This post is part of our Compost Q & A series.
As many of you probably already know from experience, composting at home is one of the most economical and eco-friendly ways to reduce your waste and improve your garden.
The best reasons for learning to compost can be summed up in these four points, which I found in the Backyard Composting Guide published by my county’s environmental center. Composting:
- Saves you money by conserving water and reducing the need to purchase commercial fertilizers and soil amendments.
- Benefits your yard and garden by improving soil health and fertility and preventing erosion.
- Conserves water by helping the soil hold more water and reducing the need for frequent watering.
- Helps the environment by recycling valuable organic materials and extending the life of the landﬁll.
If you are totally new to composting or need a refresher as we head into spring, I encourage you to go back and read Katie’s excellent article, Gardening 101: Make Your Own Compost.
Today, I wanted to look at a couple of specific aspects of composting, and then I’ll talk about a special opportunity for learning more.
Reader Question: Is it possible to compost pet waste?
This question came to me a few months ago, and after doing a bit of research, I’ve come up with a simple answer: it depends on the pet. If you have a dog or a cat, the answer is no, due to the particular bacteria that is formed when these omnivorous animals excrete their waste.
However, if you have an herbivore for a pet, by all means, add that waste to your compost pile! Rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens and the like– animals who eat a strictly-vegetarian diet, and were created to do so– provide in their waste an element that you can feel free to include in your compost pile.
As Katie mentions in her post, you can also include the waste from larger herbivores such as cows and horses, if you happen to have those animals nearby.
If you don’t have room for a traditional compost bin or pile, and even if you live in an apartment, have no fear, you can still compost!
Set Up a Worm Bin
For smaller-scale composting, you’ll want to try vermicomposting, or worm composting. We’ve had a “worm bin” for over a year now, and while we aren’t able to put much of our food waste into it (you don’t want to overfeed your worms), it still provides the opportunity to do some composting and provides entertainment for the little ones as well. I love hearing my daughter say to the neighbor kids, “Want to come see our worms?”
For a homemade bin, Rachel at Small Notebook has a great tutorial on making your own bin out of plastic storage tubs, or you can invest in a specially-designed worm bin. We have one called the Wriggly Wranch (pictured below) that we bought at a city-subsidized rate at our local environmental center.
Once Your Bin is Set Up
From the Backyard Composting Guide:
Make a “bed” for your worms. Worms like to live under lots of moist paper or leaves. You can create a moist bedding for your worms by tearing strips of newspaper and soaking them in water, wringing them out and placing them in the bin.Add your worms and a handful of food scraps to the bedding, burying them underneath the newspaper. Feed your worms slowly at ﬁrst, about a handful of fruit and vegetable food scraps each day. No meat, oils, or dairy products, should be placed in your worm bin. Gradually increase the amount of food scraps you give to your worms. Bury the food in different areas around the bin, so that you don’t disturb the worms where they’re feeding.Your vermicompost will be ready to harvest in about three to four months. To separate your worms from the castings, place food in one half of the bin only. Most of the worms will migrate toward the food, leaving the other half of the bin full of worm-free castings. Start the process over by adding fresh bedding to the side of the bin that was just harvested.
For a plethora of information, visit howtocompost.org’s vermicomposting page. Make sure to note that these aren’t just your standard earthworm, but a special type called red wigglers that you’ll need to acquire for your bin.
Even if you have the space for a larger compost option, you might want to try worm composting anyways, as it provides another option for reducing your food waste (especially when you stop feeding your compost while you’re letting it finish “cooking”). It also provides a more richly concentrated natural fertilizer for your garden, with the bonus of “worm tea,” the liquid fertilizer that is a by-product of the worm bin.Photo by superfantastic
More Composting Questions
I feel like I always have questions on composting, like there’s always more to learn. Lucky for me, one of my close friends is a Master Composter!
Today I wanted to offer all of you the chance to give me your best composting questions. I’ll be putting together an interview made up of your questions, with answers from a Master Composter. She can answer anything from the ratio of greens to browns required to vermicomposting.
What would you like to know about composting?