Starting a Home Compost

I’m only beginning to start a home compost bin for the first time so this post is really about sharing my personal experience and what I’ve learned from experts on composting.

Ever since I come across the Zero Waste lifestyle, I realize how much food waste we send to the landfills. In a household of 3 persons, we have to take out on average two trash bags a week, sometimes more.

So, instead of throwing away food scraps, I started to collect them for my compost. I would keep them in containers or bags, then put them in the freezer. Once I have enough, about 2kg, I took them out and ready to start my compost bin. This is just doing my small part in lowering my carbon footprint and reducing the methane emissions from landfills.

If you haven’t already know, compost is basically organic materials that can be added to enrich the soil, which then helps plants grow. The production of beneficial bacteria that break down the organic matter produces humus, which is a rich nutrient-filled material. By using compost to fertilize your soil, we reduce the need for chemical-based fertilizers.

What CAN we compost?

There’s a long list of things you can compost so I’m just going to list down whatever I know. Basically, anything that’s organic and chemical-free. Composting requires three basic ingredients:

  1. Carbon (browns)
  2. Nitrogen (greens)
  3. Water

Your compost needs a proper ratio of carbon and nitrogen materials. I’ll categorize it based on either they’re carbon or nitrogen:

Nitrogen: Think green

  • Vegetables and fruits scraps (I cut it into small pieces to speed up the decomposition)
  • Manure from organically fed animals (chicken, duck, guinea pigs, cows, horses, etc.)
  • Fresh leaves and grass
  • Coffee grounds
  • Eggshells
  • Grains (bread, pasta, etc.)
  • Pet hair
  • Organic soap scraps

Carbon materials: Think brown

  • Paper-based materials (chemical free)
  • Brown paper bags
  • Toilet paper rolls
  • Cardboard (preferably shredded)
  • Dried leaves and grass
  • Hay or straw (use it sparingly to avoid too much carbon to nitrogen ratio)
  • Junk mails (non-glossy)
  • Pencil shavings
  • Pellets, sawdust, woodchips, etc

What CAN’T we compost?

As mentioned earlier, any organic matters can be composted but if you’re composting at home, there are some you should avoid and leave them to the experts to do the composting as they have the right types of resources to do so

  • Meat products as it can cause an unpleasant smell and attract unwanted animals.
  • Dead animals
  • Dairy and fats for the same reason as the above
  • No faeces from dogs and cats or any other carnivorous animals as they may contain pathogens.
  • Manure from sick animals. For example, even though manure from horses, cows and chickens can be used but if they’re sick or on medications, it’s best to avoid
  • Onion and garlic as they may prevent beneficial bacteria and insects that you need in your compost
  • Plastics (not even plastics that are labelled biodegradable as it takes longer to compost and sometimes they may need active agents to compost them.)
  • Polyester
  • Acrylic
  • Rubber
  • Other non-organic materials

How do we begin composting?

The ideal ratio for composting is 30 parts carbon (browns) and 1 part nitrogen (greens.) Basically, the rate of decomposition is very much depended upon the proportion of the materials mix. If you put too much carbon, your compost will break down rather slowly and if you put too much nitrogen, you’ll have a foul-smelling pile.

Once I have placed both browns and greens in my compost bin, I stirred and mixed them. Every other day, I would stir them and add some water until the decomposition happens.

After about two weeks, my compost pile started to break down pretty quickly. When I stirred them, I could feel the heat as a result of the decomposition process.

There are a few methods of home composting and here’s a simple overview of each method:

Hot Composting (Active)

If you’re able to have a balance of nitrogen and carbon in your compost pile, it will heat up properly rising the inner temperature of the pile to over 50 degrees Celcius. Hot compost breaks down materials rather quickly. You’ll need to add some water to keep them moist and also turn the pile once or twice a week. I was pretty excited when I was able to create hot compost by accident when I added manure from my guinea pigs into the pile. It heats up the next day and I could see steam coming out of the compost pile when I turned it. This is the quickest way for you to get your organic fertilizer for use. It takes about one month or less.

Cold Composting (Passive)

If you don’t have much time to look after your compost bin, you can try the lazy way of composting. This is particularly easy if you have a yard where you can create your own waste collector. All you need to do is to just dig a hole and covering it with soil as you add your food waste into it, then move on to a new spot. Ultimately you’ll have a nutrient-rich soil ready for you to plant fruits or vegetables of your own.

Sometimes when my compost bin is filled up, I don’t want to keep adding items to it, I find a spot away from my garden and pile up any compostable materials. This cold compost typically has a higher level of nitrogen and it breaks down way slower. Sometimes I even cover them up with dirts and sands to prevent unpleasant smell.

Vermicomposting

This type of composting uses worms (red wrigglers recommended) to digest the compost where they will produce worm castings (poop) out of digesting the food scraps. Vermicomposting also produces compost tea, which is basically the liquid runoff from the compost bin that you can use as fertilizer. No doubt worm compost is among the most beneficial but maintaining the worm bin can be challenging sometimes. Not only that you need to maintain the right level of temperature, moisture and food, you’ll also have to be cautious about what you add to the worm bin.