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Composting Basics and Benefits

Composting

Composting kitchen and garden scraps is a simple way to create a soil amendment that’s rich in essential macro and micronutrients. By diverting food and plant scraps from the landfill into compost piles we can create a natural fertilizer that is highly beneficial for soil and plant health. When we add compost to soil, nutrient-rich particles are broken down by microbial activity in the soil into bioavailable components that can easily be taken up by plant roots.


DID YOU KNOW: Compost can improve the overall structure and water holding capacity of soils. This means that when we amend our soil with compost, not only are we adding essential nutrients, but we’re also creating a more environmentally friendly garden that requires less water less often.


What goes into the compost?


Everything from eggshells, used coffee grains, and apple cores to newspapers, leaves, and tea bags. All plant-based food and yard waste is safe for your compost bins. There are however, some exceptions to what can go in the compost.


What shouldn’t go in the compost?


Meat and fish scraps, dairy products, fats and oils, plant debris treated with pesticides, diseased or infected plant material, charcoal ash, weeds that have gone to seed, and pet waste, should not go in the compost.

What makes a good compost pile?


Moisture and Airflow

A good compost pile needs proper airflow and adequate moisture to allow the breakdown of scraps. The pile should be as moist as a squeezed-out sponge and should be turned every 2 - 4 weeks.


Temperature

Heat is a catalyst that helps breakdown food and yard scraps in compost piles. At any given time between turning your compost, the center of the pile should range from 60°C - 70°C. Heat is generated as scraps are broken down, so don't worry about adding any additional heat. Remember that it is essential to turn your compost pile regularly to encourage an even distribution of decomposition throughout the pile. The center of the compost pile will be the warmest, and therefore the location where food and scraps are broken down the most quickly.



Balancing Carbon and Nitrogen

Every good compost pile will have the proper carbon to nitrogen ration that allows the breakdown of food. Many times, carbon will be referred to as brown material, and nitrogen rich scraps as green material. Too much carbon and the food and scraps will slow down or stop breaking down altogether. Too much nitrogen and the opposite occurs, where things start to break down too quickly and rot. A general rule of thumb is to have approximately 25 - 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen (25:1 – 30:1) in your compost pile. Dried leaves are rich in carbon and low in nitrogen at 70 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, whereas eggshells are much higher in nitrogen at only 10 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. It doesn’t have to be an exact science, just remember that decomposition is a process that can change and evolve, it requires observation, adaptation, and in some cases, problem solving. If you've got tons of carbon heavy scraps, like paper or leaves, try balancing them out by adding them in smaller amounts and mixing in nitrogen rich scraps like eggshells, coffee grounds, and fruit and vegetable peels.


It’s worth it in the end

There’s a reason why gardeners call compost “black gold”. Nothing can compare to the satisfaction of turning scraps into a highly valuable product that feeds the plants in your garden.


For a quick cheat-sheet to refer to, check out our composting guide.


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