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Composting 101: An Easy Get-Started Guide

Spring is here-ish and I am excited to get back on the composting bandwagon. Ever since we moved it’s been a struggle with so much going on (have you seen our home renovation in progress?). To help get me back into the swing of things I’m sharing the basics along with some tips to get started.

Why Bother Composting?

Composting is a wonderfully simple way to reduce household waste while adding valuable nutrients to your lawn, gardens, or even potted plants. Compost can come from a variety of sources and is often a mixture of organic materials from your lawn, garden, and your kitchen.

Best of all, it’s basically free. Sure you can splurge for a nice commercially available composter, but that’s not a requirement. Some people (with space to spare) choose to simply use a pile, and that works too.

Prep Work

First you’ll need to decide what method will work best for you. If you have the space for a pile, get to piling! However, if you’re like most of us you don’t have the space or desire for an open compost pile. You’ll need to purchase a composter.

Composters come in a few forms but most take up approximately 2-2.5 square feet. We had two Soilsaver bins at our last home and recently purchased one for our new home. They have a small footprint, are easy to put together, and sturdy. One compost bin is more than our family of 5 can fill in a year (and that includes adding a good bit of yard waste).

If Space is an Issue

Or if you simply want faster results, consider investing in an indoor composter. In general, composting appliances heat food scraps, mixes, and oxygenates them to help break down food quickly before odors have a chance to develop. Depending on the model, you can expect up to 1.5 gallons or ready-to-use compost every two weeks.

A less expensive indoor option is worm composting. It requires less time than outdoor bins, but there are a few extra rules as to what can be composted. You can learn more about his option from this great article on vermicomposting.

Getting Started

Thankfully, composting is pretty straightforward but these tips should cover the basics. Use your discretion and do as much, or as little, as you are comfortable with.

Have a Handy Quick-Reference List

This printable list is a great guide for what to put in your composter and what to avoid when you are just starting.

Avoid Meat & Dairy

It’s often a good idea to avoid meats and limit dairy, as they develop a strong odor and can attract pests. If you happen to have an electric indoor composter you can be much more flexible (see above).

Add Yard Waste

Adding yard waste is a great way to add both green and brown (dry) items to your compost. Be sure to keep your compost’s purpose in mind. If you plan to use your compost in a garden you’ll want to shy away from adding weeds – especially those that may have gone to seed.

Turn Your Compost

If you are using a traditional composter you will want to “turn” your compost from time to time. This can be optional, but your compost will decompose much faster. During warm months, we like to turn our compost about once a month with a shovel or pitch fork. Turning can also be accomplished by purchasing a ‘rotating composter’ or ‘compost tumbler’. Keep in mind that compost weight can add up, making such devices harder to turn.

Keep Your Bin Close, But Not Too Close

We like to keep our bin about 20-30 feet from our back door. It’s close enough to be convenient, but not so close that we have to worry about lingering odors or kids going out of sight for too long (this is a great chore for kids!). This is, of course, personal preference but something to consider.

Composting can make a big impact on the amount of waste that leaves your home. In addition to feeling better about reducing your carbon footprint, you can use the compost to grow healthier gardens, flowers, and lawns.

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