As someone who loves cooking and does it all the time, leftover food scraps have become my arch-nemesis. Therefore, the idea of composting seemed like the perfect solution to my problem. No matter how creatively I use up my food scraps, I always end up with a pile of it in my kitchen bin.
To halt this non-stop waste accumulation from reaching the landfill, I’ve decided to start composting. Can’t say I’ve loved it right from the start because new experiences are daunting and intimidating, but I’ve sticked with it.
Watching the food waste turn into a healthy and nutritious soil conditioner was a huge motivating factor. I was very proud to see food scraps, grass clippings, and other forms of organic waste complete their natural life cycle.
If you are currently pondering on whether you should start composting but you’re not sure if it’s the right thing to do, you are NOW in the right place. After dedicating myself to composting for a good while, I’ve gained some insight I can use to help you decide whether composting is a practice worth your time and effort.
Is composting worth it? What are the benefits?
Composting is the simplest and easiest way to produce your own nutrient-filled rich soil amendment. It not only allows you to reduce the amount of waste dumped into landfills, but it also helps you save a few dollars on fertilzer for your garden.
Here are some of the benefits associated with composting:
- It’s good for the environment: Nearly 20% of food and garden waste find their way into landfills, where they rot underground and produce methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is a key contributor to global warming. Composting at home prevents food and garden waste from reaching the landfill, and instead, use it in a productive way.
- Save money on fertilizers and soil: Purchasing commercial fertilizers and soil is always an expensive venture yet you have all the resources to produce your own.
- It can be done through either an active or passive approach: As we have earlier explained, composting doesn’t mean you have to dedicate all of your time to it. It’s a versatile practice that allows you to choose how much time and effort you want to put in.
- Builds healthy soil: Compost is a magical product, especially if you have made it at home yourself. It is not only high in vital plant nutrients and life, but equally boosts the soil’s fertility, texture, nutrient, and moisture-holding capacity and structure. Remember, healthy soils grow healthy and disease-resistant plants!
Now… depending on your preference, you can take either a passive or active approach to composting.
Having practiced both methods, allow me to share my observations and a few of the challenges I’ve encountered along the way.
What is active composting?
Active composting is not only faster, but also produces superior results.
Also referred to as hot composting, active composting is a method that takes every decomposition factor into account.
It creates an environment that fuels and speeds up waste decomposition so that you’re able to produce compost in a relatively short period of time.
While maintaining this method can be time-intensive, it is well worth the effort, especially if you’re serious about keeping your waste out of the landfill and are keen on improving the overall quality of your soil.
There are potentially endless benefits to this approach, but the major one remains the speed at which your organic waste decomposes.
The challenge, however, is that it requires some level of intervention. This implies that you must monitor the pile, add water when needed, and most importantly, regularly turn the pile to permit aeration and ensure everything decomposes at a relatively equal pace.
No, you don’t have to constantly turn the pile to provide microorganisms with oxygen to thrive. However, by doing it on a regular basis, you allow them to gradually reproduce and generate sufficient heat so that decomposition occurs.
Active composting can also do two other things: kill weed seeds and help eliminate plant diseases.
Because the compost pile is able to attain higher temperatures of up to 180 degrees Celsius, it can kill all weed seeds. Passive composting doesn’t go up to such high temperatures, so weed seeds either germinate or lie dormant in the pile.
Also, diseases such as botrytis or blight can remain dormant in dead plant tissues, and if the pile doesn’t get hot enough, these diseases will find their way into other plants. If you are looking to compost disease-prone plant materials such as potatoes or tomato vines, active/hot composting is certainly the best option.
For an even faster composting process, consider a compost tumbler like the Miracle-Gro Small Composter that is available at Amazon.
Compost tumblers will spare you one of the most strenuous tasks in composting: turning the compost pile. In open composting you have room to wield a tool, so turning the pile usually requires a pitchfork or shovel. You don’t need to do that with a tumbler.
A tumbler is a fully sealed container that you can easily rotate to mix the composting materials. Because it is sealed, it also helps compress the heat generated by bacteria, thereby speeding up decomposition.
Let’s look at some of the benefits a compost tumbler provides:
- It is tidy and attractive: Tumblers typically have a clean design and are less messy, making them deal for urban residential properties. They keep decaying waste enclosed and out of sight, preventing the odors from escaping.
