Making your own compost saves money and prevents usable waste from further burdening our landfills. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers composting an important component of integrated solid waste management, noting that backyard composting and grasscycling divert kitchen and yard waste (see References 4, page 7-1). Although the process can seem magical, composting is all about science -- with a variety of composting systems to choose from to meet your needs (see References 2).
One of the most common composting systems is bin composting. Commercially available bins range in size, price and specifications. Bins retain heat and allow for easy use of finished compost. Many tumble or rotate, which speeds the composting process. If you prefer to save money, building your own bin is a possibility. Leftover materials, such as pallets, chicken wire, concrete blocks or an old trashcan are useful for constructing your own composting system (see References 5, Appendix A).
If space allows, a pile is the simplest of composting methods. For best heating, a pile is ideally 4 to 5 feet high, wide and deep. Smaller piles will decompose, but will take more time and may not kill weed seeds. Keep piles moist and aerated. Covering the pile with a tarp will help keep moisture from escaping during dry spells. In situations where compost is not an immediate goal, leave the pile to decompose on its own. Called "cold" composting, this method can take a year or more for materials to thoroughly decompose. (See References 2)
Trench composting allows you to place kitchen scraps directly in the soil. If you don't have room for a trench, you can dig a hole, instead. Dig up the soil and place it off to the side. Add chopped scraps and cover with at least 8 inches of soil. You can gradually fill in a trench and then plant in the area after the materials break down. (See References 1, page 4)
Worm composting, or vermicomposting, creates rich compost in a small space. Vermicomposting requires worms, a bin, shredded newspaper as bedding and fruit and vegetable scraps. Bins can be purchased or homemade. Those without outdoor space for composting or who are subject to inclement weather can use a vermicomposting system indoors. (See References 2 and References 1, page 4)
If you have a lawn, laziness pays off. The system of grasscycling involves leaving grass clippings on the grass when you mow, rather than bagging and removing them. Mostly composed of water, grass clippings provide needed nutrients and decompose quickly. (See References 3)
- North Carolina Cooperative Extension; Community Backyard Composting Programs; Rhonda Sherman-Huntoon
- Natural Resources Conservation Services: Composting
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Give an Inch, Save a Yard---Grasscycling and Mulching
- "Decision Maker's Guide to Solid Waste Management -- Vol. II"; Chapter 7: Composting; 1995
- Northeast Regional Agricultural Engineering Service; Composting to Reduce the Waste Stream: A Guide to Small Scale Food and Yard Waste Composting; Nancy Dickson, et al.; 1993
Andrea Peck has been writing since 2006. Her work has appeared in "The Rogue Voice," "Information Press" and "The Tribune." Her writing focuses on topics about gardening and the environment. Peck holds a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and a minor in biology from San Diego State University.
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