From the Kitchen to the Garden: Composting 101
For years, I have thought about composting, but the task somehow seemed too overwhelming. Given the small space I have, it was always easy to put this on the back burner and just buy compost from the local garden store when needed. But, in an effort to reduce my own impact on the environment and also to be more in touch with natural processes, I recently decided to dig in to this and am happy to say it is not nearly as cumbersome as I otherwise assumed! I am no agriculture expert, but I figured by sharing my little journey and what I have learned, it might inspire you to reduce your own waste footprint in your kitchen, as well as save you money in enriching your little green friends.
A big thank you to Pete and Gerry’s Organic Eggs for helping bring this post to life and for supporting urban growers and small farms all around the country. This is the first in a four-part series of blog posts to promote growing practices in small spaces. I am very grateful for their support and mission and hope you enjoy the upcoming content with a sprinkle of up-cycled eggshells.
There are two benefits to taking on composting at home. The first, and most obvious, is to lessen your waste footprint. And although composting at home is much easier than I thought, if you’re not interested in doing so, there are several local services that will pick up your scraps for the sake of composting (just like recycling and garbage). The second, and in my opinion, most fun part of composting at home is to create plant food for better-thriving vegetation. Below, I’ll break down what you can compost, how to balance your “green” and “brown” materials, and the added nutrients your plants will enjoy as a result of your efforts.
So when it comes to backyard composting, it is pretty simple. Inside, you collect your vegetable, fruit and egg scraps in a convenient container in your kitchen. Outside, you pick a location for your composting area and pick the container in which you want the process to take shape. You mix the “green” materials (kitchen scraps from your indoor bin and grass clippings) with the “brown” material found outside (dried leaves, existing soils) and make sure you have about a one-to-one balance of the two in a moist, but not soaking, environment. Millions of microorganisms that live in plants will start to break down the food and create nutrient-dense soil for you within 4 to 12 weeks. I will further break down the process below, but it’s really as simple as that.
So when it comes to the back yard composting line, it is pretty simple. You collect your vegetable, fruit and egg scraps, in a convenient container in your kitchen. Outside you pick a location for your composting area and pick the container in which you want the process to take shape. You mix the “green” material (kitchen scraps and grass clippings) with the “brown” material (dried leaf, existing soils) and make sure you have about a half and half balance of the two in a moist, but not soaking environment. Millions of microorganism that live in our plants will start to break down the food and create nutrient dense soil for you within 4-12 weeks. I will further break down the process below but it’s really as simple as that.
Indoor Kitchen-Scraps Container:
These can be anything that you don’t mind putting clean scraps into, but if you search online, there are several brands that make compost-specific little bins. I ended up buying my container online and tend to empty it every other day.
Outdoor Compost Container:
This can be anything from a chicken-wire fence, wooden box, standing pail with a few holes for air circulation, or a tumbler (see images at the end for reference). It is recommended to mix your compost to help speed up the breakdown process, but this is not necessary. As I have a pretty tight space, I wanted to keep my compost area clean and compact and have a relatively quick turnover with the product, so I ended up investing into a small tumbler compost that spins for mixing and putting it right near my recycling area. If you make your own container, you want to make sure it is critter-proof, as creatures of all sizes will find it a pretty attractive find.
What to Compost and What Not to Compost:
Compost: Uncooked vegetable scraps, fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves, clean eggshells.
Avoid: Anything containing fats, oil, meat, processed foods. (Note: If you sign up for a composting service to pick up your scraps, you can usually include all these items also.)
Balance Your Compost:
As mentioned earlier, you want to make sure you have about an even amount of “green” material, which is nitrogen-rich, and “brown” material, which is carbon-rich. One way to gauge how well you are balancing is if you notice your compost starts to have odor, then it probably has too much nitrogen, so adding more “brown” material will help. On the other hand, if you have too much carbon/“brown material,” then the process will take longer to complete.
Lastly, you want to make sure that your compost is always evenly moist. I think of this as the level of moisture in a topsoil or compost bag that you buy at a store.
Worth noting is that composting makes a HUGE difference in the quality of your soil and how well your plants grow. For example, the Pete and Gerry’s organic eggshells in my compost are an excellent source of calcium, while coffee grounds are good nitrogen contributors that help the composting process. I tend to add compost to my flower and vegetable beds in the spring and mix them into the soil before adding new plantings. I also feed the plants two or three times throughout the growing season. If you have a small space and tend to pack your plantings together like I do, making sure your soil has enough nutrition is critical. For midseason feedings, you can add compost in the root hole as you are getting new plants in or on the topsoil of existing vegetation and massage it in. The idea is that you keep nutrition close to the root system for the most optimal results. I also tend to add an inch of compost to my topsoil when I close out the garden for the winter, which is a good practice, ensuring you have nutrient-rich soil waiting for you in the spring.
If you have any questions, I would love to hear from you, here on instagram or through email! Happy composting, and thank you so much for stopping by!