8. Create a compost as nothing should leave your property

Photo by GP

One of the key sustainable lessons we learned from Edwina von Gal at Perfect Earth, was that “nothing should leave your yard”—leaf or lawn litter, tree, shrub or plant cuttings.  Everything stays for the compost bin or for mounds of beautiful tree clippings in your yard.

Photo by GP

Composting is the single most important supplement you can give your garden.  It’s a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus that fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil while retaining soil moisture. Microscopic organisms in compost help aerate the soil, break down organic materials for plant use, and ward off plant disease.  It’s also free, easy to make, and reduces waste in landfills.

Photo by GP

Composting can divert as much as 30% of household waste away from your garbage can and the landfill where it lacks the air it needs to decompose quickly.  In the landfill it creates harmful methane gas as it breaks down, increasing the rate of global warming and climate change.

Compost can be made in as little as six to eight weeks, or, more usually, it can take a year or more.  When the ingredients you have put in your container have turned into a dark brown, earthy smelling material, the composting process is complete.

Four ingredients are required for fast-cooking hot compost: nitrogen, carbon, air, and water. Together, these items feed microorganisms, which speed up the process of decay. Most compost is made up of organic materials like leaves, garden plants, newspaper, straw, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps.  Kitchen waste should include materials like vegetables and fruit peeling, eggshells, and coffee grounds.
You should alternate layers of green and brown materials.  Green items include grass clippings and kitchen scraps and coffee grounds adding nitrogen to the compost.  Brown materials add carbon to compost: dead leaves, branches, twigs, straw, wood chips (untreated) sawdust, cardboard bits (no labels or tape), newspaper strips (no glossy paper).

Purchase a container to collect kitchen scraps.  You can use a countertop container with a carbon filter.  Edwina uses a 20-gallon flip-flip top garbage can with a removable (hole-free) bucket.  Empty your container every few days where you plan to build your outdoor bin.

Photo by GP

What You Shouldn’t Compost:
Meat and dairy products; baked goods, treated sawdust or wood chips, highly acidic foods, oils and greasy food, pet and human waste, weeds.

Layering Browns and Greens, Then Add Water:
Having the right amount of water, greens (nitrogen) and browns (carbon) is important for compost development. A simple rule is to use one-third greens and two-thirds brown materials.

Aerating Gets it Working:
Turning the pile either in a tumbler container or if on the ground with a pitchfork or shovel allows for oxygen to help the decomposition process.

If you combine the right proportion of greens to browns and keep the mix moist with water and turn the mix over regularly to aerate, the temperature should rise.  High temperatures (at least 120F) of the mix will destroy pathogens and weed seeds. Microbial activity cause the temperature to rise.  If the temperature does not rise rotting occurs.


Composting Basics: How Does Composting Work

Understanding Composting Process by EPA

WATCH: Six Ways to Compost