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Now that you’re thinking about composting and which method is best for you, let’s talk about what exactly you are composting and what to do with it.
It is important to get a balance of carbon-rich “browns” and nitrogen-rich “greens.” By layering and mixing these two together, you will eventually get a nice, balanced compost.
Your greens are going to be most of your kitchen waste and a lot of your yard waste. These soft, moisture-filled materials will include raw vegetables and fruit, their peelings, grass cuttings, and other such plant material. It should be added to your compost relatively quickly and layered with browns.
Browns are your drier yard waste, such as dried leaves, branches, and even cardboard and paper. Larger branches should be saved for firewood. Browns will decompose faster shredded and layered with greens, but they will eventually decompose on their own if you leave them.
Animal Products and Cooked Food
These will attract animals and should only be used in closed, airtight composting systems. Cooking oils and fats should only be composted in small amounts and with absorbent materials. Dairy and meat can be composed in closed systems, just make sure it doesn’t get too wet.
However, bonemeal can be composted openly (and is preferable to whole bones). Bonemeal can be made by boiling the bones for stock, drying them in the oven (such as in the bottom after cooking) and grinding the bones up in a mortar and pestle. Eggshells can also be composted.
Manure from herbivores can be composted (especially the bedding of rodents), but feces from omnivores or carnivores (like cats and dogs) can have parasites and should only be composted if you are using a hot heap that will get hot enough to kill anything you don’t want on your food. I wouldn’t recommend taking the risk. If you are composting manure, make sure you layer it properly with dry materials.
After you’ve layered and built up your compost, you need to let it mature. How you do this will depend on the composting method you’re using. Once it’s mature, it can be used in a variety of ways. You can create a no-dig garden, use it as mulch, put in on your potted plants (especially perennials), or a variety of other things. You should probably sieve it first and make sure you do some research on how to use compost in certain contexts, especially since in certain circumstances, like planting new seeds, the compost may be too strong and hold too much water.
However you compost, whatever you compost, and whatever you do with it, the important thing is reducing your kitchen waste and other waste in your life.
Composting: An Easy Household Guide by Nicky Scott
This is a great resource for starting out or just to have as a reference. It summaries many different composting methods and has an A-Z guide of what you can and cannot compost.
How to Make and Use Compost: The Ultimate Guide by Nicky Scott
This is essentially a more in depth version of his other composting book.
Rodale Book of Composting Edited by Deborah L. Martin and Grace Gershuny
Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin
Most importantly, gardeners and composters in your area! They will know better than anyone what works and what doesn’t with your region’s soil and climate.
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