Why composting is important, and the best time to do it.
By Judith S. Juntilla
Photos by Elias Guerrero
In Part 1, we talked about setting up your compost bin and what to put in it. Now we discuss the best time to compost and why composting is important, even in an urban setting.
When Do I Compost?
It depends on how often your household produces waste from the kitchen. Just make sure to do it regularly so as not to encourage pests and insects. Keep a small kitchen scrap bin near your food prep area and dispose of the trimmings into the bin as you prep. This simplifies things and it’s good for forming the composting habit.
For small composting operations like one would expect in a city residence, the add-as-you go method will probably work best. Just remember to add browns (shredded paper, dry leaves, sawdust) on top of the kitchen scraps so as not to attract pests. Keep these browns handy and add as needed.
Paper is the best source of carbon for your pile; keep a bag of it near your compost bin. I use shredded used paper like paper receipts, paper egg cartons and used paper tissues, but any piece of paper smaller than 2 x 2 inches is fine. If you find yourself shredding confidential documents, the compost pile is one way to make sure they never see the light of day.
Understand, though, that add-as-you-go composting might mean slooow decomp simply because you keep adding to the pile, and not giving it the opportunity to heat up. This is fine; you’ll still end up with compost eventually.
Why Should I Compost?
If you’ve reached this far and still need convincing, then maybe it’s because it seems to you an awful lot of trouble for a free bag of soil. Personally, I’ve found composting to be a good way of keeping trash bins neat and tidy. Food scraps don’t get mixed in and this prevents the bins from stinking, and you restrict possible pests outside the living areas. You also end up with less volume of trash, which can be a blessing if garbage collection in your part of the city is spotty. I’ve survived a month-long garbage collectors’ strike simply because I segregated my trash and composted.
You may encounter these common problems:
- It smells.
The carbon-nitrogen ratio is key to maintaining your compost pile. Bad smells mean there’s too much nitrogen (greens) in the pile. Turn your pile (just dig in and toss stuff around with a small garden fork) and add more brown stuff (paper and dried leaves) to your compost.
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- There are bugs in it!
Don’t be alarmed if you find living things (not roaches!) in your pile. Bugs, worms, beetles are all
welcome. If you find roaches living on your pile, citrus peels do a good job of repelling them. Don’t believe the nonsense about not using citrus in your pile. They will not make your pile acidic, and they will help repel the unwelcome pests.
- There’s liquid coming out from the bottom!
This is why you should compost outdoors. Think of this leachate as compost tea. Plants love this as it can be easily taken in. If you can’t situate your compost bin directly above soil, place the bins above newspapers and toss in the newspapers in the compost bin once they’ve absorbed the leachate. Do it until you’ve mastered the composting process and you produce less and less leachate.
- I can still see the banana peel I put in a year ago!
This means your pile has stalled and there is more carbon (browns) than nitrogen (greens) in the pile. Simply add more green stuff or add a bit of water to get it started again. I have long struggled with my carbon-nitrogen ratios, so be patient. While you will find many online resources that advocate a 25:1 ratio, I have found that eyeballing a 50/50 ratio between greens and browns does just fine.
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Should all else fail, run to your hardware superstore’s garden section and buy a compost activator. This is simply bonemeal, bloodmeal, bits of finished leaf mould, all the good stuff that can kickstart the decomposition process. Sprinkle on your troubled pile and watch the magic happen.