Home composting – what are you waiting for?

You conserve water, you recycle, and you use environmentally safe products around the home. What else can you do to reduce your carbon footprint?

It’s time to start composting!

Don’t be afraid. The scary stories about rats and odors have been blown out of proportion. You don’t have to perfectly balance the “greens” and “browns” to avoid a full-blown catastrophe, and you don’t need to keep the pile at a specific temperature. In my years of composting in a semi-urban setting, I have yet to see a rat, or even a little mouse, anywhere near my bin. And, my pile has never gotten even a little bit foul-smelling. The main creatures I see are worms, and the only smell I’ve encountered is a nice, earthy, rich-soil smell. I sometimes err on the side of too dry/too many “browns” to keep the risk of rodents and smells down, which results in a slower decomposition process. But eventually, I get great compost. And, in the meantime, I’m keeping a lot of organic waste out of landfills, where it would break down in a seriously catastrophic way (i.e., anaerobically, without enough “browns”) and release greenhouse gases. I don’t even garden that much these days; I just like the thought of turning my leftover food into good stuff rather than bad stuff.

The main point here is that composting is not tricky or scary, and you don’t have to be overly specific about the balance, especially if you’re not in a big hurry to create fabulous soil amendments. A variety of material is nice, but not necessary. (Let’s just say my pile is heavy on soggy coffee grounds and filters, plus brown leaves from the one big tree in my backyard.)

Here are some websites with very basic instructions for starting a compost bin – I chose them for their low intimidation factor:

U.S. EPA: Composting at Home

Rodale’s Organic Life: The Easiest Way to Compost

Planet Natural: Composting 101

You can go out and buy stuff, like a bin, an aerator, and some fancy container for your kitchen scraps. Or not! Some people build their own compost systems. The options are seemingly endless (as is the price range). As for kitchen scraps, you can use any container with a lid and keep it in the refrigerator, clearly marked “compost,” until it’s full.

Once you’ve read through the webpages above and are familiar with the basic concept of “green” and “brown,” if you still want to simplify, you can follow my own compost recipe:

  • Start with Brown. Add Green. Add Brown. Water with a hose with a spray nozzle, until the pile is about as damp as a wrung-out sponge. Cover and forget.
  • The next time you add to your pile, alternate Green and Brown, ending with Brown, and water with a hose with a spray nozzle. Poke the whole thing a few times with a shovel or pitchfork. Cover and forget.
  • Do the same thing the next time … and the next time.
  • Now and then, when you’re in the mood, take your shovel or pitchfork and really mix up the whole pile, or even “turn” it so the stuff that was on the bottom is now on top, and vice versa. There might be some good compost at the bottom, which you can separate out, let sit for a few weeks, screen out the big chunks if you want, and apply it to your garden.

It’s hard, as an environmentalist, not to get a little wistful when you check on your bin and see that your slimy, fuzzy, leftover produce does not exist anymore but has been replaced with great-smelling, rich, dark compost. Once you see that, you might wonder why you waited so long to start.


— Heather Jones
Posted on Apr 28, 2016

Summary: You conserve water, you recycle, and you use environmentally safe products around the home. What else can you do to reduce your carbon footprint? It’s time to start composting!