Leftover vegetable scraps and coffee grounds create costly (and smelly) extra weight in your trash cans every week, so why not put them to work for you? Over the last year, my housemates and I have made a fairly substantial pile of compost in the backyard from vegetable scraps. There are a few different systems you can use to store the compost pile, but we have a fairly large backyard, so we just chose one of the back corners and made a pile. I call this the “lazy twenty-something’s compost method.” If space is a limiting factor for you, you can make your own compost bin out of wood scraps or buy a plastic one. There are a number of companies that sell special compost bins of varying complexity and cost.
You won’t need much to get started, just some lawn or plant clippings, some vegetable scraps from your kitchen, and a nice, moist place to make a pile. Build your compost heap over grass or soil instead of concrete. That way, earthworms will move in and make themselves right at home. Naturally occurring microbes and fungi will break down your compost even if you don’t have worms, but worms really speed up the process.
It’s also really simple to keep up. Make sure you turn the whole pile over every two weeks or so, to aerate your compost properly. We leave the shovel up against a tree right next to the pile to remind us. Regular turnover and worms are the keys to a quickly decomposing pile. After you’re set up, just keep adding to the pile. Compost piles are a great way to get rid of fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, coffee grounds, and most yard waste and paper. There are some things that shouldn’t go in compost piles. Meat, fish, poultry, fatty foods and whole eggs can attract some serious pests, and rat infestations are a steep price to pay for compost. Chemically treated wood and human and pet feces should also never be put in compost, especially if you plan to use the compost in a vegetable garden. The chemicals and biota in these can be poisonous if consumed.
The payoff for a little work is pretty substantial. Not only do you reduce your trash weight, which saves you money on trash tags, you should have a really nice pile of black, fluffy, rich finished compost. This can be used to enrich any soil, just ask the hops plants that are currently taking over our back yard.
For more information on composting, and to see where I got most of the information for this post, please see http://www.compost-info-guide.com/beginner_guide.htm and http://www.howtocompost.org/.
-Kelly Cronin, Outreach Project Support Associate