Considering Composting? Tips to Keep in Mind

Instead of filling up landfills with food scraps and lawn clippings you've tossed into the trash can, you can compost, or recycle them into an organic fertilizer for your garden and lawn. Sounds great, but is it really worth the time, effort and, in some cases, money, it takes to get it started? 

Simply put, compost is decomposed waste. It is organic garbage, such as potato peels, orange rinds, coffee grounds, and shredded newspapers, heaped together and left to rot. But as that pile of waste materials decomposes, it turns into a dark, rich soil conditioner known as humus.

Many factors go into the decision to start composting but, as a project, it doesn't have to be any bigger than you want it to be. Some people start their compost in a stylish, specially-designed bin on their kitchen counter, while others dump their compostable scraps directly on an outdoor heap. Much depends on your own personal needs, the amount of space you have, and how motivated you feel.

Gallon-size indoor composters come in a variety of sizes and styles but one must-have feature to look for is a replaceable carbon filter that controls odors. Another important consideration is the weight of the bin, since you will have to carry it out to your garden at least once a week and probably more. What can you store in a countertop composting bin? Coffee grounds, biodegradable coffee filters, teabags, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, and nut shells are commonly recycled. You want a bin that's large enough to hold at least a few days' worth of table scraps, but small enough to fit on your counter or wherever you decide to put it.

Commercial outdoor garden composters also come in many shapes, sizes and styles, from a simple, ventilated barrel or can to a rotating tumbler. The benefit of purchasing a composting bin, rather than simply fencing or otherwise marking off a space on the ground for your heap, is that many bins are designed to speed up the decomposing process or make the work of shoveling and turning compost over a whole lot easier. A commercial bin also makes for a neater, contained pile of compost.

If you are handy, you can construct a simple compost pit from wire fencing, rot-resistant wood planks, bricks, concrete blocks, or any other material that can be formed into an enclosure that will keep scraps from spreading or blowing away.

Grass clippings, leaves, and other garden and lawn clippings are added to an outdoor compost heap along with kitchen scraps.  The point is to get a good mix of organic material that will encourage bacteria to grow and produce enough heat to decompose the scraps.  The humus that forms helps your soil retain nutrients and hold in moisture and also controls various other activities in the soil that contribute to the healthy growth of decorative plants, vegetables, flowers, trees, and shrubs.

Nurseries and garden and landscape suppliers are usually good sources of information about composting, and you can find reliable "how-to's" on university extension service sites online. Read up on the various methods and best techniques before you decide what's best for you and your garden.




University of Illinois Extension: Composting for the Homeowner

University of Missouri Extension: Making and Using Compost

USDA Natural Resources Composting Service