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What is Composting

Compost bin

What is Composting?

Have you ever wondered what you could do with your kitchen scraps, yard waste, and other organic materials besides throwing them away? When you combine organic food waste with a few other composting materials, you get nutrient-rich compost.

Composting is the process of converting organic material (typically food scraps) into valuable organic fertilizer that promotes soil health. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical fertilizers.

The composting process speeds up the decay process by providing an ideal environment for fungi, bacteria, and other beneficial microbes to slowly eat away at the organic matter, producing “black gold” in the agricultural industry.

Farms and other produce growers do this on a large scale, covering thousands of acres of land. But the fantastic thing about composting is that you can scale the process down and have a DIY compost bin right in your own home.

The Composting Process

Uncle Jim will walk you through the composting process step by step so you can do it at home or scale it up for commercial use.

Select and collect food scraps and other organic waste

A guide to sorting compostable materials

Not all food waste produced can be composted; that is why the first thing any composter should do is segregate. Compostable materials can be segregated into brown and green materials: 

  • Green materials: Kitchen scraps and fresh grass clippings, which are high in nitrogen and protein, heat up the compost pile, allowing microorganisms to grow and multiply quickly.
  • Brown materials: Brown materials such as fall leaves are rich in carbon and carbohydrates. Their main role is to feed the microorganisms and help with aeration throughout the pile. 

If you have a large household or produce a lot of organic waste, you should have a dry place to store the organic materials. Having storage is important so you can add the materials to the bin in layers, preventing the microorganisms from becoming overwhelmed.

Choose the ideal place for your compost pile or bin

The next decision is whether to compost inside or outside your home. An indoor compost bin is ideal for people who do not generate a lot of waste or who live in apartments without a backyard. You can place it under the sink or in your laundry room, as long as there is adequate airflow. You should stir it once every 10-14 days.  

Compost piles for kitchen and yard waste are also a popular choice; but they can get messy and are a sight for sore eyes in a beautifully landscaped yard. Uncle Jim suggests using an outdoor compost bin to keep everything neat and make it easier to collect the finished compost. Choose a shady spot in your yard with good drainage.

Prepare the compost mix

Tumble Style Composter

Now that you have properly collected and segregated the composting material you will use, the only thing left to do is make the compost mix. You need to remember that the green materials are the ones that are usually wet, bringing in the much-needed moisture for the microorganisms to thrive in. 

The browns are the dry materials that the microbes feed on so they can multiply. You could just throw them all in the bin. But if you want the best compost, you should layer them. Put the dry browns at the bottom and the wet greens on top when layering. 

The number of layers depends on how much space you have and the number of food scraps. Each layer should be no more than an inch or two thick. You can also sprinkle some browns on top to keep flies away. In the end, you want more browns than greens, because the wet needs the dry to soak it up.

Aerate then collect

Now that all of the carbon and nitrogen-rich materials have been layered properly, all you need to do is wait and aerate. You should stir it once every 10-14 days to make sure there is enough airflow and the compost materials are not too wet or too dry. 

The compost process does not really have a specific timeframe. It can be as short as six weeks for the smaller compost systems while some backyard composting could take up to a year. The rule of thumb is more work equals faster composting. When your bin’s contents are dark brown and earthy-smelling, the process is complete. 

The process for vermicomposting is basically the same, just with worms in the mix. If you want a more in-depth guide, Uncle Jim can teach you how to start a worm farm

Types of Composting

Aerobic Composting (Hot Composting)

Aerobic composting involves breaking down green and brown materials (also called organic matter) by microorganisms that require oxygen to be able to survive. The oxygen from the air enters the water and is consumed by the microbes. 

Aerobic digestion produces heat, water, and carbon dioxide as byproducts. It is usually done with a tumble-style composter or a compost aerator

Anaerobic Composting (Cold Composting)

As the name implies, anaerobic composting is the opposite of the first one. This type takes little to no effort as you do not need to stir the compost or maintain it that much. It only involves collecting food scraps, (like coffee grounds, egg shells, and veggie scraps), putting them in a pile, and forgetting about it for a year or so. 

The main disadvantage is the smell. Because you do not touch or stir it, odor-causing bacteria will fester and eventually lead to methane production, similar to that found in landfills. 

Vermicomposting

Easily the most popular option, vermicomposting involves using worms that eat your kitchen scraps and digest them for you to provide the much-coveted worm castings. It is preferred over the other two because it produces the least amount of foul odors, and you also get more worms since they reproduce inside the compost bin. 

If you are looking to buy those wriggly creatures, Uncle Jim only sells the best compost worms, which will quickly turn your organic waste into black gold!

What are the Benefits of Composting?

Compost pile

Supports water conservation efforts

Composting can help with the increasing issue of obtaining and distributing water throughout the country. When organic matter is introduced into the soil, it is healthier. It also increases its water-retaining capacity, saving farmers up to 20,000 gallons of water per acre.

Reduces greenhouse gas production in landfills

When our trash ends up in landfills, it undergoes the anaerobic decomposition process, which means that no oxygen or airflow is introduced. Trash build-up leads to the emission of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide. When you compost, you are recycling organic matter. This means less trash ends up in landfills thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Improves soil health and reduces erosion

Compost contains the essential nutrients that make potting or farmland soil more resilient to extreme heat or too much moisture. According to research, improved soil health has also been linked to fewer instances of erosion.

Whatever type of composting you choose, we hope we have answered all of your questions so you can begin your journey. Nothing beats taking something that was destined for the trash and turning it into something useful. Uncle Jim is here to help, so do not hesitate to get in touch with him if you have any more questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does a composting toilet work?

A composting toilet is an alternative to flushing human waste with water. It looks and mostly functions like a regular toilet; but when you flush, it empties into a chamber filled with peat moss or coconut coir. It supports better waste management efforts and produces organic fertilizer. 

There is a vent that directs the air outward, preventing methane buildup. It also does not create odor problems because it is eliminated through a passive composting process. 

How do you know the compost is ready for harvesting?

Finished compost

Fresh compost is generally ready to harvest when it is a rich dark brown color, smells earthy, and crumbles in your hand. Some indications of immature compost are when:

  • Both wet and dry materials are still in large chunks; 
  • The compost pile is still warm; 
  • And it feels lumpy and does not crumble when you stir.

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