Every person has the ability to reduce their carbon footprint, improve their environmental responsibility, and enjoy the benefits of composting all at the same time. For anyone fortunate enough to have a backyard compost bin, I know you share in the excitement of recycling material back to the earth through backyard composting. What started out for me as a curious endeavor 20 years ago, has turned out to be a very enjoyable experience. It is truly remarkable watching leaves, food scraps, bioplastic material, and other “green” and “brown” ingredients turn into beautiful, rich soil in a matter of months.
Since most cities do not provide a pickup service to transport material to an industrial composting facility, it is up to individual households to do their own backyard composting. It really does not take much time, space, or effort to have a successful backyard compost bin. The average time I spend to keep up my compost bin is about 20-30 minutes per week. That is a very small amount of time to help our environment. The benefits of composting include:
- Soil conditioner- mixed in composted material improves the condition of existing soil and gives a dark, rich appearance.
- Fertilizer- gives your garden many of the nutrients found in store bought fertilizer. Organic farming operations use compost as fertilizer.
- Natural pesticide- serves as a natural pesticide avoiding the need for the purchase of harmful pesticides.
- Waste reduction- many items that would normally be thrown away and sent to a landfill, are now used as material to add to your compost bin.
- Conserve water- composted material mixed in with regular soil retains water better, thus reducing the amount of water needed.
- Energy Saving- less trucks needed to transport waste to landfill. Less usage of heavy machinery to move material in landfill.
Besides some of the benefits I have mentioned above, compost really does make everything grow faster and better. I have done several experiments with all of the vegetation in my backyard, and it is obvious which plants, trees, vegetables, or flowers have compost in their soil. It’s truly remarkable how well some plants just jump into life days after compost is added to their soil.
Once your backyard compost bin is started and is established, it is easy to maintain. I have learned that if the pile does not sink down each week that something is wrong. The goal is to try and put in equal amounts of “green” and “brown” material, but sometimes you may get too much of one type and forget to even it out later. Usually, the pile will react quickly once the shorted material is added and mixed in. Also, during the warmer months, the pile dries up more quickly and needs to be watered more often. The appearance of a lot of ants in your pile is also a signal that more water is needed. Basically, the pile needs to be damp like a wrung out sponge to have the best results. I normally water and mix (or turn over) the pile about once a week . If you do not turn the materials, it will take a lot longer for it to breakdown. I use a small shovel (a small pitchfork works great too) and a compost aerator to do my mixing. The shovel moves the material from the outside edges to the middle (where the heat is generated) and mixes the top section together pretty well. The aerator makes air holes deep into the pile and mixes material that the shovel or pitchfork cannot reach. This helps to speed up the composting process. I started using an aerator about 3 months ago and I can definitely say that it helps a lot.
One last tip — if your pile is not reacting the way it should and you are doing all of the correct things, add a shovel full of dirt from the garden. That dirt should have the micro-organisms in it that are missing to help the process accelerate.
Composting is easy to do and rewarding. My family helps out by collecting the material and putting it in the bin itself or in the receptacle we have in our kitchen. Even our neighbors know it is all right to drop off bags of leaves on our front porch. All contributions are appreciated!