On Compost: Part 1

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We’re making dirt outside our front door. (Kind of. It’s compost actually, but that doesn’t make it any classier.) Just to get our feet wet, today I’m sharing the basics: what compost is, what it’s used for, and how to make it (in very, very simple terms.)

We’ve wanted to start a compost bin for a couple years now. Not because it seemed like a blast or anything. We just got to the point where Caveman and I both felt guilty every time we swept a plate of food scraps into the trash. It seemed like there was a much better use for those peels and seeds and rinds. (Backyard chickens would love them…buuuutttt wait. We don’t own any except the imaginary hen Red sometimes invites to breakfast.) Making compost seemed the natural, responsible way of using our food waste. Plus, less food scraps in the trash helps to keep smells down.

So we recently began this journey of making compost. I’m excited to tell you about our method and experience, but I think that first a very basic compost 101 post might be helpful. So today we’ll go over (in very non-scientific, non-gardeny language because I’m no expert) what compost is, what it’s used for, and how to make it. Then in the next couple weeks I’ll follow up with our own little compost story so far. (Can you handle the suspense?! ) I know. Try to keep it together.

What is compost?

“Compost” is decayed organic material used as a plant fertilizer, according to all-knowing Google. It is a dark mix that is rich in nutrients and promotes soil microbes that aid in plant growth. “Typical ingredients include fruit and vegetable trimmings from your kitchen, pulled weeds and old plants from your vegetable garden, and leaves and grass clippings from your yard,” according to Bonnie Plants. It contains a delicate carbon-nitrogen balance and is home to an abundance of microorganisms which are responsible for the main decomposition of materials.

What is it used for?

Compost is not a plant fertilizer but rather a soil feeder. It supplies nutrients necessary for plant growth. It improves soil structure by increasing permeability, and helps soil stick together for optimal nutrient retention.  So, it’s good for the ground.

How is it made?

Compost can be made in a pile out in your backyard, in a bin, in a tumbler or any combination of the above. Of course the process of decomposition is a natural one that occurs every day in nature, but the kind we speak of is the human controlled process to yield a usable end product. The basic idea is that plant-based material is added in a ratio of 1 part nitrogen (or “green” ingredients) to 3 parts carbon (or “brown” ingredients). “Green” material is anything fresh, such as kitchen scraps or green garden waste. “Brown” material qualifies by being, well, brownish—dried tree leaves, old grass clippings, even shredded paper. As the added items decompose, tiny organisms break down the organic matter into compost where the nutrients are easily accessible to the soil. It takes time, heat, moisture (but not too much) and the correct ratio of green/brown. And in theory, voilà, the result is nice, stable, dark, rich compost.

…Which will be outside our front door. (Can you tell I wish we had a better place for the bin?!)

So there’s the not-even-101-version of compost, to my understanding. We’re giving it our best shot. I’ll tell you about how our first batch is coming along in a week or two.

For now, I’m thinking that many of you might actually know a lot more about compost and gardening than I do. What do you know about compost that I didn’t share today? Comment and teach us, friends!

By the way…. thanks for reading. Love having you on this journey with us!



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  • Jenifer
    June 25, 2013

    I love composting, but I’ve been having a really hard time getting it going where we are. Part of it is being in a rental, and having to make sure that our landlord is OK with it. She is a bit of a nervous sort, and doesn’t like the idea of the compost bin, and there is *zero* garden really, so what would we do with the compost?

    In the alternative, I looked into our municipal composting scheme — but it’s currently only available for commercial enterprises (restaurants). That being said, I have a business (not a restaurant), and I could, technically, register the account under my business name and then have them pick up compost at my house. So, it might be an option, but it is an added expense.

    We’ll see. I miss composting. I used to compost so much stuff. Now, 90% of our waste is green waste scraps. So annoying.

    • Evelyn
      June 28, 2013

      Good thoughts, Jenifer! We don’t have any use for our compost yet; I figure we’ll give it to friends or bring up to my parents’ garden. I love the idea of a municipal composting program… I don’t think we have that. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  • Nick @ Livin' Lightly
    July 28, 2013

    Way to go! We are all about composting!!!

    When we resided in a house we did a two bin method…one bin was for the carbon yard waste and the other bin was for mixing the compost. As long as we manged to cover the kitchen food scraps with leaves/grass-clippings/shredded-paper we didn’t have much smell.

    We did however have mice…I guess the bin with the perfect habitat for them. My wife wasn’t fond of their presence but I didn’t mind as it was in the back corner of the lot.

    Now that we are living in our Airstream we are experimenting with other small space options like: Bokashi, Red Wriggler Worms and BSF (Black Solider Fly Larvae). We will see…

    Wish you the best with your compost!


    • Evelyn
      July 30, 2013

      Hey Nick,
      Thanks for chipping in! Ours is off the ground so thankfully I think it’s mice-proof. And we have discovered that the only way to seriously do it is to have several bins going at once. But we’re learning!

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