Backyard Composting 101

We've wanted to compost for years, but it seemed daunting and overwhelming. Until one day, we sat down and spent time getting to know everything about composting and realized how easy it could be. We were nervous about getting started, but then we found and attended a free workshop provided by the City of Los Angeles at Griffith Park, the rest is history.

Tip #1: Check if your city offers free workshops, subsidized composting bins, or free green waste to get started.

If you city doesn't offer any classes visit YouTube Academy (wink) the resources online are endless and as we develop our understanding of composting we'll add videos and more resources to this page.

 Why Compost?

Composting reduced our waste by 50-75%. No joke. We don't take out the trash a few times a week anymore. A majority of our purchases consist of vegetables, and now that we live a low waste lifestyle, we contribute the least amount of waste we ever have.

Composting not only helps to reduce the amount of garbage you generate, but it also helps decrease your carbon footprint by reducing what you send to a landfill. Every time we dispose of our vegetable waste or what could have been compostable materials in the garbage, we're contributing to creating more greenhouse gasses. According to the EPA, landfills are the third-largest source of methane emissions. By composting, you're putting food nutrients back into the ground instead of wrapping it in a plastic bag, therefore extending its life of decomposition. Why are we bagging up biodegradable items in plastic when these items could quickly become soil and nutrients for your garden?

Now let's move on to the most exciting and rewarding part of composting, which is creating wheelbarrows full of valuable soil to add to your garden, trees, and house plants. Your well-rotted veggie scraps are rich in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Compost is nature's gold. It's an organic fertilizer that can help regulate soil pH, improve soil texture, control moisture, and encourages microorganisms critical in transferring nutrients to plant roots.

Composting Bins 

We went with the Earth Machine, a popular backyard composting bin made with 50% post-consumer recycled materials and a 10-year warranty against cracking.

Plastic is ideal for composting since moisture from wood could rot. The Earth Machine was simple to set up. It comes with screws for placement into the ground and has an easy to clean exterior. This bin has great ventilation and features a harvest door for pulling soil (fertilizer). We suggest placing your compost bin somewhere out of the sun for two reasons, you don't want your compost to be too hot, and you don't want sun damage to your bin as that will lower the lifespan.

We have a backyard, but if your space is more limited, there are plenty of other creative ways you can compost. 

Tip #2: Research what compost style will fit your needs, lifestyle, and space best.

Worm bins though not technically vegan, is a way to compost from inside your apartment. Worm bins require very little space and are great for those with a small family. Worm composting uses worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil called vermicompost, or worm compost. Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm's body. Compost exits the worm through its' tail end. Setting up a worm bin is easy. All you need is a box, moist newspaper strips, and worms. 

Alternatively, you can create your own compost heap on bare earth.

There are many ways to compost, our experience lies with a compost bin, so that's what we'll get into, but we encourage you to research worm bins and compost heaps if those options fit your needs and lifestyle better. 

Got My Bin, Ready to Compost

Okay friends, so you have your bin, now what? One of the most important factors is choosing the right spot for your outdoor bin. Convenience is key as you'll be adding material several times a week, even in the winter, so try to set it up close to your home. Place your bin on level, well-drained ground and make sure the location gets some sunlight. Sunlight will provide solar heat which is needed to breakdown materials in your bin. Your compost is an organism within itself, heat, moisture, and air are crucial to maintaining a healthy decomposition.

Once you've selected your new compost location, get started by throwing twigs or laying straw at the bottom of your compost. You can also mix leaves from your backyard with green grass clippings alternating between dry and wet.

Can I compost this?

There is green waste and brown waste. Wet and dry. It's essential to keep things moist but not too wet. This is why you'll want to be mixing in brown waste such as yard clippings and napkins and green waste like vegetables and fruit.

Now before you start composting, let's talk compostable items. 

Tip #3: Make sure to chop veggie scraps into smaller pieces, the larger the items, the longer it will take to break down. You want materials to breakdown quickly, so make sure to chop things down.

NO!! Meat, citrus peels, onions, rice, milk products, dog or cat feces, glossy/coated/or printed paper, vegetable stickers, large branches, tea bags, cooking oil, bread, used personal items.

YES!! Loose coffee grounds, coffee filters, paper bags and cardboard (shredded),  loose tea and tea leaves, vegetable waste, napkins, old herbs and spices, bamboo skewers (broken into pieces), used facial tissue, nail clippings, 100% cotton swabs, cotton balls, old cotton clothing (cut up into small pieces), newspaper, grass, fallen leaves, droppings from herbivorous pets (rabbits & hamsters)

Now pay attention to those above details in the parentheses. Large items will take longer to decompose. Take the extra time to cut down veggies, rinds, paper, or clothing. The smaller the item the quicker that it will decompose.

Ready to start composting?

So now you know what to compost and what type of bin to get. It's time to get your compost going! You'll want to start the bottom of your compost bin with soil or yard waste, or a mix of both. We suggest NOT throwing in yard waste that you would consider a weed because your fertilizer will contain weeds, which is something you don't want if you're gardening. So throw in some yard waste, throw in your vegetables, and there you go. You're off to a great start.

It's important to note that you will need to mix your compost every week. Mixing gets things moving; bugs included and provides your compost with much-needed air, which is vital in the breakdown process.

Next, get yourself a proper tool for mixing. A mixing device that is not too heavy as you're going to have to get to the bottom of your bin to shake things up. When mixing, it's 100% normal if your compost smells a little, but a powerful odor or rotting scent means you might have to start over. Of course, things will be rotting and breaking down, but you don't want your compost to have a strong scent of garbage.

Tip #4: Get yourself a good mixing tool, you'll want to bring the bottom of the compost to the top to get air circulating and the better your mixing tool is the easier this crucial step will be.

You won't start seeing dirt "fertilizer" until you've been composting about six months. Don't worry, this is totally normal as your compost needs to build itself up.

What We've Learned

Your compost will change on a weekly basis depending on what's happening with the weather and how much materials you're tossing in. Watch your compost closely, if there is a strong smell coming from it, try to figure out what may be wrong. If you're compost looks to wet, consider adding some water. As time goes you'll learn more and more about your compost and will be more in tune with what it needs and if things are breaking down nicely. Spend time with your compost, learn about it, and be proud of it. As we continue to learn we will update this blog, so keep an eye out and follow us on Instagram to see our day to day composting adventures.

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Finally making dirt/fertilizer 🐛What we’ve learned about composting ⤵️ 1) Get yourself a good mixing tool if you have the #EarthBin, it can be hard to mix with a shovel 2) Pay attention to your compost. Is it too dry? Too wet? 3) Make sure to remove all plastic stickers before tossing vegetables in compost 4) If you feel like you need more nutrients for your bin, consider asking a friend or neighbor to join your composting efforts 5) Worms are good! But if you have meal worms, it might mean your compost is too wet 6) Composting decreased our trash by 50-70% 7) Print out a list of what you can and can’t compost. It’s hard to remember it all! 8) A corncob takes forever to break up, consider using the core some other way? 9) You should read our blog on all things Composting, it’s currently our featured blog 10) Composting is really rewarding! It’s fun to watch vegetable scraps turn into soil gold Let us know if you have any questions!

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Let us know if you have any particular questions in the comments and we will try our best to answer. 

Bye for now Earth Gang Gang.


Christopher & Elizabeth

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