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For those new to the composting game, there seems to be the misconception that making compost is as simple as throwing all of one’s food scraps into the craftily made composting bin. In fact, as many have learned the smelly way, this is not the case. Nor is it, by any means, the best way to make compost.

While compost isn’t a particularly difficult thing to make, there are methods to the madness, and a pile of randomly strewn food scraps in the backyard isn’t exactly the best of them, let alone the only one. In reality, there are different types of compost—hot, cold, fungal, bacterial, quick, and so on—as well as some rules for making compost well.

That’s actually good news because, even if that attempt at tossing kitchen scraps somewhere didn’t work, your composting options are not limited to that, and by the end of this article, you may be looking at organic waste with a much wider angle and in a completely different light: as a valuable resource.

What’s Compostable?

An easy rule of thumb for what is compostable is that, if it were once alive or part of something alive, it can be composted. That includes vegetable scraps, as well as weeds pulled in the vegetable garden, dead vegetable plants, and whatever else springs forth and perishes from the garden.

But, it doesn’t stop there. Dead insects swept up in the house are good, as are dirt, hair, and anything else organic. Shredded newspaper, cardboard, or paper was once a tree; thus, it can make compost. The leaves we rake up, the grass clippings from mowing, twigs, and branches of trees—these all can be compost. That flower bouquet on its last leg. Just think about it.

Basic Composting Rules

When making compost, there are a few rules to follow:

  • There needs to be an equal volume of carbon-rich “brown” elements (dead leaves, straw, wood, or paper/cardboard) and nitrogen-rich “green” elements (fresh grass clippings, food scraps, coffee grounds, or recently pulled weeds).
  • Compost needs plenty of moisture but needs some shelter from the weather so as not to get overly saturated.
  • Turning compost aerates it and helps whatever is in it decompose more quickly.
  • Smaller items decompose more quickly. It helps to shred leaves, paper, or cardboard before adding it to the pile. This also helps to keep the pile aerated.
  • Adding more compost at once makes the compost pile work better. The best compost piles, in fact, are those in which all the materials are piled up in one go.
  • Microorganisms, insects, and worms are the real heroes of the compost pile.

7 Ways to Make Compost

With these rules in mind, it’s time to start considering the different ways we can make compost, everything from intense systems with lots of work to lazy systems that take a little longer.

  1. Cold Compost: In general, what people are trying to make with kitchen scraps and a backyard bin is cold compost. This is a type of compost that is built slowly over time and takes a long time to decompose. The important part of the kitchen scrap version is to add an equal amount of brown material every time food scraps go in. Rather than actual compost, however, you get worm castings, which are arguably richer for the garden.
  2. Vermicompost: For food scraps that trickle in like kitchen scraps, vermicompost—feeding composting worms—is the most efficient and quickest method to get from vegetable matter to fertilizer for the garden.
  1. Hot Compost: This is a compost pile that goes together all at once, layering with a few inches of green material a few inches of brown material until there is at least a cubic yard.
  2. 18-Day Compost: This pile takes the hot compost method and quickens it by turning the compost frequently. Wait four days after making the pile for the first turn and then turn the pile every other day until it’s a pile of ready-to-use compost.
  3. Lasagna Gardening: Rather than making a pile of compost that then gets added to a garden. Lasagna gardening just takes all the compostable materials, stacks them upright in the garden bed, and lets nature do the hard work. It all breaks down right in place.
  4. Compost Bucket: As opposed to making a pile of compost outside the garden, compost buckets can be put directly in the garden, buried halfway into the garden with crops planted around them. Kitchen scraps, weeds, and so on are added to the bucket, and as they break down, exuding juices and such, it feeds directly into the garden and plants.
  5. The Yardwork Pile: In the autumn, leaves can be shredded with the lawnmower or weedwhacker and piled in a corner. By spring, they’ll be nice a semi-broken down into good compost/mulch. In summer, the same can be done with grass clippings, adding layers of dried grass clipping with fresh clippings makes great compost. Wood chips can be treated similarly but take longer to decompose.

The great thing with diversifying composting methods is that there is always compost on the go and there is always something nutrient-rich to feed to the plants. Homespun, organic compost in abundance is a wonderful thing.

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