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Composting at Home

You may already recycle materials like glass and aluminum. But did you know that you can reuse much of your food and yard waste, too?

Many households search for ways to go green – and composting offers that type of simple solution. Food and yard waste make up more than 30 percent of the material that goes into landfills each year. Composting can help reduce that waste stream and is a great way to boost a healthy home garden, too.

Here's what you need to know to help you get started.

Woman scrapping leftover vegetables into a compost bin

Composting Benefits

In a nutshell, composting is the biological process of recycling organic matter (like nutshells!). When provided with the right mix of air and water, naturally occurring microorganisms – like bacteria, fungi and algae – break down food and yard waste. Over time, the waste transforms into fertilizer that you can use to feed your garden.

Compost is an ideal soil amendment: It looks a lot like dark, crumbly soil, and it's rich in nutrients that plants need to thrive. Compost also helps soil retain moisture, so you may be able to cut back on irrigation and reduce your landscape's water consumption.

By turning your food and yard waste into compost, you can also help reduce the trash you generate.

What Can I Compost?

To work, composting needs four elements: Nitrogen, carbon, water and air.

Nitrogen is provided by biodegradable food and yard waste (a.k.a. "greens") such as:

  • Grass cuttings
  • Leaves
  • Fruit and vegetable trimmings, peels, seeds and cores
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells

Not all biodegradable materials can be composted. Its recommended to not add weeds, diseased plants or yard waste treated with toxic chemicals as well as meat, bones, dairy products, grease, oils, and dog or cat waste. They may carry parasites or diseases and can attract unwanted pests.

Carbon comes from dry organic materials (a.k.a. "browns") such as:

  • Shredded paper
  • Dry leaves
  • Hay or straw
  • Twigs
  • Cardboard
  • Sawdust and wood chips

Compost needs water to degrade. The material in your bin should feel moist, like a wrung-out sponge.

Finally, the microbes doing the work need air. Introduce oxygen to your compost by turning it regularly.

How Do I Start?

Composting can be as simple as throwing food and yard waste into a pile, watering it, and turning it. However, you may want to consider containing your compost in a bin, wooden structure or tumbler; it can help keep out unwanted pests, such as rodents and birds.

Some communities offer free or low-cost containers to residents so check with your municipal or agricultural group to find options in your area.

Choose a dry, shady place to set up your container or pile. Add browns and greens, mixing them together as you go. Moisten dry materials, and break up any large pieces.

Continue adding browns and greens as you generate them, always aiming for an overall ratio of about 30:1 browns to greens. When you add food waste, bury it under at least 10 inches of material. This helps keep pests away.

Turn your pile at least every other week to aerate, adding water when needed. The right combination of oxygen and moisture will allow the compost to heat up and "cook" faster, while reducing any unpleasant odors.

Depending on the size and composition of your pile, it may take from two weeks to over a year to generate usable compost.

Composting at home is an easy way to go green. Not only are you helping keep waste out of landfills, but you're also creating a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can help your garden thrive.

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