Composting is one of Mother Nature’s miracles – it turns organic waste (like grass clippings, raked leaves, veggie peelings, fruit rinds and other produce leftovers) into rich soil. And it is one of the easiest things the average family can do to reduce their footprint and help the environment naturally. By turning everyday waste into compost, you can not only reduce the amount of garbage picked up curbside, hauled by fossil fuel operated trucks and dumped into landfills, but you will also gain free, 100 percent natural, organic fertilizer for your garden, flowerbeds and lawn. We’ve have found that composting has cut the amount of garbage we haul to the curb by 30 to 50 percent!
While many of us have heard about the benefits to composting, we have hesitated starting this project. Why? Because we are afraid it is complicated, messy and yet another household chore that is unlikely to get done.
But in reality, there are easy ways to get started, and the benefits are vast.
Here are some tips for composting simply without the mess and fuss (by the way, if you’re too busy to even read this, here’s a simple how-to video to help you get started):
1) Start small. One of the most common mistakes of any gardening project is to get over ambitious, and then stare at a half complete project for months, drenched in guilt. You can simply start with a plastic bin or a designated corner where you dump organic refuse. As you enjoy the results you can expand to a larger area.
2) Pick a convenient location. If your compost pile is far from your kitchen or your garden, you will be unlikely to visit it when the weather is cold or rainy. You can creatively “beautify” your compost pile by using dark green or black colors to camouflage or having your kids paint the container bright colors. You don’t really even need a “bin.” You can simply make a pile of leaves in the corner of the yard and add material to it. Keep a plastic bin (with a tight fitting lid, of course) under your sink for compostable kitchen waste, and add it to your bin (or pile) when it’s full.
3) Stay with “brown” and “green” materials. Brown materials, as the name implies are dried pine needles, leaves and dead plants. Green materials are “wet” fresh grass clippings and kitchen waste, such as vegetable peels, orange peels, watermelon rinds, egg shells (without egg contents), and coffee grounds (with filter paper). You can even add shredded newspaper and brown paper if you’re feeling adventurous. Many experts recommend layering or an ideal mix of two parts brown to one green but in reality these suggestions just accelerate the process. Any combination will work so don’t sweat it.
4) Avoid adding meats, oils and fruits. While Mother Nature eventually breaks down anything, these materials are also likely to attract rodents and slow down the overall composting process.
5) Keep things moist. Water is needed to attract worms, bacteria and fungi. If you live in a dry area or have dry seasons you can water with a hose and then place plastic covers on top to conserve the water and heat.
6) Turning is optional. Contrary to many guides, turning your compost pile is not necessary – it merely accelerates the process. When you are in the mood to marvel at the magic of earth’s re-creation, take out a shovel and enjoy (or you can invest in a compost container that you can spin every time you add to it.)
7) Consider composting indoors with a worm bin. While this may seem strange and even a bit gross, worm bins take little space and are very convenient, especially if you live in an apartment. And you will get lots of “cool parent” points!
8) Finally (after 6 – 12 months) you can enjoy the “fruits” of your labor! Sprinkle your compost on your lawn and garden, once it turns into dark and sweet smelling dirt, and enjoy the beautiful flowers, vegetables and fruits that your own rich soil will inspire.
Aviva Goldfarb helps busy parents let go of all the stress at 6:00 and bring joy and good nutrition back to the dinner table. She is a mother of two and the author and founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble, www.thescramble.com, an online dinner planning system and cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), and is author of “SOS! The Six O’Clock Scramble to the Rescue: Earth Friendly, Kid-Pleasing Meals for Busy Families” (St. Martin’s Press, 2010), which was named one of the best cookbooks of 2010 by on the Washington Post. She is also a weekly contributor to the Kitchen Explorers blog on PBSparents.org, and often appears on television, radio, and in magazines such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, Working Mother, Kiwi, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Prevention, and many others. This article is adapted from her most recent cookbook.