Free Tips & Easy "How to" Instructions
Starting a compost heap used to be something that only environmentalist fanatics did, or people who needed to grow their own vegetables because they were either very poor or paranoid about pesticides getting into their food.
Today, people are starting to realize that creating a compost heap is generally a good idea. Growing evidence of the fragility of our natural environment has made most people realize that the "fanatics" were right.
Meanwhile, popular books about food such as "Fast Food Nation" and "A Natural History of 4 Meals" have made people aware of the deficiency of fruits and vegetables grown on large commercial farms. Composting is an easy way to grow cheap, tasty fruits and vegetables right outside your door, even if you live in a cramped apartment. At the same time, it frees up needed landfill space.
Most people think composting is hard or time-consuming, but it's actually something that happens naturally. Food will rot without any help from you, and the by products of rotting food naturally make good soil. Setting up a compost heap is simply a matter of creating optimum conditions in which food and other organic matter will rot.
The first step to setting up a smaller-scale compost heap outside your own home is finding an appropriate site of your compost heap.
If your property has a backyard and bare earth, you can create compost heap right on the ground. However, if you do this, animals may start digging in your compost heap, trying to eat the food scraps you've buried in there. If you don't have a real backyard, or are worried about animals, find a good bin to put your compost in.
You can buy a special compost bin at a garden supply store, or make one yourself out of wood.
The bin should have a volume of no less than 1 cubic yard. Be warned that a bin larger than 6 cubic yards in volume can be hard to aerate (the bacteria that cause the organic stuff in a compost heap to decompose need air).
The next step to starting a compost heap is figuring out what to put inside. It is a question of setting up the perfect conditions for attracting bacteria to rotting food.
These bacteria need carbon and nitrogen to survive. Bacteria, like people, use carbon as an energy source. They don't have the digestive systems that people do, so they need more direct access to carbon. Dead leaves, dead plants, straw, hay, old cardboard, and sawdust are all good sources of carbon for your bacteria. Bacteria's simple digestive systems also need nitrogen to function, via the process of protein synthesis. Thus, you need to put nitrogen in your compost heap. Fresh grass, fruit, vegetables, coffee grounds, tea leaves, and bird manure are good sources of nitrogen for your bacteria.
The trash that you can reuse in a compost heap in this way includes old cardboard boxes, old flowers, uneaten parts of fruits and vegetables, egg shells, paper bags, napkins, paper towels, hair, bones (though these may attract animals), and even old cotton clothes, as long as you tear them up.
The key to a successful compost heap is creating the perfect ratio of carbon-based to nitrogen-based trash. Start with a ratio of about 3 parts carbon to 1 parts nitrogen. A compost thermometer is a good way to check the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio. Adequate nitrogen levels should make your compost heap heat up inside. If the thermometer shows a temperature of less than about 150F in the center of the pile after 24 hours, there's not enough nitrogen. By contrast, if your compost heap starts smelling like ammonia, there's not enough carbon.
Once you've gathered these materials, pile them up in layers. Shred up the different components of your compost heap whenever you can. The more surface area the organic matter inside the compost heap has, the faster bacteria will attack it. Mix everything up, so that the carbon and nitrogen-based parts of the compost heap touch as often as possible. Avoid clumps.
The other ingredients the bacteria in your compost heap will need are air and (a little) water. To aerate the heap, turn it over once every week or so using a spade or pitchfork. Add water to your heap as needed, depending on how dry your climate is. The compost heap should be moist, not flooded over. Beware of drowning the bacteria.
After about 3-4 weeks, your compost heap will turn entirely into good, rich, black loam. Congratulations.
Did you know that you can cool food without a refrigerator?