the other will give you a compost pile that takes a long time to decompose. Expert composter, Stephanie Hankerson, recommends a ratio of 30:1 for browns to greens.
TIP: With nearly all of the browns and greens, you will want to cut, shred or break them into smaller pieces so they compost faster. For example, adding cardboard is easier if you shred or rip it into smaller pieces before adding to your compost.
4. What can you do with compost?
Use compost in gardens as a source of nutrients for plants. Check if your local recycling company collects it or you could give it to a community garden in your neighborhood.
TIP: You could even try to start an indoor garden in pots or just spread your compost on your lawn!
5. Smelly factor
Some are worried about the smell that a compost pile may cause. In reality, the smell of a compost pile is due to what is added. Remember not to add meat or dairy because this may be the root of the smell. If that is not the source, then stir the pile often. Exposing the compost to air will help the material decompose faster.
TIP: Expert Stephanie Hankerson recommends you aerate your compost pile once every one or two weeks.
6. Inside versus outside compost: What works best for your lifestyle
An outdoor bin is not the only way to compost. A worm composting bin (vermiculture) works well for indoors. Naturalist Mick Garrett from Dodge Nature Center explained that, “Worms will speed up the process and decrease the chance of any bad smell.” If you live in an apartment, this may be an option. Here is a helpful link to get started.
TIP: If a worm bin in your house does not appeal to you, outdoor composting year round is possible. The compost pile may be frozen in winter, but come springtime it will begin to compost again!