This recipe will return your food wastes back to the soil where they came from, keeping them out of landfills which remove them forever from returning to the soil. Organic materials do not belong in a landfill. You will be doing the landfill and our earth a big favor when you practice composting that includes your food wastes. These directions are designed to create great compost for you to use in your yard, minimize organics which leave your property in a big truck headed for the landfill, and reduce or eliminate the need for you to purchase manufactured fertilizer. Sound good? Read on!
We strongly suggest using an enclosed stationary bin for urban composting where food wastes will be part of the compost mixture. Composting in an enclosed composter reduces the chances of attracting wildlife to your compost area, which makes for safer pets and happier neighbors. Using an enclosed bin greatly reduces fly and odor issues as well. But what makes it all work is learning a few simple techniques, which we call “THE RECIPE.” Please note that there are hundreds of methods to make compost which all can work very well. We are concerned here with the specific challenges of composting food wastes in urban settings.
- Compost bin with lid. Examples: Soil Saver compost Bin, Garantia Eco-Master, Home Composter by EXACO Trading Co. A rotating bin will not work for these directions. An enclosed compost bin with a secure lid insures that animals, large and small, will not be attracted to your compost, necessary in most urban neighborhoods.
- Two 20 gallon trash cans with lids for ingredients.
- One five gallon plastic bucket with lid for gathering food waste outside until you mix up “THE RECIPE.”
- One two gallon plastic bucket with lid or a purchased compost container for the kitchen.
- A large kitty litter pan for mixing up “THE RECIPE.”
- Small garden tool for evening up the layers, the kind with three to five “fingers.”
- Piece of used carpet a little larger than the footprint of your compost bin to cover the surface.
- Watering can with fountain tip or gallon containers for water.
- Useful: kitchen scissors, small knife for reducing particle size
- In your kitchen, cut up food wastes as much as possible, which will becomes a habit after a while. Materials with more surface area compost more quickly and are better suited to a small system. Tear coffee filters and wet them up or consider using a French Press coffee maker and eliminate the coffee filters altogether. If you see mold on anything, this is the beginning of the decomposition process, which is what composting is all about. Keep a 2 gallon bucket near the source of your food waste and keep it covered. Empty this bucket as needed into the outside five gallon bucket with lid.
- Fill a 20 gallon bucket with dry leaves which you collect in the fall. Keep this bucket by the compost bin. Save enough bags of leaves to have a good supply for all year. Ask for bagged leaves in the neighborhood if you do not have enough. Chopped leaves can be stored in less space than loose leaves. If you need leaves between now and when they fall, contact us at RM Soil Stewardship. We are happy to share our supply left from last fall when we collected a lot of leaves.
- Fill a second20 gallon bucket with dry, fine horse manure, which you can get for free from Rocky Mountain Soil Stewardship, LLC. Or if you ask at most horse farms, they will gladly share if you provide your own bucket. This will last you a while. Keep it covered to keep it dry. Manure is not technically necessary, but seems to be an “enhancer” to the composting process. Keep this bucket by the compost bin.
- Fill your watering can or gallon jug with water and keep by the compost bin.
- Dedicate a knife, scissors to keep in the kitty litter pan. Put the finger tool here too so that everything you need to make “THE RECIPE” is at hand. You cannot bake without all your ingredients on hand and you can’t make compost if you do not have your composting ingredients gathered and ready.
Part I of Making Compost: Setting it all up
- Place the compost bin over soil, not landscape fabric, rocks, or pavement.
- Choose a site where there are two places next to each other for the compost bin. The compost bin will sit on one area the first year, on the second area in the second year, then move back to the first area. The second area will hold the composting material over the winter.
- Prepare the compost bin by putting a six inch layer of dry leaves on the ground inside the compost bin. Level this layer with the “finger” tool and moisten the leaves with your watering can.
Part II: “THE RECIPE”
- Cover the bottom of the kitty litter pan with dry leaves. Add some food waste and begin mixing. Only add enough wet food waste to stick to the dry leaves. Add food waste to the leaves and stir, making sure all the liquid is absorbed by the leaves. Now, sprinkle a little fine, dry horse manure on this damp mixture and stir again. Sprinkle this mixture over the leaves on the bottom, using the finger tool to level the surface. Now repeat this step until all the food waste is mixed up, in batches. Do this step as often as is convenient, but don’t wait so long that you have more than about 2 gallons of food waste accumulated. Always level each layer with the “finger” tool.
