How to Compost at Home

Food waste for compost

If you're one of the millions of Americans now stuck at home because of the coronavirus, it might feel like you're cooking more than you've ever cooked in your entire life.

And maybe, as much as your meal planning and reducing your food waste, there are certain things you're just not going to eat. Like banana peels, or, if you're me, a frightening amount of eggshells.


The good news? There's a solution for your home food waste that doesn't involve landfills: Composting (Plus, keeping food out of landfills can help fight climate change.) 

 It doesn't matter if you're in a suburban home or in a tiny apartment. We'll teach you how to turn your food waste into beautiful earthy compost in five simple steps.


1. Select your food scraps.

Start with fruits and veggies — the skin of a sweet potato, the top of your strawberry. Also, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, old flowers — even human hair!

 It’s important to note that some products say "compostable" on them — like "compostable bags" and "compostable wipes." Those are compostable in industrial facilities, but they don't really work for home composting.

2. Store those food scraps.

When you're composting, your kitchen scraps should be part of a deliberate layering process to speed up decomposition. There's a method for adding them to the pile (see step 4!), so you'll need to store them in a container so you can add them bit by bit.

 You can store the food scraps in a bag in your freezer or the back of the fridge. That's an easy way to avoid odors and insects in your kitchen.

3. Choose a place to make your compost. 

For this step, you gotta think about the space you're currently living in. If you don't have a backyard and still want a traditional composting experience you can take your food scraps to a compost pile that you share with neighbors or at a community garden.

 If you want to break down your food scraps in your own apartment, there are still options. You can ferment your food scraps with a Japanese method called Bokashi. All you need is a container you can seal and Bokashi mix, a colony of bacteria on grain.

 4. Make the compost mix. 

In the wold of composting you're inevitably gonna hear about "green and browns"- the two main ingredients for your mix. "Greens" are typically food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, or, if you have a yard, grass clippings. These add nitrogen — a crucial element for microbial growth. Microorganisms are the true heroes of this process, they do the heavy lifting of decomposition.

"Browns" are more carbon rich — think egg cartons, newspapers, dried leaves, and pine needles. It helps to shred up the paper products before putting them in your pile.

A good thing to remember is that green materials are typically wet, and brown materials are typically dry. When you're layering, you want the dry browns on the bottom with the wet greens on the top.

A helpful analogy is to think of tending to your compost like tending a fire. Just as in a fire you need to structure the wood to get the air going, in compost you have to do a similar thing, adding spaces to give oxygen to those heroic microbes.

5. Wait and Aerate

How long do you have to wait for decomposition? If it's hot, you could get there in two months pretty easy. If it's cold made, you could be there in six months. And for every component to break down, it might be a year.

To keep things moving, you'll want to turn or rotate the pile, perhaps with a stick or spade. Remember the fire analogy — you gotta make sure the air is flowing, that it's wet but not too soggy. Typically, the more compost you have, the faster it will go.

When you've got that fluffy, earthy compost, put it in your garden, or in a plant on your windowsill. Or you can donate to your local community garden — just be sure to text ahead!



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