Today we want to focus our attention on composting and the good practice of home composting. Proper waste disposal, even at the household level, is crucial for the environment. Additionally, it can provide an excellent organic fertilizer for our garden. If we start to observe how much food waste we have in a simple household kitchen, we can immediately realize how much valuable material we possess. Material that, often, we throw into bins or in separate waste collection. Creating a virtuous circle of recycling and reusing through home composting helps us get used to not wasting. But above all, it helps us overcome the consumerist lifestyle that society has taught us as the only possible one. But how to make DIY home composting? How to dispose of organic waste without throwing it in the trash? How to make home compost?
There are several questions we will answer in this article. But let’s first understand why this practice is important.
The importance of home composting
Nature, taken as a reference model, teaches us that no energy source is wasted. Every resource becomes a source of energy for other living beings. And this is precisely the concept that makes it clear how important it is to compost, and how important it is for home composting to be done correctly. If we observe what happens in any natural environment, we realize that what dies becomes a source of life for another living being. An animal, for example, or a leaf, after completing its life cycle, is transformed by bacteria and reused. This creates an ecosystem that sustains itself, where each part is interconnected with the whole. Therefore, learning to recover food scraps through home composting can be a good start to overcome this contradiction. Compost, in fact, is the perfect answer to the question: how to dispose of food waste to avoid further waste?
How to make DIY home composting
To prepare our home compost effectively, we need to keep in mind a series of very important tips. Following these suggestions will lead us to a very satisfying result. Let’s see what they are.
What can we put in our home compost bin?
To compost correctly and produce excellent home compost, not all foods are suitable. There are foods and other scraps that are ideal for our future compost bin, and others that are less so.
Certainly, the scraps must be of vegetable origin and not cooked (vegetable peels, fruit, withered leaves, even kitchen paper is fine). However, not all fruit can be destined for composting. For example, we should avoid citrus fruits, which, when decomposing, hinder the natural and spontaneous breeding of fungi. Fungi are, in turn, essential for ants. And in this case, we need these allies.
But let’s see a detailed list of which food waste (or other) is suitable or not for disposal in our home compost bin.
What to use
- Kitchen leftovers, vegetable peelings, residues…
- Tea and coffee grounds
- Garden and vegetable garden waste, such as pruning wood, lawn clippings, dry leaves, withered flowers, stems…
- Biodegradable materials, such as non-glossy paper, cardboard, sawdust, and wood shavings from untreated wood
What to use sparingly
- Stale bread
- Leftover animal-origin food
- Cooked food (in small quantities, as they would attract insects and animals)
- Leaves from less degradable plants (magnolia, cherry laurel, beech, chestnut, pine needles), but they should be carefully mixed with other more degradable materials
What to avoid absolutely
- Cigarette ash
- Citrus fruits
- Paints and other chemical products
- Glossy paper (magazines)
- Varnished wood
- Sick plants, for example, after a viral or bacterial infection, to avoid the risk of contamination
- Remains of plants treated with insecticides
Where to do home composting
To be able to do home composting, a compost bin is needed. If we collect vegetable scraps from the kitchen and beyond, so that they decompose, we need a container to place them in.
It should not be made of plastic and should allow proper aeration. The best option, therefore, is to use a box made of untreated wood pallets. However, be careful to check if it has been treated with toxic varnishes. If it has the European Community (CE) mark, then there are no problems.
Another good option is to create a sort of tube, a cylinder with a metal mesh with not too large holes, which will contain our scraps but at the same time allow for aeration.
Another practical and economical idea involves using wooden crates, where vegetables are typically stored. Moreover, it could be fun to build the compost bin this way and let the children color it.
This way, the message conveyed is that waste is not ugly and dirty, but valuable material, almost black gold, and fulfills important functions of nourishing our garden. This way, our compost bin becomes an opportunity for a nice workshop and a fun afternoon of coloring and drawing smiling faces or stylized flowers. Of course, with natural colors.
