Yay, making dirt! Composting is awesome because it turns our food waste into nutritious dirt for our garden. It also helps our waste become productive for our family instead of being sent off to the landfill. Here are some tips on how to make the most of our composting bin.
I have been composting for most of my life, first at my family home and now in my own home. It’s been relatively recently that, with the help and determination from my husband, I’ve really begun to understand the process of composting.
We have been composting for about 3 years now, and for the first time this summer we had dirt suitable enough to put in our flower pots!
Below are my tips to make the most of your compost bin and make it work for you.
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Types of Compost Bins
There are many types of compost bins. The first one I had experience with was the type at my childhood home. We had a bit more land, and our compost was a big open heap at the end of our garden. I wasn’t too involved in the process, other than dumping the organics on the pile. It seems this method would work best if done in small piles so the dirt is easy to rotate. I have heard anecdotes about people encountering critters/pests in their open compost pile so keep that possibility in mind if you go with the open style.
Right now we have a cylindrical outdoor bin that is open to the ground (see the picture below), the reason being that we live in town and don’t have a lot of extra space. I like this one because it can contain the compost, it doesn’t attract critters, and it is open to the ground so the worms and insects can help break down the organic material. We got our compost bin from a free program that our city put on, but a similar one can be found here. Additionally, I know there are also many DIY methods out there to create your own bin.
There are also tumbler-style systems, like this one. These seem to appeal to a lot of people presumably because they’re transportable, easy to stir (you simply rotate the bin), and they work great for smaller places. They are great for apartments and condos since they don’t take up much space and they look good.
Types of Materials
There a two main types of materials that need to go in to the compost bin: greens and browns. The browns are carbon-rich materials that consist mainly of dried yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings. The greens are nitrogen-rich materials and consist of food scraps. It is important to have a balanced compost bin to help decompose the organic material and make a balanced soil. The ratio should be around 25-30 of the browns to 1 of the greens. While it is best for the compost to have more browns then greens, it is okay if the balance isn’t exact. It will just take longer for the greens to decompose.
We utilize grass clippings, dried weeds/plants, leaves, and pine needles in the spring, summer and fall. However, being northern Minnesota, we have 5-6 months of winter each year. During this time we don’t have as much brown material to add to our compost bin. We still keep adding to our compost bin with our food waste throughout the winter. When the snow melts and the ground thaws we make sure to add a bunch of browns and turn/rotate the compost bin.
Also keep in mind that your organics need a certain level of moisture. It shouldn’t be bone dry but not sopping wet, either. It’s all about finding that happy medium. This is not an exact science – simply leave it alone if it’s too wet and add water if it looks too dry. If you can’t see any moisture on the surface, that’s a good indication it’s too dry.
For those of you with warm temps and sunshine, your compost will benefit from brown materials year-round.
This next tip can sometimes be a pain but can also be very useful. Cutting up food waste into smaller pieces and tearing up leaves and grass before adding it to the compost bin can accelerate the composting process. This is especially relevant to materials that take longer to break down, a perfect example being egg shells like in the picture below. When I am chopping veggies for meals I also chop up the waste bits before putting them in the bin. I try to aim for quarter size for my pieces but some are larger and some are smaller.
In all honesty, sometimes I get busy and don’t have time to chop up the scraps. During those times I put everything in a waste bowl and leave them to deal with later. In these cases my husband normally takes care of them when cleaning up after dinner.
Inside The Compost Bin
When I was a kid, we used an ice cream pail as our indoor compost bin. This was great because it meant periodically we would get a new pail of ice cream to eat. Because my mom went though a lot of food scraps, she had to empty the pail frequently, which helped control the smell.
In my own kitchen I started using an ice cream pail but with only the two of us producing food waste, the pail didn’t get emptied enough. This caused a bit of a smell which I was not cool with so we started to change our habits. There are lots of metal compost bins on the market that are very cute, like this one. However, I opted for a large glass jar, like this one. I like glass because it is a natural product and I can see in it (is that weird?). It might be strange, but the food scraps can actually be fun to watch decompose considering they do start decomposing in the jar.
Knowing What to Compost
There are so many great charts out there that beautifully illustrate what to compost. A general rule of thumb is vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, grain products, egg shells and carbonaceous materials such as grasses, leaves and dried plants. Things to avoid include meat and bones, oils, metal scraps, animal waste, and diseased plants/chemically treated products.
Rotating The Compost
The more the organic materials are rotated, the quicker it will break down. Some places say to rotate it once a week. That might be a bit excessive for a ground compost bin in my book. We try to rotate it once a month while we are free of snow and cold temperatures. Sometimes it can only be a couple times a season.
It’s up to you how often you decide to rotate your organics. The beauty of composting is that it produces such a good product with such minimal effort because you just let the microorganisms do their work. However, rotating with a pitchfork or shovel (unless you have a tumbler) is still necessary because the microorganisms need oxygen in order to properly break everything down.
We love our composting routine and producing dirt for our garden. It gives us satisfaction to put our scraps to good use and reduce our trash output. We also have a great place to put our yard waste products. If we didn’t compost we would have to hall all of our yard waste to the public land fill. It is definitely easier to just put it into the compost bin and reap the rewards!
Check out my guide and getting started on an eco friendly lifestyle.
Have these tips helped you on your composting journey? Let me know in the comments below!