Composting is more than a feel-good endeavor. It is also not reserved for preppers who want to be prepared for catastrophic events. Composting is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Food Recovery Hierarchy. This hierarchy was created to outline actions organizations can take “to prevent and divert wasted food.”
However, composting is also important on an individual level. Roughly 30 percent of what we throw away could be composted. Instead of waste, we’d have soil-enriching organic material that not only frees up space in landfills but reduces the amount of methane gas that is produced and released into the atmosphere.
Unlike animals, plants are not mobile. When they need to eat, they can’t go out and hunt for food; it has to be brought to them.
Soil isn’t dirt. It’s alive. It provides the nutrients needed to support plant life. For dirt to remain soil, it must be continually fortified with nutrients. Once soil becomes dirt, plants cease to live.
Compost is a carbon-rich fertilizer that is made from organic materials. It is a source of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium — the primary nutrients plants need to thrive. Compost can help soil retain moisture, reduce the need for chemical fertilizers, encourage the production of beneficial bacteria and help suppress disease and pests. Compost is the secret ingredient that lets your garden thrive.
According to the EPA, successful composting requires equal amounts of green and brown materials. The greens provide nitrogen, while the browns provide carbon. Water and oxygen are also necessary elements for composting.
Not all organic materials may be added to your compost pile. The wrong materials can be harmful to plants, destroy beneficial nutrients or invite unwanted pests. Here are some items you never want to add to your compost pile:
Composting might sound like a difficult, labor-intensive task, but it takes only slightly more effort than tossing something in the trash.
Mix layers of green and brown material so your compost pile has roughly equal parts of each. If your compost pile is not heating up as expected, add more greens. If it begins to smell, add more browns.
Moisten any dry materials as they are added. Mix your compost pile roughly once every two weeks.
To help keep a compost pile moist, you can cover it with a tarp.
It is important to monitor your compost to make sure it doesn’t become dry enough to spontaneously combust. When the compost is ready, it will be a rich brown color that smells like earth. The material will be cool to the touch and crumble in your hand. If you can still see recognizable food content, the compost is not ready.
There are two basic types of composting: hot and cold.
With hot composting (also known as batch composting), you create your compost in batches and do not add to them. You just mix them every couple of weeks. This process is much faster, but you should not add anything new once you start. Your compost will be ready in about two months.
With cold composting (also known as add-as-you-go composting), you add new materials regularly. The benefit is you only need one pile and you have a place to add new materials as they become available. On the downside, this type of composting can require up to two years to be ready.
For the best of both worlds, have more than one compost pile. Build up the first pile until it gets to a predetermined size. At this point, start a second pile. This way, you can continue to add materials to the new pile without slowing down the composting process of the original pile.
Create compost in as few as two weeks with this tumbling bin that is equipped with two compartments. This unit is a low-maintenance composter that is best for the beginner.
If you’re looking for a convenient countertop composter, this 1.75-gallon capacity model is perfect for the busy kitchen. It has a stay-open lid, so you can toss in scraps while working. When finished, the lid seals shut to contain odors and keep pests away.
Jobe’s is for people who want to accelerate the composting process. This product increases microbial activity, so you get results in as little as two to three weeks.
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If you prefer to mix your compost with a rake rather than a shovel, this model from Anvil is an excellent choice. It has a tempered steel head and a 51-inch wooden handle.
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A third option for turning compost is a spading fork. This tool has a 30-inch handle, and it can easily penetrate and aerate your compost pile with its four sharp tines and poly D-grip.
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Though it is optional, a tarp can help your compost pile retain moisture. This medium-duty option is 12 feet by 16 feet. It’s water-resistant and reusable.
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If you are curious about the nutrient content of your compost, you can send it out to be tested. This affordable kit from the Whitetail Institute returns easy-to-understand results within one week.
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