Composting 101: Turning Waste into Garden Gold

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There is no waste in nature

Have you ever wondered what your house or apartment would look like if you had to live with all your trash? How long would it take for your space to be full of waste?

Now consider this: 24% of what ends up in landfills is food waste. Uneaten food takes up more space in landfills than any other material. This is an issue for several reasons, but what we will focus on today is how that food could serve a greater purpose. 

Our food scraps and waste can nourish the earth! It can feed our plants so they can grow strong and healthy, and support our ecosystems. This is what is now known as composting. We collect our “waste” or scraps from organic material (fruits, vegetables, eggshells, moldy bread, etc), let the mixture decompose for a few months, and feed it to our gardens like an earth-smelling power smoothie.

Composting keeps food scraps out of landfills, supports our plants, and turns what would be “waste” into powerful fertilizer! Are you interested in learning to compost? Let me break down my process for you. 

How composting transformed my garden

When I moved into my house, my garden was a sad piece of land waiting for life-giving nutrients. It had been neglected and overlooked, but still housed life waiting to be nurtured. 

I started composting not long after immersing myself in plantcare, and my yard responded with enthusiasm. After churning the contents in my compost pit, I would walk around my yard and hit my churning shovels against each other to shake off any compost materials on them. This distributed compost, potent and powerful, around the land. From the barren dirt grew bright green grass and native plants. The flowers brought bees, and a thriving ecosystem followed. 

Years later, people often ask me about my secret. “How did you make the grass grow? Why is the space vibrant? What is it that you do here?”

My answer? Compost!

How to compost at home

I have spent years composting with this method, and it works tremendously well for me. I have a three-stage compost system:

1. Kitchen bin

    My kitchen bin is where I collect my food scraps and organic material like leaves from my houseplants. It generally takes 1-2 weeks to fill a bin, and then I move its contents to the outdoor bin. I don’t compost all organic materials like meat (this “What to Avoid Adding to a Backyard Compost Pile” is a great guide), but you would still be surprised at how much I separate from my trash can! Here is a list of what is common in my compost:

    1. Pepper stems

    2. Eggshells 

    3. Grapevines

    4. Banana peels

    5. Onion skin

    My indoor compost bins. I put citrus into the white bin as citrus will make your general compost too acidic. Keeping citrus is a personal choice; it is not essential for your home composting system.

    2. Outdoor tumble bin

    When my kitchen bin is full, I add its content to my outdoor tumble bin. Compost is meant to be a balance of carbon and nitrogen materials. Depending on how many stems, seeds, and rinds I have in my mix (these are referred to as “greens” (nitrogen-rich materials), I also put in some dead leaves from the yard, or a piece of cardboard (these are referred to as “browns,” or carbon-rich materials) to balance. The bin is split into compartments, each able to hold 21 gallons of compost. I fill one side at a time. Once that side is full, I fill the other. When the second side is full, usually after several months, I transfer the contents of the first side to my final stage. I let the first side sit for the few months to let everything further decompose. 

    3. Outdoor pit

    This is my final compost stage, where my compost ends up after months of breaking down. This bin is hot in the center and is filled with worms and rich material. During watermelon season, I can put a single watermelon rind (I cut watermelons in half, scoop out the contents, and compost the two sides) in the center and it will be gone within two weeks. The final stage is what I draw from to nourish my garden.

    Once your compost is ready from stage three, it can be added to raised beds, sprinkled on trees, and mixed into planters. Be careful though – there is too much of a good thing! In case you’re inclined to plant something entirely in compost (won’t it be like extra healthy soil?), know that a plant can suffer when presented with more nutrients than it needs or an unbalanced substrate. 

    How to compost without a composting system

    If you want to keep your food waste out of landfills and support nature but don’t have the space to compost yourself, see if there’s a composting company or organization in your area. Some companies will pick up buckets of food scraps like a trash collector. Local universities or schools may have gardens and welcome donations of compost. I recently got in touch with a university about a compost surplus I have, and I look forward to sharing my compost with them. 

    Here are a couple examples of compost collection organizations:

    Boston area:

    The Woodlands TX area:

    Are you ready to compost?

    In summary, here are key benefits of composting:

    1. Our food scraps feed our plants

    2. We eliminate waste

    3. We keep food out of landfills

    4. We save money on fertilizer 

    Are you ready to turn food into fertilizer? I hope the answer is yes! To get started on your composting, here are the tools I use in my home composting system (disclaimer – I receive compensation for purchases made through my Amazon Storefront, but these are the tools I use everyday):

    Stage 1: Kitchen bin

    Stage 2: Outdoor bin

    Stage 3: Outdoor pit

    Optional step, but beneficial (this can be planted into your raised beds): Worm composter

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