Composting Overview

Kitchen Composter
Compost container for collecting kitchen scraps

Composting is the process of setting aside organic waste items in a manner that allows nature to decompose the material back into a usable, nutrient-rich soil additive. Commonly composted items include plant-based food scraps from the kitchen, coffee grounds (with the filters), egg shells, napkins and paper towels, shredded paper, raked leaves and lawn clippings.

Why Compost?

By composting, not only are we saving money by needing less potting soil, but we're also creating a nutrient rich soil amendment that our pepper plants absolutely love.

In addition to making your peppers happy, by composting you'll also help make the planet happy. Composting is great for the environment as it helps to reduce landfill waste – we've read the average person will throw away 270 pounds of compostable food scraps a year. While we haven't weighed our waste, this does seem realistic. We're quite amazed with how quickly we'll fill up our compost bucket.

Composting also helps the environment from a greenhouse gas perspective. If this material went to a landfill, it would likely be buried and undergo anaerobic decomposition, rather than aerobic decomposition, producing methane gas which warms the planet by as much as 86 times more than CO2.

How to Compost

Rotating Drum Outdoor Composter
Rotating drum outdoor composter; we have two of these

An attractive kitchen compost bin can be purchased for around $20-$30 and placed near the cutting board and sink for easy access. In addition to looking tidy, they have a secure-fitting lid with filtered ventilation holes. A secure lid is recommended as it helps keep fruit flies from establishing themselves in your kitchen. Alternatively, any bucket with good lid will do.

When full, the kitchen bin is emptied into an outside compost bin. There are a number of different types of composters. We prefer the rotating drum composters. Once a week, we rotate each of our drums to aerate the soil and provide even decomposition. There are usually side-holes in the drums, and over time, grubs, worms and other insects find their way inside to aid in the decomposition and nutrient creating process.

We also add a small amount of rock dust (about 4 teaspoons) once, or twice, per cycle so the microbe-rich compost can work to convert these added minerals a form that's usable to plants. Does this make a difference? It depends on who you ask. Some advise against it, while others are convinced it helps. With the tiny amount we use, cost isn't a factor. Based on plants removing minerals from the soil, our belief is that replacing these minerals is probably a good thing.

To deal with the never-ending stream of kitchen scraps, we've found it’s helpful to use two composters. Once one is filled up, we start adding the new material to the second composter. This allows the first composter to fully decompose its material. When ready, we empty the soil from the first composter and it now receives the new material while the second one is left to fully decompose.

We tend to keep the compost in the drum a little past the point where it looks like good soil. The food scraps and lawn clippings contain many seeds. As the soil starts looking good, the seeds will start to sprout in the drums. The weekly drum rotation tends to bury the seedlings, killing the plants and lessening the amount of volunteer plants produced when the compost is used. That said, the compost soil still tends to be quite infiltrated with these seeds. Due to this, when used, we typically will add a top layer of potting or garden soil over the compost to keep the volunteers to a minimum.

Green Matter vs. Brown Matter

There are two types of compostable matter – green matter and brown matter. Green matter is your kitchen scraps and fresh lawn clippings (live stuff). Shredded paper, paper towels, napkins and raked leaves constitute brown matter (dead stuff). It’s good to use a mixture of green and brown matter in your compost bins.

Some sources suggest a ratio of 2 parts brown matter 1 part green matter. Others suggest 3-to-1 brown matter to green matter. The goal with these ratios is to produce a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30-to-1 which is ideal for composting. Though the 2-to-1, 3-to-1 guidelines depend on the actual brown matter vs green matter used. Bottom line... The 30-to-1 carbon to nitrogen goal produces optimal composting, meaning that decomposition happens quickest at this ratio. Regardless of the precise ratio, decomposition will occur and eventually you'll get a great soil additive. We periodically add shredded paper or dead leaves to the outside bin as well as dirtied napkins and paper towels (that weren't exposed to chemical cleaners or other potential toxins) to the kitchen collector. For us, this usually produces about 3-4 full drums of compost a year.

Additional Resources