Composting is a great and inexpensive way to help the environment as well as cut down on the need for fertilizers and some types of pesticides. It is also an activity that both adults and children can participate in. 

Getting Started

The secret to backyard composting is all in the recipe! All you need is a 50:50 ratio between 'brown' and 'green' materials, a little patience and some help from the sun. Organic waste is the most essential element of composting. It includes a wide variety of organic material that is sorted into classes called "greens" and "browns." Green organic waste supplies essential amounts of nitrogen and includes fruits and vegetable remnants, young or dead weeds, freshly mowed grass, tea bags and tea leaves, used coffee grounds, leaves, dried flowers, and various trimmings from landscaping or yard work. Carbon is another necessary part of the composting process, and for that element, brown organic matter is necessary: Examples include straw, eggshells, shredded cardboard, and sawdust. 

Maintaining the Pile

Part of the composting process involves actively tending to the project. This is because routine rotation will be necessary to keep the mixture properly exposed to oxygen. A container that tumbles or rotates every one to two days will achieve even better results, as it keeps everything properly mixed and exposed to oxygen from the air. Maintaining proper levels of moisture is also important. Compost piles should only be moist, not so wet that they're dripping with water, and this can be achieved by spraying the mixture with a water bottle or lightly with a garden hose. If the compost material is too wet, it is possible to regulate the moisture level by adding brown materials like shredded cardboard and scraps of used paper towels.

The Finished Product 

Depending on various conditions, the compost may be finished within a matter of weeks or months. When it is complete and ready for use, the material will be of the same temperature as that of the ambient air. It should crumble in one's hands and resemble a dark and rich form of dirt, with an earthy scent. There should be no recognizable remnants of the original materials, nor should there be any mold, ammonia scent or rotten odors. 

Composting Tips

To be a master composter, you should understand what composting is all about. Essentially, there are microscopic bacteria and fungi (microorganisms) naturally present on your compostable materials which do all the work. That’s why food sometimes goes rotten even when you don’t want it to. The process of composting is like being a germ farmer – you must provide all the microorganisms with everything they need so that they will thrive, and “decompose” the material quicker. They need air, moisture, and food (the stuff you throw in). Here’s how to maximize success: 
  • Ensure there are enough air spaces within the pile, and mix it well and as often as you can (even a neglected pile will compost eventually though)
  • Avoid pockets of only one material type, the more variety the better it’s mixed, the more efficient the process will be
  • ALWAYS keep food scraps covered with “brown” material to avoid odours and pests. Keep a pile of some “browns” nearby to sprinkle on top. 

 You will be able to gauge the success of your composting by the speed at which it works. A very active pile will compost materials within weeks. Don’t be discouraged at first though, it might take many months before your pile gets very active. Good signs are the size of the pile getting smaller and steam rising from the pile.

For more information on Indoor and Outdoor Composting.