A Guide to Composting at Home

Unless you’re in a city that has residential industrial compost, most of us are used to throwing our apple cores, banana peels, and watermelon rinds into the garbage. These waste remnants known as food scraps still have so much nutrient potential, but are unfortunately just being discarded. Americans are throwing away up to 40 million tons of food per year, and that food waste makes up 30-40% of the total food supply. Think of all the water, fertilizer, transportation, and labor that goes into producing that food! Although it may seem like the food will just break down in the landfill, unfortunately that’s not the case. Landfills create an anaerobic environment that inhibits food from breaking down and instead it releases methane. Methane from landfills comprises almost 18% of total U.S. methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas because it absorbs the sun’s heat, thus heating up the atmosphere (cite). 

It is so important to try to not only mitigate food waste, but also prevent food from ending up in the landfill where it produces greenhouse gases. 

Even if you don’t live somewhere that has industrial composting, you can still take it into your own hands by limiting your food waste and divert food from ending up in the landfill. The answer is composting at home!

Composting may seem like a complex system, but trust us, it can be easy, fun, and cheap. Plus, you produce something that is incredibly beneficial (it’s full of Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) to whatever plants you choose to add it to..  

Here are our guides for two ways you can compost at home!

WORM BIN OR VERMICOMPOSTING //

This is one of the easiest and low maintenance ways to compost and you can do it anywhere! The magical thing about creating a worm bin is it can really be any size and you can keep it inside or outside. Perfect for the food scraps from one to two people. 

What You Need to Start

  • 2 opaque plastic storage bins (They can be any size but a 16 quart bin is a good place to start)
  • 1 opaque lid that will fit on the top bin
  • 1 pound Red Wiggler worms (they usually come in a little bit of compost)
  • Shredded newspaper
  • A couple handfuls of food scraps
  • A drill to drill holes
  • 2-4 rocks, bricks, or wooden blocks that are about 5 inches high to allow for the top bin to drain into the bottom one

Instructions

  • Drill about 8 holes in the bottom and holes about 2 inches down (evenly spaced around) from the top lip of one of your bins, the other bin should have no holes
  • Drill about 8 holes in the top of the lid, all holes are for aeration and drainage
  • Place your rocks/wooden blocks into the bin without holes (this is your bottom bin)
  • Now, place your top bin that has the holes on top
  • Moisten enough shredded newspaper to spread across the entire base on the top bin (the newspaper should be damp but not soggy)
  • Place about 3 handfuls of your food scraps on one side of the bin
  • Cover your food scrap pile with more damp shredded newspaper
  • Let sit for about 5 days and then add your worms on top
  • Make sure your lid is on and fastened

Tips & Tricks

  1. The worms must be Red Wiggler worms which you can most likely buy from local garden nurseries or hardware stores
  2. You can also buy them online at websites like: https://unclejimswormfarm.com/
  3. Always make sure your worms and food is covered by a good layer of your browns (see chart below for good sources of carbon or browns)
    1. This keeps the worms protected from heat and light
    2. It also helps to prevent any smell or attraction from unwanted pests
  4. Worms are picky eaters so be careful what you feed them (see chart below for good nitrogen sources or greens)
    1. An easy tip for remembering what worms can eat: Think of worms like an eyeball, if you touch something to your eye and it burns, then it will also hurt the worm (think peppers, citrus, etc.)
  5. You should be feeding your worms about a pound of food per week for every pound of worms you have, we recommend feeding them that whole pound once a week
    1. Keep a jar on your kitchen counter or store it in your freezer to collect scraps 
  6. Your compost pile should always feel like a wrung out sponge, so if you notice any pooling at the bottom, then add more newspaper or if it’s too dry, then spray with water
  7. Make sure to dump the leachate (the liquid in the bottom bin) onto your plants about once a month

 HOT COMPOST PILE OR AEROBIC COMPOSTING //

This composting method is a little more involved, but it’s perfect for families or people who have some space in their backyard to designate for a compost pile! Plus, this technique works well if you have a lot of food scraps and a lot of yard/green waste. 

What You Need to Start

  • A 3 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft area in your backyard that you are willing to use for composting
  • Enough wooden planks to build a 3 sided wooden frame around your composting area (4 planks for the corners and 9 for the siding)
    • Made sure the wood is not treated with chemicals
  • A shovel or pitchfork for turning the pile
  • A hose or other water source
  • Browns aka dried organic material (see chart below)
  • Greens aka food and other fresh organic material(see chart below)
  • Thermometer 

Instructions

  • You’ll want to have enough browns and greens to be able to fill up your stall at least ¼ full
  • Spread a thick layer of browns onto the dirt, enough to not see the soil below
  • Next, spread an equal amount of greens on top
  • Cover that with another equal layer of your browns (you want the ratio to be approximately 2:1 browns to greens)
  • Spray the top with water to moisten (avoid pooling)
  • Let that sit for one week
  • After one week, turn that whole pile to one side of your stall
  • Add a fresh layer of browns to the uncovered soil, then add your greens on top
  • With your shovel or pitchfork, lift the old mixture of browns and greens on top of the new one (you want to be a pile on one side of the stall until it gets big enough to fill the whole stall)
  • Finally, cover it all with another layer of brown material
  • Turn your pile and repeat this process once a week until the central temperature of the pile gets to over 90 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Once it’s over 90 degrees, avoid adding greens and limit the browns you add, this allows the remaining materials to cure and break down completely 
  • The finished compost should look like deep brown soil when ready to harvest

Tips & Tricks

  1. Try to fill up your stall as quickly as possible, a higher volume of bacteria will create the ideal environment for your pile to heat up and break down the organic material
  2. The moisture level of your compost should always be like a wrung out sponge, so water the pile if it feels dry
  3. To help keep moisture and heat in and pests out, try covering the pile with a tarp or burlap for the days you aren’t adding material
  4. Always make sure to cover the top of your pile with a thin layer of browns
  5. If you’re having trouble with food scraps staying in the stall or if pests are coming in, then wrap chicken wire around the entire 3 sides of the frame and make a gate or use a board to block the front of the stall
  6. The smaller the pieces of browns and greens, the faster it will break down into compost, so try chopping everything with a shovel before incorporating it into the pile

We hope that you found these guides helpful and inspiring! Preventing food waste from adding to methane producing landfills is a really powerful action plus you get nutrient dense homemade fertilizer for your plants or garden. If you aren’t able to compost at home try to see if your local community garden or park would start a community compost pile. Also, a great way to prevent food waste in general is to be conscious of what’s in your fridge/pantry and to use all edible parts of produce. Any step towards preventing food waste makes a difference!

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