Backyard/outdoor compost is the best method for people who want to compost themselves, use the product, and have access to an outdoor space to do so. If this sounds like you, read on! If you’re not sure if outdoor composting is right for you, click on this link to find out which method for you.

Most of the time, people can be caught in between industrial and home composting. Industrial composting seems to be the better alternative because it’s done professionally and is rather easy for consumers. However, according to Raquel Barrena’s study, home compost has equal or greater stability compared to industrial composting, a highly valued characteristic of soil. Although industrial compost products have great stability, they also contain higher amounts of dispersion, when soil particles separate from other another, causing soil erosion. Outdoor composting is fairly easy, requiring few steps, and results in a free, nutrient-rich soil through a process we will cover. If you’re a gardener or someone who just wants to make the most out of your organic waste, this is for you! Even if you’re not a gardener, there are places you can give or sell your compost, another subject we will cover.

The three stages of composting

To optimize your composting method, it’s best to understand how the composting process works so that you can monitor the certain stages that your compost is in, making adjustments when necessary. According to Cornell University, there are three stages in composting, as shown in the graphic below.

Image by CJ Kelly, Emeraldology

Note: While moderating your compost, keep it below 145º F or else the welcomed microorganisms will die. You can accomplish this by turning, or mixing, the soil. The more you turn the soil, a recommended every 2-4 weeks, the faster the process goes.

Basic Guide to Composting

To begin, let’s establish what you can and cannot compost yourself, according to the EPA:

*Note: Industrial composting centers may have different guidelines on what you can and cannot compost*

What you should compost outdoors

Green materials:

  • Grass clippings
  • Food scraps (vegetables, fruit, coffee, tea bags, eggshells)
  • Manure

Brown materials:

  • Dry leaves
  • Houseplants
  • Wood chips
  • Branches
  • Cardboard
  • Fireplace ashes

What you shouldn’t compost outdoors

  • Dairy products
  • Meat/fish products
  • Pet wastes
  • Diseased plants
  • Plants treated with pesticides
  • Any material that could carry dangerous pathogens or attract pests

*Add green and brown materials equally, because they have different ratios of nitrogen and carbon, with green materials containing more nitrogen, and brown containing more oxygen. These two elements are necessary for the composting process.*

Let’s get started:

  1. Choose a location outside to begin:
  2. As you generate waste, alter it for easier composting:
  3. Monitor your compost, noting which stage it’s in:
    • Aeration, or turning, helps circulate oxygen through, though the EPA warns that too much will dry out the pile.
    • Frequent turning results in a compost that’s ready in roughly 3 months.
    • Mature compost is a dark, intense color that is cool to touch.

Alternatives to regular composting

There are alternatives to traditional composting. As Jorge Dominguez Ph.D. explains in his research study, one alternative, vermicomposting, utilizes the power of both microorganisms and worms to create an equally viable humus. Dr. Dominguez even suggests that its humus may have “hormone-like compounds which accelerate plant growth”. Special worms are required for composting, so check with your local gardening store or online to see what kinds of worms they have.

Picture accredited to Barb at Our Fairfield Home and Garden

Compost uses

Assuming you have successfully composted and now have that rich, dark soil, you’re ready to put it to use.

Use your compost for gardening

Since you have an outdoor space available, think about starting your own garden if you don’t already have one. In addition to humus having a heavy supply of nutrients, gardeners love to use humus because they do not need to buy industrially-made fertilizer. According to a study conducted by Workneh Bedada and his team, compost alone serves as a better soil for plant harvests than just fertilizer alone. Hence, there is no need to buy fertilizers, especially since the excessive use of fertilizers can contribute to air pollution.

Donate or sell your compost

Maybe you’re not interested in gardening, nor using your compost for your indoor potted plants. In this case, you can sell or donate your compost. Contact any gardeners you may know, like friends, family, or coworkers. If you do not know any gardeners, try contacting any community centers or schools in your area to see if they accept compost. You also can sell your larger quantity of compost to local farmers or at a farmers market near you. For any Seattle locals, multiple farmers markets take place throughout the year, which can be viewed here. I hope this guide has helped you to start your own compost in your backyard. For further questions, consult the EPA.

Featured image by CJ Kelly, Emeraldology

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