What is one of the best ways to feed a hungry garden and at the same time help divert food, yard and agricultural ‘waste’ from landfills? Compost! And you can make your own using a variety of techniques depending on what makes sense for you, your garden or someone else’s and when you want it ready. Let’s explore some of these composting methods and the tools needed for each:
Cold Composting Systems
Cold composting is a decompose-as-you-go system that is super simple to get started. There are some limiting factors, however. There is typically a wait time of more than a year before your waste is garden-ready compost. It is not a good idea to put in seeds that you do not want coming up in your garden or diseased plants. Cold composting does not get, well, hot enough to get rid of these seeds and pathogens.
I recommend using a silo or bin style method if you are going to cold compost your food and yard waste. Piles can be sore to look at if you have neighbors or if you live in an apartment. If you have plenty of property, hey, pile it on!
The tools you will need to build a silo include a large cylindrical container like a trash can, a power drill (recommended use of a spade bit), a saw or very sharp knife and a water source. A trash can that is 55+ gallons should suffice for household food waste. Check out a easy DIY guide here. I would make a few altercations, however. As the months go on the pile will compress and the compost will accumulate on the bottom. After a year you should be able to shovel some out from the bottom to put in your garden. I recommend sawing the bottom of the can off to optimize draining. That way you can lift the can up a bit and move it to access your more mature compost.
Hot Composting Systems
Hot composting speeds up this process to a matter of months, eliminates pathogens and breaks down unwanted seeds, but requires much more attention than cold composting methods. Proper temperature control, regulating the input of fresh or ‘green’ vs. ‘brown’ additions to get a 2:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio and aerating, turning, and watering, the mixture are all important to maintaining a hot compost system. You can even add a compost accelerator with microbes to speed the process up even further.
One of the simplest hot composting methods is the tumbler. The tools you will need are a tumbler of course (see a few ways to make your own here), a water source, and a thermometer. Do your research to find which additions give you materials add more carbon and nitrogen to your tumbler. Check out this great article to start. Monitor the temperature of your pile. When it climbs above 140 degrees (F), it is time to turn it to aerate it and add some water.
If you are against using animals for any purpose then you can take a pass on this section. Otherwise, worms are a great way to eat your food waste and turn it into worm castings or worm poop. These castings are dynamite as a natural fertilizer for plants. Vermicomposting is amazing for large and small operations and it does not create noxious odors. It is quick too!
Check out this amazing guide to building your own cheaply. You will need some storage boxes, a power drill, newspaper, and some worms.
Using advanced cultures of microbes in devices that automatically regulate the conditions for perfect composting can break your food and yard waste in a matter of hours to days and turn it into fertilizer for your garden. The downside is that this anaerobic process produces more methane than typical decomposition does. This can be harnessed or released. Harnessing it can provide biogas for fuel. Releasing it contributes a bit more to warming the planet.
These devices can get pricey, but simple ones to install right in your garden or kitchen are becoming affordable. This is THE simplest and most convenient way to compost. All you need is the digester.
Check out this garden-oriented DIY one here.
Picking the Right Method/s for You
Which composting system is right for you depends on what type of living situation you have. If you are living in an apartment, want to reduce your waste and maybe grow some plants on your patio then try vermicomposting or a tumbler. If you have a house with a garden then try any of the methods. The right one gives you ready-to-go compost when you need it and is not a drain on your time.
Image source: James Emery/Flickr