Compost Bins: Composting Basics

Compost Bin

A Brief Look At How and What To Compost Using Compost Bins

Did you know that upwards of 60 percent of the waste generated by the average U.S. household could be recycled or composted? Unfortunately, only 8 percent of American waste is composted, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Did you also know that yard waste, such as grass trimmings, makes up nearly 20% of all garbage created every year? When put into landfills, organic matter like food and grass trimmings take up a significant amount of space and play a large role in the creation of methane gas, a greenhouse gas that “remains in the atmosphere for approximately 9-15 years…and is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

Composting food and yard wastes is easy, especially when using compost bins. Building a compost pile on your own is certainly an option, but compost bins on the market come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and often make the process of composting much simpler. No matter how you choose to compost your organic wastes, the advantages of composting are undeniable. Composting helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that would be generated as a result of simply throwing organic wastes into the local landfill or incinerator. Composting also saves money by providing you with free fertilizer for your garden. Finally, compost puts nutrients back into the soil, making your garden soil richer and plants healthier.

The first step in making your own compost is to select a compost bin. Compost bins are available in all shapes and sizes, so the size of your garden or yard is not an issue. Large compost bins allow avid gardeners with plenty of yard space the ability to make enough compost to last throughout the growing season. On the other hand, small compost bins can fit in the kitchen or on the balcony of a city dweller’s apartment and provide enough compost for house plants and a small herb garden. Knowing how much time you wish to spend tending to your compost pile and how much space you have to devote to a compost bin will assist you as you search for just the right compost bin.

Once you have selected your compost bin, it’s time to begin filling it with organic matter. But can you put any kind of organic matter into a compost bin? Unfortunately, no. The general recommendation is to fill your compost bin with a mixture of 50 percent “browns,” and 50 percent “greens.” The “browns” add carbon to the compost bin mix and include some of the following items:

  • Dried leaves
  • Straw
  • Chopped Cornstalks – must be shredded or chopped into very small pieces first
  • Shredded Paper
  • Shredded Cardboard
  • Paper Towels

“Greens” add nitrogen to the compost bin mix and include some of the following items:

  • Grass Clippings
  • Garden Trimmings
  • Most Kitchen Wastes
  • Fresh Hay
  • Manure from non-meat eating animals

It is not advisable to put the following types of organic matter into your compost bin unless properly prepared first:

  • Diseased plants
  • Grass clippings with chemicals
  • Hedge trimmings
  • Nut shells
  • Peat moss
  • Pine Cones
  • Pine needles
  • Sawdust
  • Sod
  • Soil
  • Weeds
  • Wood ashes
  • Wood chips

For information about how to prepare these types of organic matter for composting, visit the website of your local agricultural extension office.

Some organic matter should never find its way into compost bins. Here are the main offenders:

  • Bones
  • Cat litter
  • Charcoal and briquettes
  • Cooked food waste
  • Dairy products — (butter, cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressing, milk, yogurt, sour cream)
  • Dishwater
  • Fatty, oily, greasy foods
  • Fish scraps
  • Meat
  • Glossy, colored paper
  • Peanut butter
  • Pet wastes, human excrement
  • Sludge (biosolids)

Maintaining your compost pile depends on the type of compost bin you have selected. Some compost bins require that the pile be mixed periodically, but some compost bins require no mixing. Refer to the compost bin manufacturer’s instructions for details.

By purchasing or building your own compost bin that meets your specific needs, and by following a few simple guidelines, you can create your own money saving, earth friendly, plant loving compost.

Source: University of Illinois Extension: Composting for the Homeowner

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