To ensure a few more years on planet Earth, we need to collectively look into a few environmental practices that can positively affect the world around us. Of those is the lost art of composting.
Composting is the natural decay of vegetation with the assistance of microorganisms. Composts are best effective when balanced between green and brown vegetation. The convenience of composting is something to admire, though sometimes viewed as not so glamorous. Placing rotten fruits and vegetables along with unused scraps in a compost bin mixed with twigs or mulch creates an environment for microorganisms to break down the combination and produce an organic nutrient for the soil. This is a better solution to trash and landfills as we replenish the earth.
As spring approaches in the coming months and you start considering how you’ll fertilize your gardens, start a compost pile now. Compost piles turn everyday scraps into food for your plants.
The science behind composting
The microorganisms used are composed of two classes: aerobes and anaerobes. Aerobes, a bacteria requiring oxygen levels of at least five percent to survive, are generally the most useful in the composting process. Aerobes consume the organic waste in the compost, and in turn excrete nitrogen,phosphorus and magnesium. These chemicals are vital to plants and soil. Anaerobes in contrast aren’t as efficient at processing organic waste and the chemicals they dispel are often harmful to plants.
Cornell University cites that between 80 to 90 percent of microorganisms found in compost piles are forms of bacteria while various species of fungi make up the remainder.
Centipedes, pill bugs and worms are active contributors to decomposition. If outdoors, these organisms will naturally find themselves to the pile and start turning the compost into nutrient-rich soil.
This process only works if the microorganisms are in the right conditions to flourish. Warm temperatures, moisture and plenty of oxygen are essential for their environment.
How to maintain a proper environment
The United States Environmental Protection Agency states there should always be a balance between “greens” and “browns.” Greens, or grass clippings, vegetation, coffee grounds etc., are heavily nitrous. Browns, or dead leaves, branches, and twigs, are rich in carbon.
A balance between carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in the pile is vital. It is recommended to maintain a carbon-nitrogen ratio between 25 to 1. If there is too much carbon in a compost pile, the decomposition rate of the pile is much slower as less heat is generated. Too much nitrogen and the pile could put off a smell of ammonia and can increase the acidity of the compost making it toxic for plants and some microorganisms.
Moisture plays one of the most important roles in the maintenance of the environment. A damp compost pile allows the microorganisms to remain vigilant in decomposing the waste.
Maintaining this balance is simple so long as you pay attention to what materials you are adding to your pile. Filtering what scraps you throw away and what you contribute to the pile can make all the difference in the perfect organic decomposer. Turning the compost helps in speeding up the decomposition process, and this can be made easy with different types of compost bins.
Compost piles can be indoor or outdoor so long as the proper set-up is used.
- Select an area outside that is dry, shady and near a water source. As materials are added to the pile, simply dampen and let it be. A rake or gardening shovel is useful in turning the compost. Covering the top of the pile with a tarp helps keep the pile moist.
- A plastic or wooden bin outside is also suitable. Compost bins can also be made from buckets, storage bins or wooden boxes. Aeration holes need to be added to the lid so there is airflow and natural filtering.
- Ready-to-fill bins are sold online and come in various sizes depending on the space available inside and how much compost you are hoping to collect. Some bins have a crank attachment that allows you to turn the compost from the outside of the bin.
- “Worm bins” are a popular indoor composting unit. Most worm bins arrive with the worms in a separate container from the bin for you to add as compost accumulates. These are efficient in quick decomposition and beneficial to homes with excess compostable waste.
- Like the outside bins, you can use buckets, storage bins or wooden boxes for an indoor compost pile. Even inside, aeration holes need to be made to the lids for filtration.
For either indoor or outdoor, a great tip is to have a handful of shredded paper or dry leaves to keep up with the dampness. Another great tip is to break down scraps and vegetation into small pieces for easier decomposition.
What to compost:
- Hair and fur
- Shredded newspaper, paper and cardboard
- Fireplace ashes
- Hay and straw
- Tea bags
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Nut shells
- Grass, leaves, branches and twigs
- Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
Many companies are creating goods that can be composted. This includes dinner and flatware, diapers, garbage bags and more. Packages will indicate whether or not a product is safe for composting.
Pela Case is a company making 100 percent biodegradable phone cases. The case is made from plant fibers and flax to create a durable case that can be sent back to the earth after use. Donations are made by the company for planet clean-up efforts.
Green Paper Products produces a variety of practical goods that are compostable. Cups, straws, bags and gloves to only name a few.
Native Shoes creates vegan, 100% biodegradable and compostable shoes made entirely from plant fibers.
What not to compost:
- Coal or coal ash
- Dairy products, raw eggs, fats/oils, meat and fish bones/scraps
- Diseased or insect-infested plants
- Pet waste
- Any yard trimmings that have been treated with pesticides
Most of these items release toxins into the organic compost that could be harmful to plants and affect the nutrient balance of the soil. The dairy products, raw eggs, fats/oils, meat and fish bones/scraps creates an odor that attracts rodents and pests that disrupt the layering and breakdown process.
Benefits of composting:
Composting enriches the soil and provides a nutrient rich alternative to store-bought fertilizers. If done the right way without the use of pesticides, compost is a healthy plant food for vegetable gardens, flower beds and pots. This strange process is ultimately cheaper and better for your plants.
Another major benefit of composting is the good it does for the planet. The organic breakdown of compost materials by microorganisms reduces methane emissions from landfills and lowers the carbon footprint that has been growing exponentially. Landfill waste is a thing of the past with at-home composting on items that are biodegradable and compostable.
The up-keep of a compost pile does require some work, but in the end the pros outweigh the cons. If more and more people hop on the compost train, the damage we’ve inflicted over the past few hundred years and beyond can slowly be remedied. Looking into companies that produce biodegradable and compostable products, finding alternative food sources and composting are great ways to make minor changes in everyday life that are beneficial for generations to come. These changes are a small step toward a greener planet, but a step all the same.