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Composting 101: Getting Started

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Composting 101: Getting Started
(Part 1 in our series on composting)

Composting is an easy and valuable way to live more sustainably. Composting creates a rich soil conditioner, reduces the amount of material in the landfill, helps prevent erosion, minimizes the use of pesticides and helps preserve water. Composting reduces the amount of methane and greenhouse gasses released in the atmosphere and supports the greening of your community.

It's a daily activity you can take to make a positive impact on the environment. 

How Does Composting Help the Soil?

The basics are simple: Compost is rich organic material that provides essential nutrients and structure to soil, which in turn helps soil retain moisture and gives it additional protection from nutrient run-off and erosion. All the scraps you compost will break down and eventually create a dark, fertile base that you can add to your soil -- the essential foundation for growing healthy plants. The motto is, "Turn Your Spoil into Soil!

What's the First Step? Don't be Afraid!

We started small: get yourself a small kitchen compost bin like this one, or any of the ones sold on Amazon that have replaceable carbon filters and are easy to clean. We like the 1-gallon size, which is big enough to collect scraps for a week or so and the carbon filter keeps unwanted odors from invading your kitchen. Plus, the classic design looks good on your counter. But, as Leonard Diggs, director of operations at the Pie Ranch Farm in Pescadero, California says, your compost container "doesn't have to be, you know, a really cute little ceramic container. It can just be an old milk carton. When you make the first chop of the butt of that asparagus, boom, it could go right in there." Also, you can store the food scraps in a bag in your freezer or the back of the fridge. That's an easy way to avoid odors and insects in your kitchen. As you go through the day, you can toss compostable bits into the bin without having to set then aside to take outside or making a special trip to an outside bin. 

What Can I Compost?

This is a good question. There is one basic rule in kitchen composting: No dairy and no meat. Vegetable peelings, eggshells, tea bags and coffee grounds, fruit peelings, juicer pulp, and flowers. Avoid fats, sauces, noodles and breads. If you have a yard, add grass clippings. These add nitrogen — a crucial element for microbial growth. As reported on NPR's Life Kit, "Microorganisms are the true heroes of this process, they do the heavy lifting of decomposition." Even some paper and plastic products are compostable-- including the mailers we use for orders here at ShoreBags!-- but always make sure these items are marked "compostable" before tossing them in your bin. 

What Happens Next?

Once your pail is full, there are lots of options for what to do next. If you have a small space like an apartment or condo, you can use a 5-gallon bucket or old trash can for your larger composting pile, a place where you can empty your kitchen pail. Or if you have a yard, use an old garbage can or wooden chest. You can even use old fencing to make a square box that you leave uncovered, but this might attract unwanted visitors like raccoons and mice. So think about your space and find the right, best solution. 

Once you've settled on something, you can begin by emptying your kitchen pail. In composting, it's best to layer the "greens" and the "browns." Greens are the kitchen scraps that often contain moisture like fruit and vegetable peelings. Browns are generally dry things like leaves, pine needles, and eggshells. If you layer these two group in your bin, you'll create a better composting mix that will produce the microorganisms you need to break down matter and produce that rich soil faster. Layer the greens and browns for the best results. 

Next time we'll talk more about tending your compost pile and how to achieve optimal results and then, more importantly, how to use this nutrient-rich product you've worked to create!