Our soil is one of the most important resources we have. It’s not just “dirt,” soil is a mixture of humus, living microbes, sediments, nutrients, and more! By cultivating our soil, we’re ensuring that the source of our food and nutrients will remain healthy. Now, even cities are contributing to their surrounding soil and reducing organic waste through compost programs that provide a way to redirect city compost back to the local soil.
A compost program is basically a home recycling program that collects city residents’ compostable material for re-use in large-scale compost piles. They provide a bucket to their service subscribers for storing compostable material. The subscribing residents use this bucket for their home scraps and food waste, rather than sending it down the garbage disposal or throwing it in the trash. There are guidelines for which items can be composted, and which can’t. These guidelines are usually outlined on the bucket by the program organizer. Finally, the service picks up the buckets from their subscribers on a scheduled basis and delivers it to the compost site where it can be separated into piles of compost and used by local farms. Often there is a monthly subscriber’s fee to cover the pickup and dropoff service, which is paid by the participating residents. This can range anywhere from $5 – $25 per month.
These services are already established in many major cities and are slowly spreading to new cities. If your city doesn’t have one already, you may be interested in starting one yourself.
Of course, if you want to just start your own personal compost for your home garden, it’s pretty easy to do and a great way to learn about decomposition and soil.
In a backyard setting you can build a bin using chicken wire and posts, or a bin made out of old pallets (free!). One thing to consider is that you’ll need to turn the compost often, so you’ll want a compost bin that makes it easy to access the compost to turn it. There are also commercially sold compost barrel style bins that allow you to just rotate the barrel occasionally to aerate the compost, such as the Yimby Tumbler Composter below, sold on Amazon.
The web is rich with tutorials for building your own using tupperware or trash bins as well.
A great start to a new compost pile is collecting fallen autumn leaves & pine needles. Many modern leaf blowers convert into leave vacuums that will suck your yard leaves and mulch them into a storage bag for composting. For your kitchen scraps, keep a small bucket with a lid indoors to fill with your kitchen scraps as you go and empty into your outdoor compost pile when it’s full.
Here are some items that you can add to your compost:
Carbon-rich (2/3 of your compost)
- Fallen leaves & pine needles
- Woodchips & corn stalks
- Straw & Hay
Nitrogen-rich (1/3 of your compost)
- Manure (from, horses, cows, bats, etc)
- Grass Clippings
- Kitchen scraps (juicer pulp, apple cores, tea & coffee grounds, watermelon rinds, egg shells, vegetable peelings, etc.)
- Garden scraps
In general, you may want to consider avoiding anything that will attract wild animals, cause excessive smell, and anything that contains dangerous pathogens or chemicals.
Items to Avoid:
- Dairy products, bones, & meat.
- Fats & oils
- Charcoal briquettes (contains chemicals)
- Human or pet waste & waste from carnivores.
Maintaining Your Compost
Compost needs an environment in which the microbes can break down the material easily. You’ll need to occasionally aerate your compost. Moisture is good, but don’t let it become saturated with water. You’ll want it to be able to breathe. Be sure to turn your compost often by stirring & aerating it.
Keep it well balanced with mostly carbon-rich material and slightly less nitrogen material. Keep the density fairly light and mixed. A healthy compost pile should shrink as it’s broken down, allowing you to continue to add new material.
In general, this is a natural process that doesn’t require much work on your part, just maintaining it weekly by providing the ideal conditions for the microbes to do all the work.