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, detailed 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 Indoor Composting
To begin, let’s establish what you can and cannot compost in your own home, according to the EPA:
What you should put in your indoor compost
- Food scraps (vegetables, fruit, coffee, tea bags, eggshells)
- Houseplants (undiseased)
- Fireplace ashes
What should not put in your indoor compost
- Dairy products
- Meat/fish products
- Pet waste
- 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.*
- Choose a location to begin
- The location should be dark and damp, to avoid drying out the pile
- Special bins are required for indoor composting, which are available for purchase at your local hardware store, or online. It is also possible to make your own, see here.
- Note that smaller piles do take longer to turn into compost, so your indoor compost will take longer than usual
- As you generate waste, alter it for easier composting
- Chop up or shred smaller products
- Fruit and vegetables should be 10 inches under to avoid attracting pests
- Mix the materials as you add to the bin
- Monitor your compost, noting which stages it’s in (see above)
- Aeration, or turning, helps circulate oxygen through, though the EPA warns that too much will dry out the pile
- Your compost should not smell, as long as you do now have any pest-attracting substance in it
- Mature compost is a dark, intense color that is cool to touch
- Frequent turning results in a mature compost in anywhere from 2-5 weeks, to 3 months, depending on the conditions of the compost like temperature, humidity, and size.
Alternatives to traditional composting
However, 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”. The EPA also supports vermicomposting, saying that it’s perfect for indoor composting. Special worms are required for composting, so check your local gardening store or online to purchase them.
Photo by Barb at Our Fairfield Home and Garden
Now, assuming you have successfully composted and have that rich, dark soil, you’re ready to put it to use. Luckily, there is a multitude of ways to get the most out of your humus.
Give your compost to people you know
Firstly, ask any friends or family who have a garden and offer to sell or give your compost to them. 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. So, there’s no need to purchase fertilizer, especially since the excessive use of fertilizers can contribute to air pollution.
Give your compost to local centers and farmers
You may not know any gardeners. In that case, try contacting any community centers or schools in your area to see if they accept compost donations. While most places will not accept composts in such small quantities, if there is a farmers market near you, you could try giving or selling your compost to farmers there. For any Seattle locals, multiple farmers markets take place throughout the year, which can be viewed here. The other option you have is to use it yourself, in your indoor potted plants, or perhaps in a community garden plot. I hope this guide will help urban dwellers to get the most out their waste and stay connected to the soil.
Consult the EPA for further questions.
Featured image is accredited to General Kinematics
© Emeraldology 2018