Everyone, I’d like you to meet the newest addition to my family. He might be kind of ugly, smell a bit, and attract worms, but I love him just the same. So, let me introduce you all to the Earth Machine, my brand new, backyard composting bin! Inspired by all of ModCloth’s Earth Day activities, my hubbie and I decided to take one of the Pennsylvania Resource Council’s backyard composting classes. Included in our sign-up fee was a very informative power-point, the opportunity to ask Penn State University Master Gardeners a ton of questions, and this composting-making monster. Goodbye banana peels and carrot tops, and hello luscious compost!
To find out how this monster works, why compost is awesome, and how you can start composting, keep reading…
So, what exactly is compost?
As we squeezed into a crowded theater tucked behind the East End Food Co-op for our composting class, I asked myself this question. And,why were so many people so interested in it? The room, to my surprise, was packed! Well, here’s what I discovered:
Compost (or humus) is defined as the end product of decomposing organic matter. Like the bumper sticker says, “Compost Happens.” It just does, naturally, with or without our help. Any organic item (including garden waste, veggie kitchen scraps, barnyard manure, leaves, grass, etc.) rots, and the resulting black, crumbly, nutrient-rich material left behind is considered compost. It’s like gold to gardeners, because when added to soil, compost enhances the growth of any living plant. It will plump up your tomatoes, fatten up your rose buds, or make your sunflowers touch that sky!
What is composting?
Composting is the ‘speeding up’ of the natural process of decay. There are two basic ways in which to compost: open compost piles, or closed bins like my Earth Machine. Open piles are recommended only if you have a large amount of land, or neighbors who don’t mind the smell of rotting leftovers wafting into their bedroom. For urban gardens or smaller, outdoor spaces, the closed bin is the way to go.
How does a composting bin/pile work?
Composting is pretty easy. Basically, you are creating a pile of organic rubbish that you want to help rot. To do this, you have to keep it warm but not too hot; wet, but not too wet. The other important factor to consider is the ‘green to brown’ ratio. ‘Green’ items aren’t really green in color – it’s just a name to categorize organic matter with a high nitrogen content. Materials in the ‘green’ category include fruit and veggie kitchen scraps, grass clippings, eggshells, flowers, coffee grounds, tea bags, and barnyard manure.
Likewise, ‘brown’ items don’t have to be brown. It just means they have a high carbon content. Items considered ‘brown’ include dry leaves, straw, dryer lint, sawdust, shredded newspaper, pet hair, cardboard, and pine needles.
Don’t worry, there’s no math involved. You just have to be sure and layer your compost bin/pile with alternating green and brown layers. Easy as that!
Here’s a breakdown of the steps:
1. Get yourself a bin or select an area for an open pile somewhere away from your house.
2. The first layer in your pile or bin should be sticks or straw to encourage ventilation and drainage.
3. Start layering equal amounts of greens and browns!
4. Keep your bin or pile watered. Once a week or so, add some water to encourage decay.
5. Turn your pile or stir your bin once a week to keep the air moving through it.
6. In 3-6 months, the finished compost will fall to the bottom of the pile. Collect and add to your veggie garden, lawn, or houseplants!
What are the benefits of composting?
There so many, but here are some of the best:
1. It helps keep organic material from filling up precious landfill space! You can do your part to help the environment.
2. It keeps your garbage can from stinking! It’s the rotting process of organic materials that makes your bins smelly, and by composting, that stink is eliminated.
3. It’s valuable. Compost is very expensive, so you could actually sell it for money!
4. It improves soil structure by promoting necessary micro-biotic activity. It also kills soil-born diseases, and holds nutrients for slow release to growing plants.
5. It attracts all the beneficial, good-guy bugs that you want in your garden like earthworms, centipedes, and other awesome creepy-crawlies.
What’s this about worms?
If you’re an apartment-dweller with no access to a patch of ground, you can still compost. There is a process called vermicomposting (or, worm composting) that allows for compost creation in even the tiniest of urban environments. Vermicomposting is essentially a box of worms eating your leftovers. It’s not as gross as it sounds, honestly! They’re pretty cute, they eat your garbage, and they produce compost really quickly! They’re like the best pet ever.
For more information on composting, contact the PRC or Cornell’s Waste Management Institute. Or, leave a comment here, and I’ll try and help! If you already compost, leave a comment, and let us know how it’s going!