- Prevents raccoons, pests, and rodents from accessing your compost: Tumblers are also made from robust and impenetrable materials that keep intruders out. They are also often elevated off the ground.
- You are more likely to do it: With compost tumblers, you only need to rotate a barrel to turn your compost over, which means you’re more likely to do it. It’s pretty straightforward and only minimal effort is required. Plus, it also guarantees that the materials are thoroughly mixed.
- Speeds up the composting process: In ideal conditions, you can convert your organic waste to finished compost in as little as three or four weeks! And compost tumblers offer this possibility.
- Time and labor: As you already know, turning the compost is both effort and time-intensive. To effectively sift through the pile and turn it over takes some work.
There are also other containers, like compost bins, but tumblers seem to be the most functional. The downside is that they’re more expensive than bins.
What is passive composting?
Passive composting is a slower process, but it’s still something you can do to curb waste.
Passive composting is the ‘create it and forget it’ method of composting. With this method, you build your compost pile, and literally walk away from it, allowing nature to take its course.
Just like active composting, passive composting can also be a sweet deal, depending on your expectations. It is a simple waste diversion technique that offers a free soil amendment with little effort on your part.
After all, composting shouldn’t be an ordeal. It should be something that allows you to invest very little of your time and effort while still guaranteeing decent benefits. And this is what makes passive composting interesting.
Basically, you only have to pile up organic waste and let it decompose gradually with time.
Another form of passive composting that people often do without realizing is trenching or burying their organic waste. This a straightforward procedure that requires you to only dig a hole, add in your waste, and bury it under enough soil and let it rot.
Even though you’ll never produce high-quality compost in a short time as you would with active composting, passive composting takes away the stress and the burden of having to regularly maintain the pile.
If you want to have the least amount of work to produce compost, this is probably the best way to do it – though, the end result isn’t as good.
Should you use compost accelerators?
Compost accelerators give your compost pile a kick start.
They aren’t required for composting because nature itself facilitates the decomposition of any organic material. However, compost accelerators can provide an excellent initial ‘push’ in getting those beneficial bacteria to work.
Also referred to as compost activators or starters, compost accelerators usually contain bacteria and fungi that are meant to get the decomposition process underway. There are lots of biological processes that occur during the process of composting. It’s more than having mere grass clippings, food scraps, and leaves that decay over time.
At a microscopic level, bacteria work around the clock to breakdown organic matter, but you also see worms, grubs, and other creatures playing their part to speed up the process.
Personally, I don’t use a compost accelerator, but if you’re impatient and it’s your first time composting, then you can use some it to get the process running.
Can you make your own compost accelerator?
If you want to take advantage of the benefits of a compost accelerator, but aren’t willing to invest on a commercial product, you can make your own at home.
One way is to add mature compost into your new pile, and it will naturally introduce the microorganisms needed to jump-start the composting process. If you have finished compost at your disposal, just grab a couple of shovelfuls and introduce it into your new compost pile. It will help speed up the composting process.
If you don’t have any finished compost, however, a commercial compost accelerator is probably the best way to get that composting process started. There are many industrial compost activators out there on the market and you can always find one that suits your budget and preferences.
There are some things you should consider before you start composting.
For example, there are certain materials you shouldn’t put in your pile.
Keep animal poop, dairy, and meat products out of your pile, as those require higher and more constant temperatures to decompose, and they may also carry pathogens that may put your plants in danger.
Also, try to maintain the right balance between greens (nitrogen-rich materials) and browns (carbon-rich materials). The generally recommended carbon to nitrogen ratio is considered to be around 30:1, or 30 parts carbon for each part nitrogen by weight.
Browns are typically dry plant materials, which include fallen leaves, twigs, paper, cardboard, and hardwood prunings.
Greens, on the other hand, include materials such as grass clippings, pulled weeds, fruit peels, and vegetable scraps.
Having a healthy balance of browns and greens will ensure that you have an optimal decomposition process without the release of ammonia gas, which usually causes undesirable odors that attract unsolicited visitors (i.e. rodents).
There’s every reason to start composting, particularly if you want to create your own nutrient-rich soil amendments to nurture both your soil and plants.
It’s also a great to way to save money and use waste that would otherwise end up in the landfill and lead to the creation of more greenhouse gases.
Whether you are a devoted environmentalist or a passionate gardener, composting your organic waste at home can be a great way to save the environment, boost overall soil health, curb waste and reduce your costs on commercial fertilizers.