Your Earth Month Guide to Backyard Composting
If you are conscious about the environment and want to keep our planet healthy, composting is an easy sell. Food waste is the second biggest source of methane gas in our atmosphere and methane is one of the primary causes of global warming. If you want Santa Claus to continue living at a frozen North Pole, you want to help slow the rise in global temperatures, and composting can make a difference.
For avid gardeners, there are other reasons to become familiar with composting: it saves money on fertilizer and your garden will love the nutrients it provides. Your roses, azaleas and hollyhocks will thank you.
In addition, composting is a great way to involve your family in recycling, and you’ll be a role model for your children and your neighbours.
Composting by the Numbers
In Canada, composting has become a more common practice over time. In 2011, Statistics Canada reported that 61 per cent of all households had done some type of composting, up 46 percentage points from 1994. Forty-five per cent of households composted kitchen waste and 68 per cent composted yard waste. In addition, residential waste disposal decreased by four per cent from 2006 to 2008.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that in 2012, the country as a whole recycled more than 21 million tons of food waste through composting.
Cold or Hot Composting?
There are two types of composting to choose from: cold and hot. Cold composting is a breeze, especially if you live in a jurisdiction that requires you to separate your organic waste into a separate stream. You simply put your organic food waste – fruit peels, pits, coffee grounds, eggshells – into a pile or into a bin in the backyard. Then, you can walk away. Over time, the waste decomposes and becomes wonderful fertilizer. (A bin is a better bet if you don’t want to attract hungry critters to your yard.)
Hot compost is the type “cooking” away in those green bins you often see in people’s yards and it requires more effort on your part. If you’re a serious gardener, take note – during the warmer weather, you’ll have quality fertilizer within a few months.
Hot compost comprises four main ingredients, which feed micro-organisms and cause quick decay:
- Nitrogen (green ingredients): Your green waste, such as vegetable peels and grass clippings, builds cell structure. If your compost is too “fragrant” and mucky, you have too much nitrogen in your bin and it will rot.
- Carbon (brown ingredients): Your brown waste supplies carbon to mix, which creates the heat (energy) for decomposition. These items are drier: hedge clippings and fall leaves, for example. If your bin has a preponderance of brown ingredients, however, it could take too long to break down.
Garden experts suggest that your compost mixture should ideally contain two parts green ingredients to one part brown.
- Oxygen: This ingredient helps to oxidize the carbon and it kickstarts the decomposition. To bring oxygen to the mixture, you need to turn your compost regularly. If the mixture is oxygen-deprived, it will create greenhouse gases.
- Water: Moisture is needed to keep the decay happening, but your compost should not be soaking wet.
- Add a bit of soil to this mixture to introduce those lovely micro-organisms that you need to break down the organic matter. Compost is ready when it looks like soil and has an earthy smell.
Cooking With Style:
With your ingredients at the ready, it’s time to get cooking. Line your chosen container with a thick layer of coarse material such as twigs or mulch to provide drainage. Now, you’ll need to decide whether you want to add ingredients as you go, or use the batch method.
Adding as you go makes it easy to recycle your organic waste – you simply dump it into the bin at will. However, your mixture won’t necessarily have the proper ratio of ingredients and may not decompose as quickly.
The batch method requires you to layer your ingredients, meaning you’ll have to store them before adding. It’s ideal for the more serious gardener. To use the batch method, you’ll need to add a layer of green material to your lined bin, then brown, then water, just to wet the mixture. (Drowning it isn’t wise.) Repeat. Finally, turn the compost to provide it with oxygen. Finish by adding a thin layer of soil to help minimize odour.
You can add to your mixture regularly, using either method. Turn it regularly using a pitchfork or other implement and wet it with your garden hose. Before you know it, you’ll have some wonderful fertilizer.