In Quebec, 1/3 to 1/2 of the garbage we throw out each week could be composted. Gardens, lawns, trees and shrubs all benefit greatly from compost.
Composting reduces the environmental impact of having to spend fuel and energy driving the garbage to a landfill and incinerating it. The organic waste, which is usually in plastic bags, stagnates and produces methane and toxic run-off, which contaminates the soil and ground water.
Compost improves the structure of the soil and makes it more fertile, which gives us better fruits and vegetables and more beautiful flowers. It reduces the need for fertilizers, which helps us save money. It also locks moisture into the soil, so that it needs less water, if and when less is available.
Composts can seem like a lot of work, but it really depends on how you do it. There are many ways to compost, and once you’re set up, it’s really not hard at all, and can be done anywhere, in any climate.
The first thing to consider is how much you and your family are going to compost. Things like fruits, vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, garden refuse, grass clippings, hair, hay and straw, leaves, nut shells, pine needles, sawdust and woodchips can all be put into the compost.
Things like diseased or insect-infested plants, human waste, meat or dairy products, pet waste, dust or anything that’s been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, fungicides or other harsh chemicals, cannot.
Once you have an idea of what you might want to compost, the next step is to look at your yard and decide how big your ideal compost should be.
A good place for a compost bin should ideally be lightly shaded. It should have good ventilation without being exposed to high winds. This will prevent it from freezing in the winter, especially if there is some amount of sun to warm it up. It should be easily accessible from the house or garden: nobody wants to have to shovel his or her way to the compost bin in -40 C weather! It should be near a water point like a hose but not directly in water, as this would disturb the compost’s balance.
The easiest, cleanest way to compost is in a bin. It looks neat, and animals can’t get into it. Piles of compost are not safe from animals and can be subject to municipal laws.
Most hardware stores like Canadian Tire, BMR or garden stores will sell some kind of compost bin. There are some made for balconies and some made for lawns, which are bigger. For most of these, you will need an aerator or pitchfork to stir the compost every one to two weeks.
If you want to build your own compost bin, here’s a good website: http://gorilla.mcgill.ca/howtocompost.htm
There are also bins that rotate, called tumblers, which makes life easy if you have back problems. You will need help in order to get the ingredients into the bin to set up the compost, but once it is set up you can use a bucket or wagon to bring the compost to your garden or wherever you need it to be. These can be a bit pricier, but well worth it if you have a weak back.
My personal favorite is called the Blue Planet. It looks exactly as it sounds. “You put your kitchen wastes (coffee and filters, vegetables, fruits, egg shells, grass clippings), anything recyclable, into the bin, and you rotate it from its base to mix it in. It’s impossible for raccoons or any other animals to get into it,” says Helene Houde, of La Conception, Quebec, who has deer and other animals in her yard daily.
Regardless of the type of compost you choose, here are the things you need. As mentioned, if you buy a bin in which you need to rotate the compost you will need an aerator or pitchfork for stirring. With any kind of compost you will need a water source nearby, as compost soil needs to moist (but not wet) at all times.
You will need scissors to cut big pieces of food or material. They will decompose faster if they are smaller. You will also need a plastic container with a lid (at least 4 litres in volume), to put your kitchen waste into so you don’t have to bring it out every time. It is ideal to take it out every few days to avoid getting fruit flies.
The pile of compost will need a proper ratio of carbon-rich materials (referred to as “browns”) and nitrogen-rich materials, (referred to as “greens”). Brown materials include dried leaves, straw and wood chips. Nitrogen materials are fresh or green, like grass clippings and kitchen scraps. The ratio is 2/3 brown matter to 1/3 green matter, and soil, of course. You can add worms, which you can pick around your yard when it rains, provided you are not squeamish, but the micro and macro organisms inside the compost will do the work.
You can add a bit of compost to your compost to accelerate the process, but this is not necessary. Compost is ready when you cannot make out the pieces of matter from the earth inside the bin, which can take from three weeks to a year depending on the compost. The ideal is to start in the spring and put the compost on your garden in the fall. You can compost in the winter, the process will just be slower.
For detailed information about how to compost, go to www.compostguide.com, and for vermicomposting, www.resource-conservation.mb.ca/cap/vermi.html, if you would rather compost inside your home. But that’s not for everyone.