Composting Done Simply

Composting, Louisville Home InspectorComposting may sound complicated, but it can actually be as simple as two plastic garbage cans. What exactly is composting? It is a process of creating organic material by combining waste (such as yard trimming and food waste), adding bulking agents such as woop chips to accelerate the breakdown of the organic material, and, once the material has aged, adding it as a fertilizer to lawns and gardens.

Composting has been occurring since the beginning of time, when the first plants on earth died and decayed. Decayed vegetation gives rise to new growth, providing minerals and nutrients for other plants, animals and microorganisms. There are many benefits to composting including reducing (or eliminating) the need for chemical fertilizers; regenerating soil; decreasing the amount of organic materials sent to landfills; and capturing and destroying volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) in contaminated air, among others.

To begin composting indoors, a smaller trash can with some holes drilled in the sides and bottoms should be placed on top of a brick in a larger trash can. (The brick should be surrounded by sawdust, wood chips or soil.) The items to be composted will be placed inside the smaller trash can. The drainage holes keep the compost from becoming too wet, while the material at the bottom of the large trash can absorbs the liquid that drains from compost. Keeping the compost well mixed will speed up the composting process and reduce or eliminate odor.

Another option for indoor composting involves red wiggle worms with an appetite for garbage. Some people decide to draw the line at wiggle worms, but in actuality, one pound of worms can eat about three and a half pounds of food scraps per week. The worms are used in the process called vermicomposting, which allows worms to, in effect, recycle garbage. The bodies of the worms act as composting units, castings are rich in nutrients and organic matter.

Outdoor composting can be accomplished in a similar fashion, starting as simply as two trash cans as described above. The larger can may have the bottom removed, allowing composting to occur on the ground. For those who prefer ready-made composter, many varieties can be purchased on-line or in retail stores, including models with cranks to allow compost material to be rotated to help speed up the process.

The recipe for composting is two parts dried “browns” like dead leaves, shredded paper or sawdust for every one part moist, fresh “greens.” Greens include certain food scraps, coffee grounds and lawn clippings. Keeping the ratio of browns to greens high helps reduce odor problems.

Composting, Louisville Home InspectorThe composting process will take anywhere from two to six months if materials are turned or rotated, to allow airflow to hasten the process, longer if the materials remain dormant. Once the fertilizer is created, it can be used outside (not inside) to replenish nutrients for lawns and gardens.

For homeowners who want to keep the composting process completely indoors and wormless, several companies use the bokashi method, a process using brown powder that is essential fermented wheat bran. A bin is filled with kitchen scraps and layered with bokashi, then the composter sits with the lid closed for two weeks. When you open it up you find not soil, but fermented food that remains physically intact, but that can be buried in a garden to increase the nutrients content of the soil.

An air-tight system creates conditions to activate anaerobic fermentation, which accelerates the composting process. The Bokashi composter can be placed under the kitchen sink or other indoor location.

For those who want to take the process one step further, a compost tea can be made by steeping finished compost in water in order to extract beneficial microorganisms and compounds into a solution. It can also be purchased commercially.

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