Composting 101

Happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the men and women who have made sacrifices so that the rest of us can lead our best lives.

I'm slowly, but surely, trying to be more environmentally conscious. We don't generate a ton of trash in our house; we only put the rubbish bin out every other collection day (meaning just once a week) if that. We actually generate much more recycling (but that's probably due to an online shopping addiction and parcels constantly arriving at the house). I think the main reason we don't have a ton of trash is because we don't buy a lot of processed foods, which often come in odd plastic (non-recyclable) packaging. And I realized that the main makeup of our trash was food scraps and that made me realize that I needed to invest in a composter.

About a year ago, I bought the Deluxe Pyramid Composter through Amazon. It was $175, which seemed a bit pricey at first, but it's well made and has lots of great reviews so I figure it's worth it. Plus, it's not a heavy price tag when I weigh it with the benefits. It arrived promptly (like, a week ahead of the expected delivery date, so thanks Amazon) and we set it up in early April 2016. We aren't avid gardeners, by any means, but because my sister and I love our little garden box, we definitely appreciate having rich, hearty compost to nourish our plants.
We've only generated a small amount of compost so far, but I thought I would share what I've learned and what we throw in our compost bin.

The rule of thumb for composting is to add in both "brown" and "green" items. There's no exact ratio, but we try to add in at least twice as many browns as greens.

Brown ingredients are basically the (dry) stuff that comes from trees, e.g. dead leaves. I also like to compost garlic and onion skins (which are papery and I think count as a brown). The brown ingredients add carbon to the composting equation.
Green ingredients are basically vegetable scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds. Make sure the grass clippings are not treated with pesticides (unless you want a toxic compost). Avoid adding anything oily or any animal products because these items tend to go rancid and don't actually add any value to the compost; plus, these items are more likely to attract pests to your compost bin. I also like to compost eggshells (which may be a brown, not quite sure) because they contain calcium, which is also great for making a nutrient-rich soil. The green ingredients add nitrogen to the compost.

Moisture is also an important ingredient in composting. The bin I purchased has a perforated lid which is designed to let in a decent amount of rainwater but not so much that it's detrimental to the decomposition process.
Your compost bin must sit somewhere relatively sunny because heat is important for helping the compost break down. That's why compost bins are usually made of a dark material, to trap in heat. Plus, this will help you maintain a compost pile through the winter. The compost pile will generate heat on its own, if there is a high amount of microbial activity, but setting it out in sunlight will just speed up and encourage the process.

And lastly, air is the final essential ingredient. If the pile is too dense and air cannot circulate, the browns and greens will not break down. Instead, they will rot and start to smell. So, make sure to mix the pile often - I just use a rake and act like I'm tossing a salad and try to do this once a week, depending on how much we're adding to the bin.

dead leaves
paper (one thing to note is that you want to only compost paper that isn't saturated with colored ink; the ink may be toxic and you don't want that feeding your plants)
garlic and onion skins
pine needles
hay or old, dried grass clippings
fruit and vegetable peels, rinds, stems, cores (basically, if you're prepping a vegetable and removing any bits and bobs, save them for the compost bin)
coffee grounds
fresh grass clippings
pulled weeds (as long as they haven't gone to seed)
tea bags
plant trimmings (when I get a bouquet of flowers and I trim the stems, I save the trimmings)

Do not compost animal products (except "approved" manures from barnyard animals; do not compost your pup's poo, which may contain pathogens). Do not compost anything that's been treated with pesticides or may potentially be toxic (like paper with colored ink, as I mentioned above). Do not compost anything that will root, like scallion butts or whole potatoes (weird example, but if you have a manky old potato that's gone off, you may be tempted to just toss the whole thing in the compost bin). You don't want to end up with plants actively growing in the compost or worse, sprouting up randomly all over your garden.
I'm lucky because I have a wooded area just behind my house which means I have no shortage of dried leaves; basically, I have an infinite amount of browns. However, if you are not so fortunate, in the autumn, save up as many dried leaves as possible to parcel out into your compost bin, as necessary, through the summer.
As far as kitchen scraps go, I keep a little lidded container next to my sink and just toss in the scraps as they come and then take it out to the compost bin as it fills up. I find that having it right next to the sink was really helpful in the beginning because I would peel vegetables into the sink or chop off the stalks of my kale and toss them in and before I went to toss it all into the rubbish bin, the compost bucket would catch my eye and I'd remember to save the scraps. I bought some compostable baggies to collect the scraps so that I wouldn't have to rinse out the bucket every time I emptied it. They're convenient, but not necessary so I don't think that I'll be purchasing them again. Worst case, I would just substitute in a brown bag (which is compostable).

Honestly, it's been pretty amazing having the compost bin. I think we're only setting the rubbish bin out every other week now and even though we're just one household, I feel good knowing that at least I'm putting in my best effort to make a difference.
As always, I'll be sharing my garden progress through the season and I'll let you know if I think the compost helps our plants to grow a little faster and tougher.