Kitchen Confidence

3 Ways to Start Composting

By • March 26, 2013 • 8 Comments

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 Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: we're sharing three different ways to compost your kitchen scraps.

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Composting scares many of us the way that baking bread does: it requires us to follow certain rules, use our best judgement, and leave the rest to science (and perhaps adding in a few prayers to the homemaking gods for good measure).

And, while the virtue of composting is clear -- it reduces waste, and it gives valuable nutrients back to the soil  -- the alternative is often too easy: the onion is chopped, the banana peeled, and your waste goes into the trash.

But composting can be easily integrated into your life, whether you have a vast yard or a closet-sized apartment. Even the laziest of us can do something useful with our organic food waste. And we're here to tell you how.

First: The quick and dirty on composting
Composting is a natural process in which organic matter breaks down into fertilizer with the help of the microorganisms in soil (or, as we'll discuss later, earthworms). This resulting soil, which passionate gardeners often call "black gold" and Martha Stewart sweetly describes as having the texture of "crumbled chocolate cake", is rich in nutrients, and will help retain moisture when added to your garden beds or potted plants. (Fun fact: the scientific name for that "black gold" is humus.)

The right materials
There are a few things to avoid adding to your compost bin or pile. These include the thick rinds of citrus, fats or lard, ash, pet waste, and dairy. A comprehensive list of what's cool to compost and what isn't can be found here

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Once you have the right scraps, your options for composting can be organized in three categories:

Aerobic composting
At its most basic, aerobic composting requires only carbon, nitrogen, air, and water. The nitrogen comes from "green" materials such as food scraps, grass, and garden trimmings, while the carbon comes from "brown" materials such as fall leaves, straw, and shredded paper. Keeping these different factors in balance is important -- a reliable ratio is two parts green to one part brown, and they should be added in alternating layers to a compost pile.

If you're lucky enough to have a yard, you can easily keep a compost pile. There are a number of ways to do it, but they all require a few basic tools and practices. Find a shady, dry spot; collect and add your food scraps; add water, turning occasionally for proper aeration. Cover with a tarp if you live in an especially hot or rainy area. Celebrate your resulting humus (maybe by eating some hummus?), and add it to your garden. For comprehensive instructions, turn to the EPA's composting website

If you don't have a yard but you're still committed to aerobic composting at home, there's hope for you yet -- you just need to enlist the help of some industrious worms. Vermicomposting is becoming increasingly popular in urban areas; if you're interested, take a look at this handy how-to graphic

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Anaerobic composting
Also known as Bokashi composting, anaerobic composting doesn't require oxygen, water, or even walking outside. With an aerobic composting system -- we like the Urban Composter Bucket -- you simply add your kitchen scraps to a bucket, drain off excess liquid as your scraps decompose, and wait a few weeks for nutrient-rich fertilizer. These buckets are a clean, smell-free way to compost in the comfort of your kitchen -- and they are essentially fool-proof.

Outsourcing
If you don't have any use for fertilizer, or you know that composting just isn't going to happen for you right now, you still don't have to throw away your banana peels and egg shells. Your local farmers will be delighted to take organic food scraps off of your hands -- and you'll be contributing to the bounty you'll be buying from them next season. Many cities have drop-off programs for compostable material; search for one in your area, or simply offer up your scraps to the man selling you that rutabaga. You'll probably make his day.

Tell us: do you compost? What sort of system do you use? 

Jump to Comments (8)

Tags: kitchen confidence, composting, urban composter, gardening, farming, food waste, how-to & diy

Comments (8)

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9 months ago AntoniaJames

AntoniaJames is a trusted source on Bread/Baking.

Our scraps are picked up by the city with our green waste every week. They gave us handy little green (square!) buckets with handy flip-top lids to keep under our sinks. We use "bio-bags," which are compostable, to take them out to the big green waste bin in our driveway. The waste management trucks take it to an enormous composting site. Since they started doing this, years ago, my weekly trash has been reduced to less than the size of a standard shoe box. We used to have a compost bin in our backyard, but it became a war zone for skunks and raccoons in the middle of the night, no matter how carefully we dug to bury the new stuff underneath. This device (also provided by the city) actually had a lock-down top, but that didn't seem to matter. It also attracted rats. Yes, I live in a city. There are rats, which seem to enjoy composted food scraps. That said, I'm going to start putting my banana peels in the ground around my fuschias, on the advice of the local garden center.

Birthday

9 months ago Elana Carlson

Yes! Such a great article. Thanks, Marian!

Stringio

over 1 year ago James Williams

Thanks for sharing the Urban Composter™ with your readers! We noticed that the link to your store is no longer available, but your readers can buy one with us if they like it at http://urbancompsoter.co/

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over 1 year ago Shiny Happy Planting

To questions: (1) What exactly is in the accelerator? (2) If I have an indoor / container garden, do I just take some of this compost and mix it with my potting soil?

Stringio

over 1 year ago Andrea Goldsmith

If you have a yard, you can take a few days' worth of kitchen scraps and bury it anywhere in your yard. Put a stone or brick on top if you think rodents or raccoons will go after it. You can move the brick each time you bury a new batch. In a few days it will be gone and your soil will be richer.

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over 1 year ago qktiles

Wood ash actually is okay in a compost pile...I've had one for many years (I understand fruit trees especially like it). When I lived more rurally I had a 3-bin system; on my smaller village plot I use a covered composter, mostly to keep rodents away from the pile. You can also toss in the occasional shredded newspaper.

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over 1 year ago StephW

Shoot, the "here" link for "what's cool to compost " directs to a picture of the urban compositor bucket.

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over 1 year ago Marian Bull

Marian is Food52's Associate Editor.

Sorry about that! Here's the correct link: http://www.composting101...