Vermont became the first state to mandate composting of food scraps. While this was the first state-wide mandate, there are cities across the U.S. that have also discussed or implemented laws requiring food waste to go into composters instead of the trash. California is set to start its mandatory food waste composting requirement in 2022.
You’ve been considering composting in your backyard, but you have some questions. Learn what it takes to compost your food scraps.
How Does Composting Work
Composting is a process where heat and moisture help organic materials breakdown into a nutrient-rich soil additive. For composting to be effective, a composter needs to be in a sunny location where you can easily add water from a hose, rain barrels, etc.
You also need to make sure you layer your compost pile correctly. You want carbon-rich materials like shredded paper and straw (browns). On top of that, you want nitrogen-rich materials like vegetable and fruit peels and rinds and grass clippings (greens). Adding some soil and manure from cows, rabbits, or chickens also helps the mixture decompose.
Build up your compost bin in layers that you keep moist and expose to the sun. The sun will heat the materials within the container. The final step is to make sure you add oxygen to help the bacteria thrive. To add oxygen or aerate the compost, you use a pitchfork or shovel to regularly mix the materials.
To decompose, food and lawn scraps need heat. You can compost all winter, but as the air warms up in the spring, your backyard composter is going to work more quickly. Spring ends up being a good time to start your backyard composter. Use a compost starter to help accelerate the process. Compost starters also keep the materials breaking down if there is a drought that’s making it hard to keep the composting materials damp.
There is one other option. You could feed food scraps to worms and have the worms turn them into worm castings. This worm manure is high in nutrients and one of the best additives for a garden.
Types of Backyard Composters
There are several types of composters available to the backyard gardener. Here are your options.
#1 – Build Your Own
You can also make your own. To make your own, build three sides with insect-repelling wood like cedar. Pile the materials within the bin and aerate and water it regularly. Building your own is cost-effective. You may already have materials you can use. Wood stakes with chicken wire create a simple backyard composter. You could use some skids to create the sides you need for your DIY composter.
If you don’t have neighbors close by, you could clear an area in the sun and create a compost heap. Using the same methods as mentioned earlier, layer greens and brows and keep it watered and aerated.
Building your own saves money. They are open though, so you can expect neighborhood cats and dogs and wild animals to scavenge for food items. Be sure to keep your food scraps covered. Motion-detecting lights will also keep them away.
#2 – Countertop Composters
What do you do if you don’t have any backyard? There are countertop composters available. You put the composter on your counter and create compost within your home. With the help of electricity, you’ll have compost from your food scraps in a matter of hours.
How does an electric composter work? First, it bakes the food scrap until it’s dry and crispy. It’s then ground and cooled. You end up with a nutrient-rich powder. It won’t be the dark, moist compost that most gardeners think of.
A countertop composter usually has charcoal filters to keep odors away. It will draw some electricity, however, as the unit bakes foods at low temperatures.
#3 – Pre-Built Plastic Compost Bins
Rectangular or square, pre-built standing composters have a top lid and a bottom door. Layer your materials and keep them watered. When you add new materials, add the greens and browns evenly and use a pitchfork to aerate the materials. When the compost is ready, open the bottom door and scoop out what you need.
The pre-built compost bins can work effectively if you make sure they’re in a sunny location. As the doors at the bottom can be small, you should check the dimensions before you purchase your composter.
These are affordable composters, but they sit on the ground. That makes them targets for rodents, raccoons, skunks, and bears. You need to be very careful that you’re turning the materials over regularly to keep odors away.
#4 – Tumbling Barrel Composters
If you don’t like the idea of turning over the compost with a shovel or pitchfork, buy a tumbling barrel composter. Add your greens and browns and spin or tumble the bin to help aerate the materials inside.
Consider a twin-barrel composter. You start one batch of compost and when it’s almost ready for use, use the second bin to start the next batch. It won’t produce a lot of compost, but it will give you enough to use in a small garden. Most hold a total of six or seven cubic feet. Due to the weight of the composting materials, turning them does take some muscle, which can make them a little harder for some individuals.
Tumbling barrel composters have one great perk. They stand off the ground on sturdy legs. That keeps mice, rats, squirrels, and chipmunks from stealing the composting materials.
#5 – Worm Composters
Are you okay with handling worms, a vermicomposter is a great idea. All you need is a plastic bin, such as a plastic tote or large plastic bucket. You could use an old cooler if you want. Coolers can be handy as some already have drains inserted in the bottom.
Put a spigot in the bottom of it to help drain out any condensation and liquid worm droppings. Use that to water your garden as it contains a lot of nutrients. Put crushed stone and some plastic screening over the stones. Place that in a warm (not hot), dry area out of the sun.
Once the plastic screen is in place, cover it with some soil, wood shavings or browns, and more soil. Cover that with some food scraps and add your worms. The worms will eat the food scraps and turn them into worm castings (worm manure). Worms do multiply, so make sure you feed them enough and remove some of the worms to the garden if your farm is becoming overpopulated.
It does cost a bit to get your worm composter started. You need to buy or make the composting bin and materials to get it started. You may need to buy the live worms to get started. You have to be careful that the worms do not get too wet or dry out. You also need to make sure that they don’t become too hot. Keeping them inside an insulated garage or three-season porch may be your best location for them.
You can also look for local compost pick-up or drop-off services. Someone comes to your home or you drive to the local composting facility to drop off your food scraps. You still keep food scraps out of the trash where they create methane as they decompose in the landfill. Find facilities that accept organic waste. Recycle Nation makes it easy to locate nearby facilities through our online directory.