Fermentation in composting
Good compost does not smell! The fermentation of home compost occurs in an aerobic environment, that is, in the presence of air. This is a fundamental requirement for composting to be done correctly. If the compost smells, it means that the fermentation is happening anaerobically.
Home compost may have two problems: excessive humidity, which causes the vegetable pile to smell, and low humidity, which does not start the decomposition process.
How to tell if our home compost is too dry?
If the moisture is low, our compost will not lose volume and will not settle. To solve this problem, simply water it.
In just three weeks, we can observe a significant change in our pile if, every other day, we have been turning and watering it to ensure proper aeration and moisture.
Conversely, if we notice that the pile is too wet, we can take a stick and stick it in the center to remedy the situation. Then, with other sticks, we create side holes, like tunnels that connect to the hole created by the central stick. In short, we rudimentarily build a sort of chimney that allows for the proper circulation of air. In doing so, the right level of humidity for our future compost will be restored.
Another tip to ensure proper fermentation and do quality home composting is to cover the “wet” vegetable scraps with straw every time we add them. Once we reach a quantity of about one cubic meter of compost, we will have good material to use.
Always remember that it is a good idea to turn our pile occasionally, check that it has a good odor, and there is no mold. Excellent compost will have the texture of dark woodland soil and no unpleasant smells!
The Three Compost Bins Technique
For home composting, the compost bin should be placed in the shade and sheltered from the wind. You can also use a base layer of 40 cm of branches, with a maximum diameter of 3 cm.
It is advisable to create an openable side door, in the case of a square-shaped compost bin, to facilitate access.
An efficient and tested strategy for doing home composting is to create three compost bins in series (A, B, C).
In the first year, I will put material in A from January 1st to December 31st. Then I will stop and cover it with a nice layer of straw.
In the second year, material will be added to B from January 1st to December 31st, while A will mature for a whole year.
During the third year, material will be placed in C from January 1st to December 31st. By that time, I can already use the material from A, and I will continue this rotating pattern, ensuring high-quality compost for my garden.
When this technique becomes a habit, we will be amazed at how much precious material we used to throw away, and we will realize that “we lack nothing of what we have!”.
For those who practice permaculture, this last statement, which repeats like a mantra, has a specific meaning. At first, its significance may not be clear, but then it becomes evident as the most obvious thing. The essence is simple: we have everything we need at our disposal and don’t need to seek anything elsewhere.
Uses of Compost
When we use our home compost in the garden, we must first remember to sieve it. Compost is utilized as a genuine fertilizer to enrich the soil in traditional agriculture. On the other hand, in synergistic agriculture, it serves as a fertile base for seedlings (you can learn more about creating your seedbed here). Additionally, home compost is incorporated into the original soil in various other cultivation techniques. For example, it is used in the creation of garden beds to provide a good starting base for seeds and transplants. Alternatively, it is mixed with animal manure. But beyond schools of thought and specific cultivation techniques, what we must always keep in mind is that compost is a biological, healthy, nutrient-rich material, and it costs nothing.
So, stop wondering: how to do composting.
You have all the information you need. Now, all that’s left is to set up your compost bin.
- Home Compost: Fact Sheets: Tools & Resources from Indiana University: This resource discusses how composting organic wastes, such as food scraps, coffee grounds, and grass clippings, is a way to lighten garbage bags and reduce what is going down the drain.
- Composting Education – Santa Clara County from University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources: Through their classes, Master Composters teach residents how to build compost piles and worm bins, then how to apply the resulting material in their landscapes.
- How to Make Compost at Home from University of Maryland Extension: This resource provides information on how to make compost at home. Compost is a dark, crumbly, earthy-smelling material produced by the natural decomposition of leaves, grass clippings, and many other organic materials.
- Composting from University of Illinois Extension: This resource explains that compost is decomposed organic material made with material such as leaves, shredded twigs, and kitchen scraps from plants.
- Composting in home gardens from University of Minnesota Extension: This resource discusses composting as a process that allows naturally occurring microbes to convert yard waste, such as leaves and grass clippings, to a useful organic soil amendment.