- Always end with a thin layer of dry leaves on the surface. Level this layer.
- Place the carpet on the surface of the compost.
- Close the lid.
- Repeat steps 1-4 as often as you have accumulated as much food waste as you want to keep around. The more that accumulates the greater the chances for it smelling really bad. The smell goes away when it is mixed up into “THE RECIPE.” Also, when worms are introduced into the system they do better if material is added in thin layers.
Part III: Enhancing System with Composting Worms
- When about a foot of material has accumulated in the bottom of the compost bin, place about a quart of composting worms (Eisenia fetida) in the center of the compost bin, cover with the carpet. Allow the worms to move into their new home on their own, disturbing them as little as possible.
Part IV: As the Seasons Change
Begin composting as early in the spring/summer as possible. At summer’s end, the bin might be about full. Sometime in the Fall, before the ground freezes, stop adding food waste for about 2 weeks. Upend the bin after you have not added anything for about 2 weeks so the last food waste has broken down enough not to attract wildlife or smell. Now prepare this open pile to finish over the winter/spring. Cover it with a protective layer of leaves and then protect that insulating, water-saving layer with bird netting or black construction fence pinned down with landscape pins. Perhaps winter will also deposit a layer of protective snow over the curing pile. Most of the worms will find their way down towards the soil, where they can overwinter.
Now you can go back to Part II. Start again with a six inch layer of dry leaves on the bottom, and add “THE RECIPE” whenever you have accumulated some food waste. Yes, these layers will freeze in the winter. They will also thaw in the spring, ready to compost. After the ground thaws and Spring is in the air, uncover the overwintering compost and worms. The worms may still be in the center of the pile. Remove a bunch of worms and reintroduce them back into the bin as before, only this time using your own worms. If you see a lot of worms, offer to help a neighbor get started by sharing these directions and “THE RECIPE” with them. Happy neighborhoods are created around such kindnesses. Put the leaves which covered your curing compost pile back in the can with the leaves.
Use your compost/vermicompost in your yard and garden, knowing you kept a lot of garbage out of the landfill which now enhances your soil and plants. Replace as many composting worms into your bin as possible. They won’t live well in regular soil. If you do not find live worms, wait a few weeks and look again. Cocoons may have survived and will hatch out little worms to carry on the work when temperature and moisture conditions are right. The cocoons look like grains of short, golden rice. Inside each one could be at least three little worms, which will get right to work digesting your compost as soon as they hatch.
As the summer progresses, your bin will begin filling, and your curing pile will shrink as it is used. In the fall, all this repeats itself again. Upend your now-full composter after letting it rest from all new additions for a few weeks so that the curing pile does not attract wildlife. Cover the curing pile as before, and move the bin to the now-bare area where your curing pile was, because by now it is all used up or should be. So the process repeats itself, and you have become a worm-keeper, by putting these useful little worms to work, feeding them, keeping them safe, and observing their nature and lifecycles.
Note that no turning is necessary with this composting system. Keep all layers shallow and level, creating spaces for air and water. Keep the whole thing moist, by watering each layer lightly as you add it. Avoid overwatering. Keep the carpet on the surface of the composting material and the lid shut. If you feel that the composting material is too compacted, use a compost aeration tool, which can be ordered from Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Johnny’s Seed Catalog or Lewis Lifetime Tools.
As the seasons progress, alternate locations for your curing compost and the compost bin. Keep covered cans of compost ingredients and a bucket of food waste ready. Add plant material from your yard to the leaf mixture if you want. Mulch your grass with clippings as you mow: see CSU handout. These will overload your urban compost system. Share this information with others. Share your worms if you have extra. Write your own story to give as a gift with the worms. Change this story to make it your own. Spread the good news that composting and worms work to return food waste to the soil with the small investment of a good composting bin. There are many ways to practice composting. This recipe is not the only way to make compost, but will work well in urban areas where leaves are plentiful in the fall. Note that without a sturdy composting bin, wild things (skunks to be sure) will visit you and eat all the food waste, annoy your neighbors, and possibly hurt your pets.