Home Composting: Put Your Scraps to Use

Contributors: Holly Larson, MS, RD
home composting


Composting is a magical process. Given time, kitchen scraps, grass clippings, shredded paper or leaves can yield this black gold soil. Just like well-nourished children thrive, our gardens flourish with the nutrients and microorganisms that compost provides.

What Can You Compost?

More than you might think! Compostables are divided into two main categories: the greens and the browns.

Greens include food scraps such as apple cores, onion skins, egg shells, banana peels, coffee grounds and any other refuse from fruits and vegetables, including weeds (except perennial weeds) that are plucked from the garden. Browns include leaves, shredded paper, sawdust, nut shells, coffee filters, straw, small sticks and twigs, wood chips and empty cardboard tubes. For faster composting, the smaller the pieces, the better.

A compost pile is a living ecosystem and needs the right balance of ingredients and adequate water to function. The goal is for the compost pile to be damp like a wrung-out sponge: not too wet, not too dry. A compost pile should have good drainage, just like a house plant.

What Should You Leave Out of the Pile?

Think of compost piles as your favorite vegetarian. Don't toss any animal remains (meat, bones, etc.), dairy products or anything high in fat. Crushed egg shells are fine to include.

Create a place for compost piles in the backyard using plastic totes or garbage pails, cinder blocks or even salvaged skids lined with chicken wire to discourage pests. You also can purchase tumbler systems, which may do a better job repelling pests but are more expensive. Keep in mind that compost must be fully decomposed before adding it to the garden. You need at least two containers — one that you're adding scraps to and another that is completing the decomposition.

Just Add Worms

Another excellent option is vermicomposting, which is composting with the assistance of red wiggler worms. Vermicomposting can be done inexpensively in plastic totes (drill holes for air flow and drainage) or in a purchased system using stacking trays. Either system is small enough to stick in a closet. The worms need bedding, which can be coconut coir, paper scraps, leaves or peat moss. Worms can eat half of their body weight each day, meaning a two-pound population of worms can consume one pound of food scraps daily. This means food scraps should be added a few times per week to keep worms satisfied. Vermicomposting can even be done inside in your hall closet, a small bin under the sink or in your garage.

A Healthy Compost

A well-managed compost pile smells earthy. In order to have a healthy composting system, you'll need more browns than greens. If your pile is getting smelly, too heavy or too wet, add more browns and stir the pile.

Want to skip the landfill, but don't want your own compost pile to tend to? Check out your local urban farms to see if they accept food waste to add to their compost piles. Vendors at local farmers markets also may accept food scraps.

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