Composting at Home
I was almost arrested over my compost pile but an intervention was necessary. Banana peels, egg shells, corn husks, wilted lettuce and apple cores; the list goes on and on when it comes to the organic trash that our family used to throw out. I always felt a little guilty about it too; sure we didn’t plant to eat the cornhusks but they really didn’t seem like trash. Now, I knew what composting is and I know the benefits and everything. But that just seemed so messy and who needs one more chore? Additionally, I always thought compost smelled. I mean, who really looks at their house and thinks, “Ya know, what we need—a pile of rotten food!”
But every morning, after finishing a banana in my car, I would throw the peel out the window (pulling the sticker off first) so it could decompose in the ditch. I was too guilty to put it in the trash and too lazy to make a true home for it in my yard. By saving one banana peel from the landfill a day I felt it fully compensated for the buckets of other organic waste I was pitching. My moral compass was pacified by this until one morning when a police officer decided to not be pacific.
I was pulled over for littering on my way to work. I’m usually the “yes, officer; thank you officer” type but I guess my shame for being caught made me defensive. “That is not liter. It is organic material and will decompose.” I retrieved the banana peel to prove my point. “You should really compost that.” The officer said.
He let me go with a warning. I was so embarrassed; I started composting. I got a five gallon bucket, researched composting and started with it right under our kitchen sink. There are five basic ingredients to composting—
Nitrogen is pretty easy to get in your compost bin. You get it by adding any “wet” compost. “wet” compost is the stuff that isn’t totally dead yet, green stuff; apple cores, tea bags (take out the staple), and left over salad fit in here. Things like dairy and meat are also compostable (I mean, everything decays) but adding these elements will drastically increase stench and attract animals that you don’t want.
Carbon is the “dry” compost; brown stuff. Material like dead leaves, grass clippings, even shredded newspaper or sawdust can help add carbon to the mix.
Water is necessary to your compost, but it’s a delicate balance. Too much water will create a slimy mess—slowing decomposition–and too little will create a dusty pile—again, slowing decomposition. Your compost pile should have as much water as a rung out sponge. If you pick up a handful it should be slightly sticky and squeezing should yield no more than a few drops of water. Remember to water throughout your pile/bucket/bin too, not just on top.
Isn’t necessary for the dead material but it is necessary for all the living things consuming it. Yes, compost is dependant on microorganisms, bacteria and the like to make it work. The lack of air kills these little critters and is the main cause of smelly compost.
Worms aren’t necessary to keep compost, as mentioned before—bacteria will take care of decomposition but worms speed the whole process up and add even more nutrients. Just dig some up from your garden and throw them in—I let my kids take care of that one.
I was surprised, overall, by these ease of it once everything had been settled. I was also surprised that all that organic work creates heat! The soil was always slightly warm to the touch and no, it doesn’t smell any worst than the stuff already under your kitchen sink.