Producing compost and growing a garden seem to go hand in hand. Having never grown up with a composter, the idea of composting is as mysterious as it is fascinating. My first introduction with composting was, as a child, watching my grandfather set out soybean grounds left over from the few occasions of making soy milk at home. The grounds would sit outside for about a week or so (I’m not sure if anything was added to them
) despite the constant complaints from various family members about the odorless but ugly heap. Yet, the grounds fertilized and helped produce some of the biggest roses in my aunt’s garden. Turning waste into proper nutrients with the purpose of feeding plants directly relates to successful gardening. As we are taking nutrients straight from the earth, it is only fair to put it back in order to perpetuate the growth of the plants.
Of course, getting the motivation to start composting is the tough part. Since I’ve never gardened up until now, I did not feel the urge to produce compost, especially when this would involve finding a proper bin, establishing a permanent place for it in an apartment, and of course, learning how to successfully turn waste into fertilizer. Luckily, I had the opportunity to learn the basics of composting and build in a composter this past Saturday. It turns out that having the right knowledge and moral support makes this process a lot less scary.
Composting is very much like baking, where the right amount of ingredients, time, and preparation are required to create good products. Basically, compost is made of brown matter (i.e. dried leaves, branches, and paper), which produces carbon and green matter (i.e. grass, food scraps not including meat or dairy due to their attraction to pests, coffee grounds, and egg shells), which produces nitrogen. The mixture should be a 50/50 combination of each matter. Too much nitrogen will create spoilage. The heap should also be kept moist and turned regularly. However, one can also choose not to turn it and the mixture will break down much slower. Freezing food scraps is a good way to add additional moisture to the compost while making the process of collecting and transporting green matter more convenient. The composter can be made of pieces of wood, hardware cloth and a staple gun.
The whole process seems straightforward and achievable, so much that I began to do more research on my own. I was surprised to learn that the City of Boston has a composting section on its website. Bins and pails are available for purchase at a subsidized rate. There are detailed instructions, along with colored drawings and troubleshooting tips, on how to compost indoors and building your own bin. I also discovered different methods of composting: holding unit, turning unit, worm heaping and soil incorporation. Depending on when the compost is needed, how much space is available, and which material is used, there is more than one way to achieve the end result.
Even though there is a large amount of resources and support to promote composting as an effective way to reduce and/or eliminate waste, working with rotting trash is a hard sell, especially for non-gardeners. However, as someone who cooks frequently with raw ingredients, it is upsetting to throw away of food scraps that can be used toward something useful. Now that I am starting to garden and have even help build a composter for class, I really don’t have an excuse not to compost.