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Do you know why I love composting? It solves all of my troubles. No food in the house? I can find it growing in my yard. Smelly trash? Put food waste in the compost instead, that’s the smelly part. Forgot to take my trash can out on trash day? It’s not full because I compost my food, yard waste and paper products. I ran out of potting soil to repot my plants? I made some from my compost. And the true icing on the cake is that I know what’s in it, it didn’t come from the store wrapped in plastic and it has no substantial carbon footprint going from production to garden. It’s fun and easy to make. There’s really no downside to home composting. A few basic tips and you’re ready to go!
Every compost system – big or small, on the ground or in a container – needs the same basic components to make rich compost.
Before you consider starting a new compost pile, start accumulating browns. These items were once a tree – brown leaves, small sticks, mulch, paper, cardboard, sawdust. They are high in carbon. The closer to a tree and less processed it is, the higher the carbon content. You will need less wood chips than shredded paper to get the job done.
The green, or nitrogen rich, material is a little easier for the average homeowner to gather. This includes coffee grounds, tea, fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings and grains. You’ll need a kitchen container to hold them in until you’re ready to take them to your compost. A repurposed tub, Ziploc bag or a fancy stainless bucket with a charcoal filter will all serve the same purpose. Some people keep this on the counter while others prefer the refrigerator or freezer.
The air and water are just as important as the green and brown compostables. Imagine that you are building a home for a pet. You’ll want a nice pen with air holes, and bowls for food and water. Without any of those essentials for life, your pet will die. It’s the same for compost. Your compost is full of micro-organisms that need your care, just like the pet, to survive. The greens and browns are the food, and they need to drink water and breathe air.
Don’t get too caught up in where to put your compost. Especially when you’re starting out, you want to actually start composting. If it’s not the perfect spot, you can move it later. Find a location that you can reach with your hose that isn’t too far off the beaten path so you won’t forget about it. I hid my first compost pile in the furthest corner of my back yard behind my shed. I had to haul water in buckets to it and I never checked it unless I was bringing my food scraps out. It was either too dry or too wet all the time.
Make sure that you have enough room to access and maneuver around your compost. You will need to turn it with either a shovel or a pitchfork and may require a wheelbarrow to move it. You don’t want to put your compost right up against a wooden structure like a fence or building since it’ll cause the wood to rot over time. Come out about a foot from a structure.
If you are using a pile method or a container with holes drilled into the bottom for drainage, ground contact is important. If you have a tumbler or completely enclosed system, a patio or paved surface is fine. A shady space will retain more moisture while a sunnier spot will dry out faster.
Check out Choosing a Composting System for Your Home to help determine which type of system is best for you.
The trash keeps piling up, increasing the size of current landfills and asking for more. Resources are used to bag, pick up, dump, and store this trash for what seems like eternity. It’s a wasted opportunity.
According to the EPA’s data, roughly 60% of trash in landfills is made up of organic matter that could be composted under the right conditions, and about 40% could very easily be composted in your backyard. You can repurpose the food and yard waste to improve your soil and plant health rather than sending it off to produce greenhouse gases in the landfill. Imagine if everyone composted… The statistic under the circle graph could show a far lower amount of trash produced.
When choosing a compost set up for your home, you need to consider a few things:
This wire ring is my personal favorite. It’s made from quarter inch hardware cloth rolled into a cylinder. I can move the compost around my yard and generate very large volumes close to where I’ll use it. I even put this in my raised bed once. When it was done, I opened it up and spread it. No wheelbarrow – so very easy.
A 3 bin system can be made with scrap materials and be one, two, or three bins. The 3 section bin is popular because you actively add to one part, another part is waiting to be done, and the final section is at a different stage of completion, or is finished already.
Either of these open systems can be so very cheap to make – you could even make a heap on the ground. They can hold a very large volume of materials – I just got almost 2 cubic yards of finished compost from my last batch. Because of the large size, open compost piles have the potential to get hot, so you can have more compost done faster. Ground contact helps earthworms and various microbial critters find their way naturally into the compost and also help break it down faster.
An open pile requires some muscle. It needs to be turned to prevent it from going anaerobic (without oxygen) to create the ideal environment for healthy soil organisms. Turning it requires either a pitchfork or shovel. Sometimes open systems get a bad rap because people say they attract unwanted visitors. Following good composting practices will minimize this – using the correct amount of carbon to keep the food scraps covered and preventing odors is the key.
Tumblers are great. The compost is enclosed, it has a handle to turn easily, and this one is high enough to put a bucket or wheelbarrow under it so you can easily empty and use the finished compost. This particular set up is DIY and each side is quite large. No pitchfork required.
BUT the compost has no contact with the ground where it would get healthy earthworms and microbes to help break the materials down effectively. It can be easy to neglect adding brown materials to a tumbler too, since you aren’t layering like you would in an open system.
Vermiculture, or composting with worms, is a great option for people who may not have an outdoor space to put a larger compost system and for those specifically interested in worm castings. I have a stacking worm bin that I purchased but you can make one with cheap or repurposed materials very easily. Bokashi is another option. This is a topic for a whole other post, though.
Interested in composting your kitchen scraps but don’t know where to start? Or are you a gardener or community garden that would like to start getting more organic matter to make more compost to grow more food? Maybe you lived in a community that offered municipal composting services and you don’t like the idea of sending your food scraps to the landfill. Come learn how community composting can provide solutions to these concerns and more.
Also, we will have special guest Josh Whiton from MakeSoil to talk about their community composting platform. MakeSoil is a decentralized solution to our food waste crisis, raising Soil Makers to turn the organic matter going to landfills into planet-saving soil instead. Their website connects Soil Makers with Soil Supporters. Find a community compost bin (or become on) on their map at www.makesoil.org
PCCA Community Composting Class located near downtown St. Petersburg, FL.
At a private home, please call 727-210-5367 for address. Please RSVP to this event to receive updates.
This class is taught by Pinellas Community Composting Alliance Co-Founder and Permaculture Designer Jen Andreani of the Bluehouse Regenerative Living Project.
Come learn how I collect friend’s and neighbor’s kitchen scraps and compost them with the help of the community. Community compositing diverts precious organic matter from the landfill, reduces greenhouse gas production, builds our neighborhood’s soils to grow more food locally, and creates resilient community connections.
This is a hands on workshop. You will learn what Community Composting is, how to start composting at an existing neighborhood compost hub or even start one of your own. Includes a tour of the community compost system with hands on composting experience. Please wear gardening clothes, closed toed shoes, and bring water.
Cost of Class is 2 Time Credits for members of the St. Pete Time Bank or a Suggested Donation $10 for non members to help support PCCA’s material costs and mission.
Visit www.stpetetimebank.org to learn more about how you can earn Time Credits by composting and other activities and fill out your application for membership.
Three women set out to tackle Pinellas County’s food waste. One home, one community at a time. What can you, the individual, do to make the biggest positive impact? A lot of it has to with food and food waste. Join our community to learn how you can make a difference. Follow our blog if you are not local to Pinellas County, Florida, so that you can see the benefit of community composting and maybe start a community composting initiative in your area.
Our goal is to help people to reduce food waste through better habits of buying, growing, and consuming, and by learning to compost our food and yard waste properly. We follow the composting guidelines suggested by Dr. Elaine Ingham of the Soil Food Web.
We want to help people to become aware of the growing mountain of trash that each city is producing. Most importantly, we want for people to reduce the amount of methane that is produced by food and yard waste sitting and rotting in a heap.