[Note from Katie: Today I'm welcoming Kristen to share some simple tips on saving money and improving food quality with composting.]
For centuries, countless cultures have understood that good food is the best medicine. These days, I’m realizing that might not always be the case.
Sadly, this widely available resource is becoming less and less effective. Conventional agricultural systems are depleting the health of the soil (1/3 of the World’s farm land is now barren because of soil degradation) and limiting the availability of vital nutrients to crops, inevitably dwindling our well-being.
Luckily, the solution is right at our fingertips.
Closing the nutrient loop
Compost is what happens when organic material (like food and plant debris) breaks down to become organic, nutrient rich fertilizer for plant growth. By composting food that goes uneaten, left over vitamins and minerals get recycled back through the soil and into the food we grow and eat.
The choice should be easy but many of us don’t have the faintest idea where to begin. Here are 3 easy steps to help you close the nutrient loop.
1. Decide on your method
As the environmental, economical and physical benefits of composting are becoming more well known, communities across the world are encouraging (some even mandating) households to separate their organic waste from other types of trash.
Some city municipalities (e.g. Western Disposal in my hometown, Boulder, CO) collect organic waste from homes, businesses, schools and restaurants. They then process it and return the finished product back to local farmers and gardeners. It’s pretty fantastic. To find out if this service is available to you, call your waste hauler or enter your zip code at findacomposter.com.
If you don’t have curbside collection, here’s what you need to know to do it yourself.
Select an Outdoor Bin
Choose a bin that works best for your space and lifestyle. Personally, I like tumblers because they’re easy to maneuver. However, I have to admit, saving money is always appealing too. If cheaper equals better (and you don’t mind DIY projects), you can use retired shipping pallets to build your own compost pile.
A No-Space Solution
Don’t have a backyard? Don’t worry. A worm bin is another method for recycling food waste with limited space. Bonus: kids love playing with worms so making a worm bin is a fun family activity.
Follow a Compost Recipe
Composting is a science but can be as simple or complex as you’d like. From what I can recall, the simple chemical equation would look something like this:
N + C + 02 + H2O ––> Compost (sans coefficients)
Did your eyes just glazed over? Sorry. Let’s stick with an easy recipe.
SIMPLE YUM-ALICIOUS COMPOST:
Create layers using:
- 1 part green material (defined below) 4 parts brown material (defined below) A sprinkle of water
Stir occasionally. To “stir” (aka turn) your pile, use a shovel or pitchfork to bring the bottom layer of your pile to the top. Or, if you’re using a tumbler, spin the bin two or three revolutions at a time.
Your compost may take anywhere from 1-6 months to be fully cooked. It all depends on the proportions of your ingredients and frequency of stirring (once a week is good).
2. Know what is compostable
Whichever method you use, the following items are generally* safe to compost.
- Fruits and vegetable scraps Coffee grounds and tea leaves/bags
- Dead/wilted plants and flowers Paper towels and napkins Soiled newspaper and cardboard Stale bread and crackers Junk mail
*If you have curbside collection, check with your service provider to see if they accept additional items.
- Fresh cut grass Weeds (avoid weeds with seeds)
- Dry leaves and grass Straw Sawdust
3. Establish a method to the madness
Composting food waste is something you’ll do every day and being organized will help solidify your new habit.
From the Cutting Board to the Outdoor Bin
Decide how you’re going to get your kitchen scraps outside. Some people take their food waste out after each meal. Others collect and store their scraps in a small countertop container that gets emptied every other day, or so.
Personally, I struggled with the time commitment of the first and the odors and fruit flies of the second. That’s why my family and I dedicated (years now) figuring out how to make kitchen composting easier. With input from our community, we’ve developed a kitchen compost bin that’s easy to use, clean and odor-free.
The next best alternative, I’d say, is storing your food scraps in the freezer until you run out of space.
Collecting Yard Waste
With curbside compost collection you can just toss yard waste directly into the curbside bin after cleaning up. Easy-peasy!
If you’re making your own compost, find a good place to store yard waste where it’s close to your compost pile but protected from the elements. You might want to use a heavy-duty container or trash bag to keep the brown material dry. Too much (or too little) moisture can impede the composting process. Add your brown material as needed to maintain the recipe above.
Now, go for it! And don’t forget to apply the finished compost to your homegrown plants to make your medicine more effective.
Why are you going to start composting? Do you have access to a compost service or will you be making your own?
Kristen Hess loves people and nature and is passionate about promoting and celebrating the harmonious wellbeing of each. She is the Co-founder of CompoKeeper LLC, a Boulder-based business that makes composting a more rewarding experience through education and well-designed composting products.