By Patrick Murphy, Program Manager
Backyard composting often feels like a hobby reserved for those “in the know.” Like sourdough starter and beer brewing, the process seems both too simple and too complex to get started. How do you get from wheat and water to become bread? How do you turn yard waste and food scraps into compost? The answer is planning and time (and bacteria). With a little preparation and some patience, you too can compost your food scraps at home.
Composting requires a little forethought, some dedicated space, and the diligence to do regular light maintenance. If you can keep a houseplant alive, you should be able to get a compost bin started. The most important thing with backyard composting is to choose a system that will work best for you, which you feel you can sustain long-term. There are two common options for at-home composting, “hot pile” and “vermicompost” (or worm bins).
A stereotypical “hot pile” composting system uses a large bin and regular aeration to convert organic materials (i.e. food scraps) into compost. This system works very well when it receives a regular supply of organic materials, and is turned often. However your pile will begin to work less and less efficiently if the bin ever has less than a full cubic yard of material in it. Hot pile systems require that you maintain a specific ratio of high-nitrogen/high-carbon scraps in order for the bacteria to break down the material. I would recommend these systems for larger families, or organizations looking to get into composting. Learn more about hot pile composting here.
A vermicompost system relies on worms to digest and process organic matter to create compost. These systems offer more flexibility compared to a traditional hot pile system. Vermicompost systems can be made in any size, allowing them to fit into more spaces (some people keep their bins under their kitchen sink). Vermicompost systems do require more careful planning than a hot-pile system. While worm bins do not need to be turned, bins need to be emptied more regularly and the worm populations need to be divided to prevent overcrowding. Worm bins also typically cannot be added daily: worms eat in “batches”, so waste needs to be collected and added all as a single, larger quantity. I would recommend worm bins for smaller families, or people who might lack the space or volume of material needed to start a hot pile system. Learn more about vermicomposting here.
There are multiple options when it comes to composting at home, make sure you check out multiple methods and choose the one which you feel you’ll be able to maintain the easiest. Consider alternatives to compost like indoor bokashi fermentation, or an outdoor green cone digester. Compost alternatives allow you to avoid most of the emissions created by throwing away food scraps while still allowing you to return nutrients to the soil. Focus less on the total volume of compost produced, and more on ease of use for yourself.