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Composting 101

Composting 101
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Maybe you first heard about composting from a local farmer. Maybe your neighbour is a gardener. Or maybe a nearby restaurant boasts that it composts food scraps in a green space outback. Whether you’ve known about composting since childhood or just started looking into it for yourself, there’s always more to learn. If you’re willing to put in a bit of thought and effort, there’s good to be done by simply changing the way you get rid of your rubbish.

What is composting?

What is composting?
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Have you ever come across a half-eaten piece of fruit on the side of the sidewalk? Or a rotting banana peel in the parking lot? This natural decomposition is the basis of composting. Composting vegetation already fills our parks, forests and other un-manicured outdoor spaces. “Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). When you choose to use a compost pile or compost bin at home to cut back on garbage services or use nature’s own recycling method, you’re composting. So, really, composting is simple: It means you’re separating your organic waste (food scrap, yard clippings and other once-living things) into a special spot for composting instead of adding it to the recycling bin or garbage bin.

Check out these 7 surprising fertilisers for your garden. 

Why is composting earth-friendly?

Why is composting earth-friendly?
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Composting your organic waste helps the environment in two big ways. First, compost enriches soil so that it can give precious nutrients to plants that are still growing. If you have a garden or even potted plants or flowers, you can eventually use your composted soil to help plants grow more quickly and vibrantly. Secondly, composting keeps food scraps out of the landfill. Though landfills and compost piles look similar at face value, food decomposes more quickly – and in a more earth-friendly way – when composted. “Waste sent to landfill breaks down anaerobically – that is, without any oxygen present. It is squashed down then capped with soil and clay… As the rubbish breaks down over time, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 21 times more powerful than CO2,” an article by the Guardian explains. Food scraps also decompose slower in a landfill.

Discover 13 ways that green living can make you healthier. 

Why does it help the environment?

Why does it help the environment?
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Composting keeps food waste out of landfills, which are notorious for releasing a combination of methane and carbon dioxide (CO2), aka greenhouse gases, reports the EPA. These greenhouse gases, in turn, trap radiation from the sun, keeping our planet warm. As humans burn more fossil fuels and keep piling garbage onto landfills, the swell of greenhouse gases contributes to global warming. So when you compost, you’re actively helping to prevent global warming!

Learn more simple earth-friendly habits you can adopt today. 

How can you compost at home?

How can you compost at home?
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You can start by making or buying a compost bin to keep your decomposing waste contained, ideally in a shady corner of your yard. It’s important to regularly add water and mix up the waste with a shovel, pitchfork or another garden tool. Some people cover outdoor compost bins with a tarp to hold in moisture and promote decomposition.

So what about indoor composting? The process is the same but on a smaller scale. Keep a small, kitchen-friendly compost bin on your countertop or next to your rubbish bin. If you want to try indoor composting, it is important to maintain the correct ratio of waste types so that you don’t attract bugs. The good news is that even if you don’t have the capacity to compost in your own home, you can check to see if your council or local area has any sort of community compost program in place – many now do. If you’re worried about scraps beginning to rot before you can take them to a collection point, freeze your waste. This stops the decomposition process in its tracks.

What can you compost?

What can you compost?
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It’s tempting to compost anything that seems like it could decompose naturally, but you might end up with a compost pile infested with insects or rodents. So carefully consider what you compost. Remember, it’s always easier to add more to the compost pile than remove stinky waste. Per the EPA, the following items are OK to compost:

Grass clippings and tree leaves

Vegetable and fruit scraps

Eggshells

Plain rice or plain pasta (no oil or butter)

Coffee grounds

Teabags and tea leaves

Black and white newspaper or plain white printer paper

Unprinted cardboard

Vegetarian animal faeces (eg cows, horses, rabbits, hamsters etc)

Sawdust or wood shavings

Hair clippings

Cut flowers

Dryer lint

Ashes (make sure they’re completely cool before adding to your pile.)

Before you throw that ovveripe banana in the compost, here are 20 clever uses for bananas you probably never knew.

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What can't be composted?

What can't be composted?
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Any waste that seems unhealthy or dangerous in your house is also dangerous in your compost pile. For instance, if you have a houseplant that dies of insect infestation or plant disease, don’t compost the leaves. You should also skip composting these items:

Anything dairy

Food scraps that include dairy, oil or meat (these foods attract rodents and bugs)

Whole eggs

Charcoal or coal ashes

Meat

Dog or cat waste

How to keep a balanced compost pile

How to keep a balanced compost pile
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Healthy compost piles have a 50/50 mix of browns and greens – brittle dead things and organic scraps, according to the EPA. Brown waste supplies carbon and it comes from twigs, dried leaves or even broken branches. Green waste, including food scraps, grass clippings, and coffee grounds, supplies nitrogen. Your compost pile requires one other key ingredient: water. Keep your compost pile moist, but not saturated with water. Stir it up often to mix the green and brown scraps.

Here are 10 things you didn’t know you could compost. 

What tools make composting easier?

What tools make composting easier?
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Composting is easy and cheap; you only need a bit of shade, water and the right mix of organic waste. But composting can seem a little messy, which is where these tools come in.

Some outdoor composters prefer using an aerator instead of a shovel to turn the soil.

A pretty compost bin keeps the process neater and you won’t mind having it sit out on your kitchen counter.

A compost microbe additive starter can jumpstart the process.

Live composting worms eat their own body weight in organic waste each day, aerating the compost and adding fertiliser to the soil, which can help speed up decomposition.

How to avoid bugs in your compost

How to avoid bugs in your compost
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Though composting is easy once you get the hang of it, there are several common issues many beginning composters struggle with for a while. Some composters overwater their piles, creating a slimy sludge, while others don’t water enough, growing a dusty pile of dirt. But one of the most common annoyances about composting is the insects. Try raising the heap’s temperature to 49°C. Turn the pile over and rebuild it, watering it well as you go. If it contains lots of leaves or straw, mix in a nitrogen source like blood meal or manure. It should start heating soon, and when it does, those bugs will depart for a more comfortable place.

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