SELF – Men’s and Women Health & Fitness
Your process obviously doesn’t need to be as expansive, but multiple buckets can help keep odors down in your home and minimize the amount of trips you need to make to the big bin. In general, Avelar recommends keeping a bucket by the sink to throw scraps directly into, and just one other where they’ll spend the rest of their time (we’re partial to this one below).
What rules should I keep in mind once I start composting?
1. In general, there are only certain foods that you can compost.
If you’re using a composting service, be sure to check their rules for what you can and can’t add to your compost before you start. If you’re composting yourself and don’t have access to a large outdoor space, be sure not to include anything that can attract pests or make it more difficult for your food scraps to decompose. In general, meat, dairy, bones, or pet feces are off-limits (unless you have a special composting system, as outlined above) because they’re prone to attracting pests like rats or insects, especially in urban areas, says Carr. On the other hand, all fruits and vegetables are fair game, and you can safely incorporate any of them into your compost without having to worry. Full eggs are a no-no, but eggshells are okay (and are an excellent source of calcium). The same goes for shellfish like mussels and clams—use the shells, ditch the meat. You can add processed foods, like bread or rice, but only in small amounts, otherwise your scraps won’t decompose properly. However, if you aren’t in a city and have plenty of outdoor space, Carr says you can basically compost whatever you want, provided you’re doing everything else right.
2. You’ll also need to throw in some dry scraps.
If your compost becomes too wet (i.e., it has too many fruits and veggies), things are going to get slimy real fast, and your compost won’t decompose as efficiently. That’s why you need to add dry carbon sources—also known as browns—throughout the process. Browns include things like brown paper bags, newspapers, egg cartons, leaves, and coffee grounds, but you’ll want to avoid adding anything that’s bleached (like white paper towels) or waxy (like milk cartons).
Louie says you should add about two handfuls of dry scraps for every handful of fruit and veggie scraps if you don’t have a ton of compost. On a larger scale, if you’re composting outside, Carr says a ratio of one bucket of food waste to three or five buckets of browns will usually do the trick.
These carbon sources are hugely important, Carr explains, because they do four different jobs: aerating the compost, keeping moisture levels down, preventing pests, and masking odors. With the right balance of browns, your compost will basically break down all by itself, he adds.
3. For successful composting, try a little thing called lasagna layering.
Carr credits a lot of his compost success to lasagna layering, which is a system that requires you to layer food scraps and carbon sources as you would with lasagna noodles and sauce (which sounds decidedly more delicious). The final layer should be a thick coating of brown carbon sources, and no food scraps should visible from the top, as this will mask odors and create a protective layer from pests. And having an even ratio of browns to greens will ensure that the mixture doesn’t become overly moist or dry.
4. Aeration and good drainage are important too.
Even when you’re employing lasagna layering, Carr says it’s important that whatever compost bin you’re using has some kind of ventilation because compost needs oxygen to properly decompose. Being able to see inside the bin is even better because it allows you to make sure there’s nothing unwanted going on inside (too much moisture, accidental plastic, or pests, for example), which is why he’s a fan of using a homemade, transparent chicken wire bin that’s raised up on wooden pallets for extra ventilation. Thick, black plastic bins are harder to monitor, he says, and therefore more likely for humans to forget about (but not pests). You can buy a wire compost bin like his online (we found a similar style below) or use video tutorials to make one yourself.
5. After you’ve set everything up, you’re good to go.
If you’re outdoor composting with bins, make sure you periodically rake or flip your compost to help it decompose. “You do not need to turn or flip your pile, but it will speed up the composting process,” Platt explains. While stirring the bin or transferring it to another will make it decompose faster, it’s also not really necessary if you’re only trying to break down a small volume. In general, wait to turn your compost until your container is mostly full. If you’re processing just the food waste you produce, it’s going to take a while for your bin to fill up.
The hotter the compost is and the more frequently you stir it, the faster it will break down, which means that it’ll take a lot longer to do during the winter, when the temps are lower. As long as you make sure to add the right proportion of browns to scraps, you will eventually have beautiful, nutritious, homemade compost to use in all your plants. Once you’ve started composting, Carr says that the contents of a typical household compost bin will break down in about a year if you never touch it and just a few months if you’re consistently stirring.