Composting at Home

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By: Sharon Vining, RN, OCN, BSN



These days, most of us are trying to do our part to conserve and protect the environment.  Though I recycle, I wondered if I could do more. According to the EPA, food scraps and yard waste make up to 30 percent of what we throw away. Then I met an organic farmer.  He showed me how easy it was to recycle my grass, leaves, and food scraps to make nutrient rich compost. 

Compost is made of decomposed and recycled organic matter.  It is used as a fertilizer and soil conditioner.  The practice of composting dates back at least to the Roman Empire. 

Composting can be done in four easy steps.

Step One – Make a compost bin

Compost bins can be anything from simple chicken wire or a plastic trash can to more elaborate turn bins.  Mine is a large plastic trash can.  Cut several holes about a ½ inch in diameter, two on the bottom and four around the sides.  This allows for drainage and air.  Once made, place the bin in a shady spot in the yard close to water.  If you do not have a yard, this can also be done on a patio or even inside.  When done right, there is little to no smell and does not attract bugs.

Step Two – Gather the ingredients.

Composting requires four basic ingredients:  browns, greens, dirt and water.  The Browns include things like dead leaves, branches and twigs.  The Greens include materials such as grass clippings, vegetable and fruit scraps, tea and coffee grounds and even egg shells.


Step Three – Layer your compost

Most gardeners seem to use two parts brown to one part green.  The EPA suggests using 50/50.  So I start by using two buckets full brown then followed by one bucket full of green.  I then had a couple scoops of dirt.  Finally I water.  I do not want to soak it, but rather keep it moist.

Step Four – Stir

Once a week I take my pitch fork and stir.

Every week I repeat the process. Once I fill up my trash bin, I start on my second bind.  Once the second bin is full, the first bin is ready to use.

What to Compost

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Tea bags
  • Nut shells
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Yard trimmings
  • Grass clippings
  • Houseplants
  • Hay and straw
  • Leaves
  • Sawdust
  • Wood chips
  • Cotton and Wool Rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Hair and fur

What Not to Compost and Why

  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    - Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash
    - Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs*
    - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
    - Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils*
    - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps*
    - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)*
    - Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
    - Might kill beneficial composting organisms

By composting, you can enrich the soil, help retain moisture – thus reducing the amount of watering needed and suppress pests and plant diseases.  Compositing also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.  It can also encourage the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi.  Compositing is an activity that can be fun for the entire family and lower your carbon foot print.

Final note

While researching for this article, I found two interesting tips.  Because human urine is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (plant nutrients), it is ideal for plants.  One farmer regularly fertilizers is plants with urine.

Another farmer noted he does not compost in July and August; these months are mating season for flies. By covering his compost during these months, he avoids giving the flies a place to mate.

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