How to Start Your Own Compost
What is composting?
Composting is nature's way of recycling! It’s a natural process that you can replicate in your backyard by combining your food scraps and the means to break them down into a rich fertilizer for your garden. Compost is decayed organic matter that helps to improve soil structure and promotes fertility when applied to gardens. This helps promote healthier soil as an alternative to chemical fertilizers.
Composting isn’t supposed to be a smelly and vermin-ridden process when done correctly, as the decay of organic material happens in places as wonderful as the forest floor.
Why is it important?
When food breaks down in plastic bags or environments without oxygen in landfills, a massive amount of methane is released. Methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas, contributing to climate change.
Creating compost at home provides you with a rich fertilizer for your garden, eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers that would otherwise pollute our waterways and lead to the warming of the ocean and a myriad of other issues.
In order to guarantee success in your compost, you will need to incorporate five components: moisture, oxygen, decomposers, nitrogen (food scraps, lawn clippings), and carbon (dead leaves, twigs, manure).
Maintain moisture by adding water to your compost. Maintain oxygen by turning or mixing your compost. Decomposers will naturally arrive when compost is connected with soil outdoors. When using an enclosed indoor system, bacteria is still present but you may consider adding worms to speed up the process.
Obtain a Composting Space and Method
Composting can be done inside or outside your house or apartment in sealed containers or tubs, as well as in the open mud of the earth. If you have an open backyard space that’s not directly in the sunlight and has good drainage, this is the most optimal location.
Make the Compost Mix
Composting items are categorized into green and brown. Materials rich in carbon are called “brown” while materials rich in nitrogen are called “green”. Green items are plant based wet materials such as fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, plant trimmings, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Brown items include corn cobs, branches, twigs, dead leaves, paper, and sawdust. Your first and last layers should be brown with alternating layers of green and brown in between. Each layer should only be an inch or two, and you ultimately want more browns than green in your compost.
Turn or Rotate Your Pile Regularly
To introduce oxygen into your compost pile you should be turning it every seven to ten days. A shovel or large stick is recommended for this. If your compost seems a little too dry you can sprinkle it with some water but do so sparingly as to not flood the area too much.
What to do with your finished compost
Your compost should take anywhere from two to four months. When it is done your pile of organic materials should now look like dark, rich soil. Your finished compost can be used as mulch for gardens to feed nutrients to plants. You can even use it indoors for house plants as potting soil. To help your community you can look into local composting sites where you can drop off your finished composting product. In Isla Vista the Food Co-op offers free bins where the community can drop off compost.
Sign Up for Isla Vista Compost Collective
This Isla Vista Compost Collective is a free community service in which individuals can have their food waste composted to provide fertile soil to local Isla Vista gardens. Once signed up, you are provided with a weekly collection bucket which is picked up by dirt riders who store it and drop it off at their local garden locations. You can sign up here for the service.
Quick Tips and Tricks
- Chop or shred your brown compost to expedite the composting process
- A larger compost pile will break down faster because it holds more heat
- Adding 10% soil mixture help since it is rich in microbial activity and can speed up your compost
- Don’t forget to remove product stickers and other contaminants
- The optimal temperature of your actively composting organic material is around 135-160 degrees Fahrenheit and a compost thermometer can be used to measure this
- Even more resources can be found through LA Compost's Resource Library