Composting 101

What is Composting?
Composting is quite simple and very useful. The dictionary defines it as a mixture of various decaying organic substances, such as dead leaves or manure, used for fertilizing soil. This sounds like an easy process, but it is actually quite complex and can be done with varying levels of success. I define composting as the re-use of old organic materials that would’ve otherwise been thrown away, giving them purpose while creating new life.

Why Compost?
Look into a trash bin sometime and you will see the endless amounts of organic material in there. This organic material is going to end up in the landfill mixed in with a ton of other random trash and will not decompose successfully. According to the Composting Council, “in 2005, an estimated 245.7 million tons of municipal solid wastes were generated in the United States; that’s 4.5 pounds per person per day.” That is such a waste. Composting, when done properly, can give new life to this organic material and eliminates waste going to landfills.

What to Compost?

Ashes, wood Alfalfa
Bark Algae
Cardboard, shredded Clover
Corn stalks Coffee grounds
Fruit waste Food waste
Leaves Garden waste
Newspaper, shredded Grass clippings
Peanut shells Hay
Peat moss Hedge clippings
Pine needles Hops, used
Sawdust Manures
Stems and twigs, shredded Seaweed
Straw Vegetable scraps
Vegetable stalks Weeds

Where to Compost?
There are many different places to compost. The most popular is just your average backyard compost. With a little research, you can also find larger composting operations in your local area. One of the biggest composters here in the Albuquerque area is Soilutions. This is a large-scale composting operation. Many people take their larger organic materials here. Soilutions then properly sorts the material and eventually, after the organics go through their breakdown cycle, Soilutions sells the finished compost product. These local, larger scale operations are great places for farmers, construction workers, landscapers and others to take their hefty amounts of organic material and have it properly dealt with.

Image credit: soilutions.net

Image credit: soilutions.net

Different Types of Composting

Aerobic Composting– Compost with air, needs to be turned every couple of days, and requires a good amount of moisture. Good type of composting for a large compost. Lots of positives come with this type of compost, including no smell, which is nice for you and your neighbors. This method is also much quicker than anaerobic composting because of the constant maintenance, which includes turning, making sure the temperature is at 125-160 degrees F, and adding moisture. Although it is more work, it takes about two weeks to decompose into usable material.

Anaerobic Composting– Composting without air; very low maintenance, but takes a long time to break down. The most positive thing I hear about this type of compost is that it is very low maintenance, which is always nice. However this type of compost can get smelly, also there are occasionally pests involved such as flies. This is a good option for anyone who wants to save their organic material and eventually reuse it but is in no hurry.

Vermicomposting– Composting with worms. Works best with food waste. Needs oxygen and moisture. Worms break down organic material into quality compost. Used by many gardeners because of garden and kitchen food scraps. To start, about 1000 worms are needed. Populations of worms can double in about a month!

Industrial– A great alternative to a landfill. Large scale composting that helps reduce methane that is created at a landfill. Although big machines are needed to move materials around, it is still worth the methane reduction and the heaps of compost that can later be used productively.

Agriculture– Uses windrow composting that involves piling material in long rows. These rows are mixed around to create a healthy compost. Windrow composting is often used at farms and is large scale because you are dealing with a ton of material. It is similar to a little backyard garden compost but needs heavy duty equipment in order to move around and mix the large amounts of materials.

Home– Small scale, easy process, usually using a bin or a pile in your yard. Any of the above methods can be used at home depending on how you want to do it. I personally use a bin with a lid that locks. I have a container near the sink, put my food scraps in there and then mix that in with yard scraps that are found in my backyard. All I do is throw it in the bin and mix it around every few days. It is so simple to do, yet so effective. Every couple of weeks I look back and boom! – the organic material is now beautiful, usable compost!

-Posted by Nathan

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