Wednesday, March 5, 2008
I started composting a while back because I was sick of throwing huge piles of kitchen scraps into the garbage, especially since I knew that my landfill-bound kitchen scraps could, with a little effort, be turned into absolutely amazing fertilizer for my garden.
Oh, and I also knew that composting would enable me to use fewer plastic garbage bags (although I still haven't elimated these yet...darnit!).
As I was considering how I wanted to go about this composting busines, several of my friends recommended that I get a worm bin. My boyfriend, however, did not like the idea of having a bin and a bunch of squiggly critters inside the apartment so I opted for a compost tumbler instead. The exact bin I chose was the Backporch Compost Tumbler because I can simply rotate the drum on its axis in order to aerate the contents of the bin and also because it is small enough to fit on my enclosed porch (unfortunately, it's made of plastic. Argh!).
Below is a step-by-step on how to use it, which can pretty much be carried over to any similar tumbler or bin.
1. To start composting, begin collecting your kitchen scraps. I collect mine in an old garbage can for a day or two before I add them to my composter.
2. When you've got the time, add your kitchen scraps to your compost bin. These scraps, by the way, are considered "green" or "wet" materials and contribute nitrogen to the pile. To compost properly, you need to balance out the carbon-nitrogen ratio. More on that later.
3. Shred some paper. This paper will add carbon to the pile and is considered "brown" or "dry" material. By the way, it's important that the paper (and veggie scraps) are made into small pieces to speed up the composting process.
Note: I say to add paper because it is the most convenient source of carbon in the winter, but a variety of other "brown" materials that are easier to come by in the summer and fall are actually preferrable.
4. After shredding the paper, add it to your compost pile. A general rule of thumb in terms of carbon-nitrogen ratios is to add 3 parts of high-carbon materials (ex. paper) to every one part of high-nitrogen materials (ex. kitchen scraps). I usually follow this as best I can, and then just add extra paper if the bin starts to smell at all. It seems to work pretty well.
5. Then close your composter up and give it a few good turns.
And that's it. If you follow these steps, you'll end with a bunch of compost that looks like this:
Not too exciting right now, but eventually this pile will turn itself into nutrient-rich dirt, which is pretty cool. Also, despite the fact that there is months and months of garbage in the bin, it doesn't smell bad at all (except for the slight smell of rotting citrus from the grapefruit I added a few weeks ago). Apparently, that's the magic of the carbon-nitrogen ratio.
To learn more about composting, check out this comprehensive website on composting from the University of Illinois. It provides all the necessary details on materials you can and can't use in your bin, carbon-nitrogen ratios, and the many types of compost bins and piles.
For fun, you can also take a look at the following cute video on creating an outdoor compost pile or experiment with this awesome compost calculator, both courtesy of Planting Milkwood.