Waste Not, Want Not: Composting Your Way to a Happier Garden

By Colleen McTiernan

Every day the average person generates 4.3 pounds of waste, according to the Duke University Center for Sustainability and Commerce. And of those 4.3 pounds, about 65 percent is made up of food scraps and yard waste — items that can instead be given new life in your garden through composting!

Benefits of compost

Aside from reducing the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills, composting has a number of benefits. Using compost in your garden can improve the structure of your soil and allow it to hold on to more nutrients, said Denise DeBusk, the environmental and community horticulture agent of the UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County. The composting process also creates a large supply of plant-available nitrogen, which leads to lush, green plant growth, every gardener’s goal!

How to start your compost heap

First you need to determine where you will keep your compost heap. Whether you choose to buy a compost bin or tumbler, or make your own wooden bin, DeBusk recommends that you try to aim for a structure that is 3-feet tall, 3-feet wide and 3-feet long, as it is the optimal size for compost processing. If you are using a storage structure without a bottom, she also recommends adding a layer of sticks as the base of your pile before you start to add your scraps and yard trimmings.

You will want to make sure that your pile is easily accessible so that you can mix it frequently. You should also consider placing your compost pile downwind of your home to avoid being greeted by the unpleasant odors that can sometimes accompany compost. Once you have selected a site and a storage method, you can start adding materials to your compost heap!

What to include and what to keep out

Compost requires three basic ingredients, according to the Environmental Protection Agency — browns (twigs, branches and dead leaves), greens (food waste and grass clippings) and water. The brown and green ingredients provide carbon and nitrogen, while the water helps to break down the organic materials added to your heap. To help your compost process more quickly, DeBusk recommends alternating between layers of greens and browns.

According to the EPA, you can compost any of the following: fruits, vegetables, eggshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, nut shells, yard trimmings, shredded newspaper, cardboard, grass clippings, houseplants, paper, hay, hair, fur, straw, leaves, wood chips, sawdust, ashes, lint and rags. For a more efficient compost heap, it is best to shred food waste to speed up the decomposition process.

You should avoid placing any dairy products in your compost heap, as they can cause bad odors and attract pests as they spoil. Oils, fats, grease and meats are to be excluded for the same reasons. And although you may think that including your furry friend’s waste in your heap is a good idea (hey, it works with manure!), pet feces can contain substances that are harmful to humans, so you’ll want to keep your garden clear of excrement. Along the same lines, you should keep any yard trimmings treated with pesticides away from your compost to prevent the chemicals from killing the microorganisms working to transform your kitchen scraps into black gold.

Tabletop composting

If you are planning on adding kitchen scraps to your compost, you’ll need somewhere to store them before adding them to your pile — the sight and smell of old, decomposing veggies sitting on your counter might not be ideal when you are trying to cook or entertain. These counter-top compost bins are the perfect way to seal in the smells while allowing proper airflow to reach your scraps.

EcoCrock Compost Bin

$39.99, Chefn.com

This cute countertop composter has a dual bucket design for easy removal and a charcoal filter to eliminate odor.

Green Cycler

$119.99, Thegreencycler.com

Sized to fit easily on your countertop, the green cycler allows composters to manually shred their kitchen scraps.

Fresh Air Countertop Compost Collector

$29.99, Fullcirclehome.com

The unique design of this compost collector allows for increased airflow and opens with just the touch of a button.

Don’t know what to keep your compost in? Leveda Brown Environmental Park and Transfer Station offers free wire bins and countertop kitchen scrap containers.


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