Friday, March 16, 2012

The Compost Party

Previously, I mentioned that one of the ways you can use old food waste is through composting.  Composting is actually very easy, although, like with everything, you need to go through a learning process.

Yesterday I started my first compost heap.  I've composted before, but always in a small bin.  This is my first ever attempt at a larger amount.  The process, however, is essentially the same.

There are three important components within any compost mixture:
1.  Dirt
2.  Brown materials
3.  Green materials

It's pretty obvious what dirt is (Hey!  I see you rolling your eyes at me... now stop that!), so we'll skip that explanation, but I think brown versus green materials need to be looked at.

Brown materials are 'dead' materials.  Things like dried leaves and grass, paper, and cardboard.

Green materials would be items like the remains of your vegetables and fruits.

Easy, right?  I thought so, too.  You also have to look into how much of each material is going into your compost mixture.  Generally, I try to keep a 25-25-50 blend with 25% being dirt, the other 25% being brown materials, and the remaining 50% being green materials.

Mix it all up, being sure that the green materials are completely covered.  What you're basically trying to do is 'cook' the greens.  The center of a compost pile or bin gets rather hot because of all of the chemical reactions taking place.  There are all sorts of bacteria swimming in there, as well as nitrates and phosphates. 

Think of the center of the pile as a party.  In order for a party to be successful, everything needs to be set up just right.  You don't want to plan too much, or the party will be dull.  Plan too little, though, and the party will be a chaotic mess.  The trick is a nice balance.  The same applies to compost.

Your compost needs air.  Oxygenation needs to occur to get the party started.  This means that if you have a bin, you need to drill holes to provide proper air flow. 

The holes will also serve to help release any excess water that ends up in the mix.  Compost needs to be a bit moist, but not wet.  If it gets too wet you'll have a rotting mess because the chemical reactions won't be able to occur.  Kind of like when the fire safety sprinklers get set off at a club.  Major downer.

Those are the basics!  See?  I told you it was easy!  Now all you have to do is remember to turn your compost every once in a while in order to make sure everything is broken down.  Shake things up.  If you use a five gallon pail, like I used to, you can tip it over and roll it around on the ground to make this happen.  If you have a heap, on the other hand, use a rake, shovel, or pitchfork to turn your mixture.

There are things you can do to make things break down a little faster, so I'll give you that information in a second installment.  Now go get that compost party started!

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