We’ve covered the why of composting, so let’s get into the how of composting a little bit. Composting is the art and science of using the natural process of decomposition to turn food scraps, yard waste and other biodegradable material into a soil additive that will reduce or eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. We will cover the background and basics of composting over the next two posts and will follow up with basic guides for composting indoors and out.
Background of composting
Composting as a recognized practice dates to the time of Pliny the Elder during the early Roman Empire (23-79 A.D.) and likely predates that. Modern composting began to develop in Europe in the 1920s and began to see widespread acceptance in the 1950s and 60s. Some areas have begun to require food composting to reduce the load on landfills and water treatment plants. The entire country of Wales requires food composting, along with Seattle and San Francisco in the United States. San Francisco has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfills by 80% since the mid 90s and has a goal of becoming zero waste by 2020. New York has done several small pilot programs and is beginning a larger scale test to measure the effect and benefits of requiring it there.
As we mentioned last time, composting comes with a lot of cost benefits. Cost savings come in the form of reduced need for trash removal and in reduced costs for fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. If the compost is used on a food producing garden, additional savings can be realized in lower food costs, especially if compared to the cost of organic foods. If not used personally, it can be sold or pooled to form community gardens.
Composting can be as hands off or hands on as you want it to be, like most things, the more time and planning you put into it, the more you will get out of it. Simply piling leaves and other yard waste along with food scraps into a corner of a yard will eventually yield compost, but the time frame will much longer than need be. By layering, controlling moisture and turning the pile periodically, much faster, more effective results will be achieved. Your compost pile can be as simple as an area on the ground if you are composting outdoors. If you plan to compost indoors you can make or buy composting bins of several styles (which can also be used outdoors).
There are many methods of composting. In addition to the traditional compost pile, there are methods that include use of various insects, rotting wood beds or different microorganisms to achieve results. We will focus on the two simplest styles for now, either a simple compost pile if you are able to do it outdoors or a worm bin if you need to work indoors, either due to living in an urban area or if you are currently under 2 feet of snow and want to get a head start on the spring planting!
Stay tuned for Composting Basics – Part 2 where we will talk about what you can, and can’t, use in compost piles.