Composting 101 & Gardening Tips

April 12, 2018

The following is a guest post by Kate Gavlick, a nutritionist with a master’s degree in nutrition, peanut butter addict, writer, and photographer. You can find Kate's blog here.

Here’s an easy way to be a bit greener this Earth Day: start composting! Composting is a sustainable way to reduce food waste and produce healthy soil for your garden to grow flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs – a total win-win.

There are a few basics to learn before starting your compost journey. First, you’ll need a compost bin, tumbler, or a citywide compost bin pickup.

For example, the city of Portland, OR provides green composting bins for organic scraps that are picked up weekly and taken to compost facilities – how cool is that?

Select a space for your compost bin. Outdoors, compost bins should be kept in a shady area, preferably away from the house – as they can get a bit stinky. Indoor composting is not recommended, unless it’s a small lidded bin that is picked up weekly or taken out to the larger compost bin outside.

Next, it’s important to know that each compost bin requires a balance of “green” organic materials and “brown” organic materials.

Green compost products include fresh and moist organic items including produce and food scraps, grass clippings, and garden clippings, all of which are all rich in nitrogen.

Brown organic materials include dry leaves, branches, and other dry materials, which are rich in carbon. Having a balance of nitrogen to carbon is essential to creating healthy compost, and a ratio of 30 parts green to 1 part brown is desired.

When adding material to your compost bin, make sure they’re adequately chopped up. Grinding and chopping organic materials (banana peels, beet greens, watermelon rinds, for example) helps to speed up the decomposing process.

Finally, make sure your compost pile is hydrated. This helps the microbes within the compost pile thrive, survive, and decompose organic materials. Water your compost pile every time you add more organic material, if possible.

Ready to compost? Here’s what you can throw in your pile.

Things you can compost:

  • Fruits and vegetables! Cooked, raw, frozen, steamed, and even completely moldy, produce is one of the best additions to your compost pile. Don’t forget stems, peels, and discarded ends of fruits and vegetables like carrot and beet greens, potato skins, banana peels, citrus peels, and lettuce hearts, for example.
  • Unbleached paper napkins and paper towels.
  • Egg shells.
  • Coffee grounds.
  • Burlap coffee bags.
  • Popped or unpopped popcorn kernels.
  • Loose-leaf tea and tea bags made of natural materials, like cotton or hemp.
  • Cooked grains: pasta, rice, quinoa, etc.
  • Stale and moldy bread.
  • Stale cereal and crackers.
  • Seaweed and nori.
  • Cooked beans and
  • Used matchsticks and toothpicks.
  • Old herbs and
  • Avocado pits (chopped up, so they don’t sprout an avocado plant!)
  • Nut shells (except for walnut)
  • Shredded newspaper.
  • Plant trimmings, stems, and cuttings. (Indoor and outdoor plants)
  • Flowers, especially dead bouquets.
  • Grass and leaf
  • Stale and overly fermented open beer and kombucha. If you’ve left a bottle of beer or beloved Health Ade kombucha open and shoved in the back of the refrigerator for too long, it may have continued the fermentation process and gotten too acidic for consumption. In that case, simply pour it into your compost! Kombucha (as well as beer) is thought to help regulate the acid levels in compost piles, helping to make the pH more neutral.

And a few things that you cannot compost:

  • Cooking oil and grease.
  • Meat.
  • Dairy products.
  • Walnuts.
  • Glass.
  • Sawdust from treated wood.
  • Plastic.
  • Glossy or coated paper.
  • Pet waste.
  • Synthetic fertilizer or soil.
  • Diseased plant materials.
  • Onions and garlic, including their skins. This is a hotly contested compost item, as some believe that these veggies and their skins repel valuable earthworms.

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