By Hannah Van Sickle
Each spring, it takes but one unexpected visit from a bear–who inevitably strews garbage up and down my driveway–to remind me that it’s time to resume composting my kitchen scraps. I’ve relegated a heavy white ceramic bowl, inherited from my grandmother, to serve as the “mulch bucket;” I park it next to the kitchen sink and it fills at a steady clip.
Composting is a natural process of recycling organic material; it transforms garden and other vegetable waste into a dark, rich, productive soil amendment that gardeners call “black gold”. From coffee grounds and eggshells to carrot scrapings and onion skins, all of my kitchen waste (save for meat and dairy) gets composted. It keeps stinky garbage at bay, minimizes my trips to the dump, and produces a product that the home gardener should covet.
Amidst the current trend of composting, many people assume you need a dedicated bin to make compost; in all reality, you simply need space for a pile that is at least 3-feet square. Given that bacteria are the powerhouse of a compost pile, nature really does the bulk of the work. Bacteria break down plant matter and create carbon dioxide and heat, both of which contribute to the rate at which organic matter will decompose.
Once you have a dedicated space to start your compost pile, here is what you’ll need: carbon-rich “brown” materials, such as fall leaves, straw, dead flowers from your garden, and shredded newspaper; nitrogen-rich “green” materials, such as grass clippings, plant-based kitchen waste or barnyard animal manure; do not use manure from carnivores, such as cats or dogs.
At our house (actually, at my Dad’s house next door), the mulch pile has two sides; one for collecting composted materials and the other for turning the pile. An easy rule of thumb? The more frequently your pile is turned (about every 2-4 weeks), the more quickly you will produce compost. Waiting at least two weeks allows the center of the pile to heat up and promotes maximum bacterial activity; the average composter turns the pile every 4-5 weeks.
How to Make Your Compost Pile
- Start by spreading a layer that is several inches thick of coarse, dry brown stuff, likestraw, corn stalks or leaves, where you want to build the pile.
- Top that with several inches of “green” material.
- Add a thin layer of soil.
- Add a layer of “brown” material.
- Moisten the three layers.
Continue layering green and brown material, with a little soil mixed in, until the pile is 3 feet high. Try to add material in a ratio of three parts brown to one part green. If you are starting from scratch, it will take some time to get to 3 feet! Don’t worry. Before long you will be reaping the benefits of your labor: rich, organic compost.
Constraints of time and space got you down???
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Hannah Van Sickle is a freelance writer who lives and works in the Berkshires where she is raising her two daughters. She has a passion for storytelling and enjoys bringing the work of myriad individuals–particularly nonprofits–to light by finding what it is that makes others tick. Her work has appeared at Modern Loss, Refinery 29 and AMC Outdoors; she is a regular contributor to Berkshire Magazine and the Berkshire Edge.