A step by step guide.

By Melissa Locker
April 19, 2021
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The next time you're whipping up a shaved carrot, asparagus, and apple salad, you may not want to throw those carrot tops, apple peels, and asparagus stems in the trash. Instead, you might want to set them aside for composting. Thanks to the magic of microorganisms, your food scraps can magically transform from trash into nutrient-rich food for soil with just a few easy steps. Not only is the resulting compost a huge boon for your garden or houseplants, but keeping food scraps out of landfills can help fight climate change. That's what they call a win-win situation.

If you don't have a backyard, but still want to help local gardeners and the planet, many farmers' markets and community gardens collect food scraps. Some cities and counties do curbside compost pick-up, too. So, contact your local government or visit CompostNow's site which lists participating services around the country to learn more.

Here's how to start composting. Give it a go and your garden—and the planet—just might thank you!

  • Collect your food scraps:

While you're cooking in the kitchen, collect all your fruit and vegetable scraps from banana peels to asparagus stalks to wilted lettuce. Even eggshells, tea bags, and coffee grounds can be composted. You can store the food scraps in a bag in your freezer or the back of the fridge or in a container with a tight-fitting lid that goes on the countertop or under the sink. That's an easy way to avoid odors and make sure your scraps don't attract insects.

In addition to food scraps, cut flowers, grass clippings, dried leaves and twigs, plant trimmings, weeds that haven't gone to seed, corn stalks, corrugated cardboard, coffee filters, and shredded newspapers can head to the compost heap, too.

There are some things that can't go in the compost pile, though. No-nos include meat and fish, bones, dairy products, oil, butter, shortening, and food cooked food with oil, dairy, and meat.

You can compost pet waste, too, but it should be done separately. The USDA has a thorough guide on the pet waste composting process.

  • Find a place to start your composting

Find a small corner of your garden for a compost pile. You'll need about three square feet of space ideally with a little shade so it doesn't dry out too quickly and decent drainage, so it doesn't stay too wet either. Alternatively, pick up a closed composting bin online or at your local hardware or gardening store. Use chicken wire or fencing to protect your bin from animals such as raccoons (or even the neighbor's dog).

  • Start composting

To make good compost you just need two main ingredients—"green" scraps and "brown" scraps.  "Greens" are typically "wet" nitrogen-rich food scraps, like fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, or grass clippings. "Browns" are more carbon rich and "dry" items like newspapers, paper egg cartons, dried leaves, and pine needles. To make compost, layer dry brown materials with wet green materials, making sure the dry browns are on the bottom with the wet greens on the top. Just layer away in your compost bin, making sure to top with a layer of browns to keep any pesky flies or odors at bay. To make sure your compost is on the dry side and not a damp swamp, be sure to always have more browns than greens in the mix.

  • Tend to your compost pile

Household scraps turn in to compost with the help of carbon and nitrogen-loving microorganisms. To do help them do their job, you need to regularly turn over your compost. This lets in air that is important for the hard work those microorganisms are doing turning scraps into good, nutrient-rich soil. You'll need to pull out the shovel and gardening gloves and turn over the compost every seven to ten day or so. When will all your hard work pay off? Well, it depends on the weather. In warmer months, you may find yourself with some beautiful compost in two months, in colder months it could take up to six for all the compost components to break down. Typically, the more compost you have, the faster the whole process will go.

So how do you know if it's working? Well, if your compost smells bad, your mix of browns and greens probably needs a little adjusting. Smelly compost usually means it's decomposing instead of composting, so add some extra brown material to help it dry out. Good compost smells earthy, not trashy.

 When your compost is a lush brown and is fairly uniform in color and texture, it's ready for use in the garden or in your houseplants.

For more pointers, the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension has a handy guide to composting filled with excellent tips.

What do y'all think? Is this in your spring gardening plan?