Based on a series of Facebook posts during International Compost Awareness Week 2022.
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Choose your method.
Before we get into the details on home composting, you must first decide what method of composting best suits your needs. There are a wide variety of styles of home composting, ranging from the very simple to more elaborate set-ups. For our purposes this week, we will focus on the bin method and backyard tumblers.
Tumblers (left) can be acquired relatively inexpensively and last for years. You add your materials and on occasion, turn the tumbler to introduce oxygen into your compost. Many have 2 chambers, one for active composting and another for compost in the final stages.
Bins (right) can be constructed in a variety of ways and you can create as many as you like depending on the amount of space you have available. This allows for the layering of "browns" and "greens" and you turn it before you add more layers.
The University of Missouri Extension has instructions on how to construct a bin at this link: https://extension.missouri.edu/publications/g6957.
This link is also included on our website under "Resources" which has all kinds of helpful information on composting: https://www.stlcompost.com/resources.
Add your ingredients.
Now that we have a method chosen, it's time to get cookin'! Our first ingredients are a mix of browns and greens. Using a suggested 3:1 ratio of carbon-rich browns and nitrogen-rich greens, let the decomposing process start.
Tip: For every three shovels of browns (ex: leaves), add one shovel of greens (ex: food scraps) to your compost pile.
Tip: If your compost starts to smell, you are probably too nitrogen-rich, add some browns. If your compost doesn't heat up in the beginning and appears to be doing nothing, you should add more greens.
WHAT NOT TO ADD
While the first couple on the list could be conceivably composted, it is best to avoid items like meat and fish, dairy, fats, and oils unless you love raccoons and rodents, as well as, very unpleasant smells!
The other items on the list are critical to having the best compost product at the end, free of plant pathogens and seeds of plants we don't want.
A critical ingredient in our compost recipe is water. Composting works best with the right amount of moisture. Don’t be afraid to water your compost pile from time to time. If you take a handful of partially degraded compost material and squeeze it in your hands, just a few drops of water should come out. If your material is matted together, it has too much water. Dry it out by turning, laying it out on a flat surface or tarp, or adding browns.
Tip: If your compost pile is starting to smell, there may be too much water or too many greens. Mix in some browns such as leaves or woodchips and turn the pile.
Add some air.
Ongoing maintenance of your compost pile is just as important as the ingredients you add over time!
The final ingredient in our compost recipe is air and it is one of the most important ingredients. Compost microorganisms need oxygen to function!
Turning or mixing your compost pile twice a month will add more air and speed up the breakdown in your pile. You can also allow for natural airflow through your pile by adding sticks and woodchips.
There you have it! Composting at home is a rewarding family activity that not only teaches responsibility for our environment, but gives us an incredible product in the end, nutrient-rich compost!
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