Composting for Beginners

As we progress further in a new decade, we’ve realized that a mindbodygreen lifestyle is universally accessible. We’ve realized that we don’t need fancy yoga clothes to rock a Warrior II, we can mediate without achieving the enlightened state of the Dalai Lama, and we can chisel our dream bodies while eating real food. Composting is no different.

Composting nestles nicely into the democratization of environmentally friendly practices. It has never been easier to cultivate a green life that includes not only separating our paper, glass, and plastic waste and depositing it at the curb once a week, but also includes using our food and yard refuse in a proactive way. Composing allows us to nurture a synergistic relationship with the natural world, and with all of the technology and information available to us, it’s never been easier!  

No longer does composting involve tedious, smelly and complicated steps. It’s conducive to everyone’s lifestyle, even lazy environmentalists who care about the earth but prefer simple ways to green their homes. So why not just store your yard and food waste and transform it into something that benefits and beautifies the world?

Not only is composting a simple action with countless benefits, but its growing popularity renders it the hottest way to repay Mother Earth. Celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, and of course infamous treehugger and comic genius, Ed Begley, Jr. (pictured left) all compost. Even Starbucks lauds the practice by offering customers free 5-lb bags of used coffee grounds to add to their steaming pile of environmental goodness. The Denver International Airport also understands the importance of composting.  It is currently collaborating with A1 Organics, Colorado’s leading recycling business, to install 65-gal compost containers throughout the airport, especially in employee break rooms and restaurants. If big name celebrities promote it and if significant establishments find ways to engage the public in it, then composting truly is something everyone can do.   

Let’s break down this seemingly complex process, discredit misconceptions and address some common questions.

What is compost? What does it look like?

Compost is earthly material produced from the natural decomposition of organic matter. Basically, it’s composed mostly of once-living things turned into soil and fertilizer. When fully decomposed and ready for garden use after several months, our composted yard and food scraps look somewhat like topsoil.  

Why should we bother to compost? Doesn’t our yard and food waste just biodegrade in landfills anyway?

Yes, our organic waste eventually decomposes in landfills, but the non-organic trash surrounding it prolongs the process. According to the United States EPA, yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream. That's a lot of waste to send to landfills when it could become useful and environmentally beneficial compost instead! Earth911 lists that compost enhances the physical structure of our soil, stabilizes our soil’s pH levels, and controls erosion. Let’s give our overwhelmed landfills a break and use our organic trash to nourish our gardens and change the world.  
 
What do I need to get started?

Think storage. Purchase a compost bin -- one of the most popular and affordable ways to store refuse. Visit your local garden store or check out what mass marketing stores offer online to find a compost bin that accommodates your needs and lifestyle. From enormous to tiny and from electrically run to self-operated, a host of compost bins under $100 await your discernment and selection.

Live in an open area and have some outdoor space? Perhaps try a larger compost bin that spins and holds many gallons of waste. Kickin’ it in an urban environment and strapped for space? Purchase yourself a tiny compost bin that discreetly nestles in with your furniture and appliances.

If you’d like to invest in a more complex compost bin, choose from several innovations. Small, plug-in devices that heat scraps to speed the decomposition process run close to $400 and work well in small spaces for people without the desire or time to turn their compost. Those of you with more space might like large, globe-shaped compost units that hold 70 gallons of waste are priced around $200 and contain several air tubes to aerate the contents and produce compost after only 4-6 weeks. Some compost bins, priced around $100 use stackable layers to house worms that eat scraps and leave compost behind.

Although it might seem like you need all of this composting technology to give some love to Mother Earth, no elaborate equipment is necessary. Feel free to channel your inner carpenter and build your own compost bin. Visit EarthEasy for simple instructions or check out hundreds of how-to videos online. Chicken wire, one of the most malleable materials, also makes a great place to store refuse. Just mold it into a wide, cylindrical shape and start composting!

What do I compost first?

As Scott Meyer, editor of Organic Gardening Magazine says, “Compost happens -- you don’t have to do a lot to make it work, but a few tips can make it more manageable.” Keep this in mind and the composting process will rarely overwhelm or frustrate you.

Here’s a great way to remember what successful composting requires:

Brown - Refers to the carbon part of the carbon to nitrogen ratio, an essential balance that sparks decomposition and produces usable compost. While numbers vary, an easy way to compost is to include roughly the same amount of carbon and nitrogen scraps. Brown ingredients include shredded paper, straw and leaves. These ingredients should be the first ones you throw into your bin, your first layer.

Green - Refers to the nitrogen component of a compost pile. Green ingredients include table scraps and animal manure.

Water - Ensure that your pile has the wetness of a damp, wrung-out sponge by watering it once a week or twice a month.

Air -This crucial ingredient speeds decomposition and mitigates odor, keeping insects and animals out. Turn your pile a few times a month with a garden fork or mechanism on the bin, or simply shake around the bin to aerate the waste.

Don’t forget to include soil in your pile, as only 1 tablespoon contains 6 million microorganisms that devour your scraps and produce compost.

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll have fine compost within 6 months. Thinking BGWA will help you remember all of the critical ingredients in compost and turn your trash into treasure!

What can’t I compost?

Meat and dairy produces should not go into your compost pile. They produce odors when they decompose, attracting animals and validating all of those unfortunate misconceptions about composting at home. Eggshells are the only animal products that you can compost -- they’re high in calcium level and great additions to your pile. 

It’s trendy, it’s simple and it’s for everyone. Composting is now one of the easiest ways to green our lives. By composting, we can practice environmentalism on a local level and affect our planet on a large scale. With comprehensive information and innovative technology at our fingertips, we can incorporate composting as a mainstay of our mindbodygreen lives.

first image via earth911
last image via waystogogreen


 

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About the Author

Sarah Greenberg is a yoga enthusiast, and recent University of Maryland grad.

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