Composting: Waste Reduction & Soil Creation

For as long as I can remember, my parents and grandparents have kept a compost pile/bin/hole. We would throw in anything from kitchen scraps to grass clippings to the leaves we raked in the fall. I don’t believe I was ever entirely sure of what we were doing, or why, but I knew that whatever we were doing, it was making our garden grow!

An estimated 70 billion pounds of food are wasted yearly. Billion! With a B! Food waste has become a HUGE issue in our society. Composting is one of the simplest and most beneficial means to cut down on your food waste, and therefore on your overall trash output.

I am amazed by the amount of people that I see who enjoy and are passionate about things like gardening and eating holistic, “whole” foods, but who do not practice the “art” of composting. There are many ways to compost, and all of which can provide you with two huge benefits: 1. Highly fertile, nutritious soil, and 2. A large reduction in the amount of waste you create. I have added some links below to some various types/styles of composting, and have also written a paragraph including my own methodology. 🙂

Penny, a professional composter, and myself

Types of Composting:
1. Compost Bin
2. Compost Tumbler
3. Compost Pile
4. Compost Pit
5. O2 Composting
6. Worm Bins
7. Animal Feeding

1. Compost Bins
Compost bins can come in all shapes and sizes and are perhaps some of the simplest means of composting. Simply set up your bin outdoors and add any kitchen scraps, grass clippings, leaves, etc. It is best to turn/churn/stir your compost, so a shovel or dirty hands will be necessary.

2. Compost Tumbler
Takes the shovel/dirty hands out of the equation by allowing you to turn the entire bin to stir up the compost. These also can come in many shapes/sizes to fit your needs.

3. Compost Pile
Aka the “lazy man’s composter.” Simply create a small (~3’x3′) pile, primarily of yard clippings, etc. then add your kitchen scraps. Turn over with a shovel occasionally to promote decomposition and wait for your fabulous compost to be “done.”

4. Compost Pit
Dig a trench/pit/hole (generally between 8-12″  depth) and shovel in your compost material. Once your pit is 1/2 to 3/4 of the way full, cover it back up with soil. Your scraps and trimmings will decompose within the soil, so after a couple of months you can plant plants directly on top of your pit. The roots of the plants will take in the nutrients from the decomposing compost. This way can also allow worms to infiltrate the compost and turn it into valuable worm castings which are great for your plants as well!

5. O2 Composting
This method is popular on the large scale. It is similar to a compost pile or bin, however the general idea is that there is a large tube or pipe in the bottom of the compost to allow it to “breathe” (aerating the pile) and ease breakdown. This method is popular in many equine and livestock operations.

6. Worm Bins
Worm composting or vermicomposting is using worms to speed up the composting process while also producing manure, called castings (mentioned above in #4), that are highly nutritious and valuable to your garden. Vermicomposting is slightly more difficult because you are dealing with keeping living things alive and at work. I have never tried this method, however I know a couple people who do and they swear by it. Here’s a nice overview. Plus you have the added benefit of being able to sell worms to other composters/fishermen/as chicken/bird food.

7. Animal Feeding
While this is not a type of composting entirely, one surefire way to cut down on food waste is to feed it to your livestock, if you keep any. I would guess-timate that my rabbits consume ~10% of my excess food, my dogs around the same, and my chickens probably up to ~50%. That leaves very little waste that actually needs to be composted. Our chickens especially love eating ground up egg shells, great source of protein and we have never had them eat their own eggs! Other waste that can be eliminated in this fashion is drying grass clippings (from untreated lawns) and feeding them to rabbits/goats, etc. as hay. Other animals that make good use of food waste and scraps are pigs, who can eat almost any food you can think up. Just be sure to know what you’re feeding and do so in moderation if need be. Veggies and fruits are generally okay, but you might want to skip the chocolate cake for Porkchop.

Baby Francis

My Methodology
I guess you could say that I am a lazy person when it comes to composting. I have two locations that I compost. One is in a large black Rubbermaid tote, into which I put banana peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, and rabbit manure. This tote already has probably two bags of soil in it, and I use the soil from this bin when I want to start seeds or plant plants in containers. The chickens get in this one and take care of turning it, so it’s very minimal work. My second location is more of a pile underneath the swingset in my yard. I have it sectioned off from the rest of the yard with chicken wire, only the chickens can access this pile (and our tiny dog who is bad!). Into this pile go all the excess yard clippings, leaves, excess food scraps and waste, etc. The chickens go through and pick out everything they enjoy eating. They also scrape and scratch around to help turn the pile and eat bugs that they find. For both locations, I generally do no maintenance or upkeep, I let my super composter chickens handle all of it.

What To & NOT To Compost
Some general rules of thumb about what is good and bad for composting:
Good – Fruits & veggies, egg shells, nuts/seeds, paper/cardboard, tea & tea bags, yard waste, houseplants, hair & fur, wood shavings/wood ash, dust etc.
Bad – meats, bones, feces (dog/cat/human), cooking oils, diapers, cheese/dairy, pressure treated wood
This is a pretty solid list of Dos & Don’ts.

Whether you want to put a lot of work into your compost or not, there is a simple solution that can fit anyone’s lifestyle to help reduce food (and other) waste. I challenge you to at least look into it, educate yourself, and if you don’t want to compost on your own, look into community composting or donating your wastes to someone who does compost or has animals.

Baby composters learning how to do their job

 

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