Getting Started with the Basics

Once you’ve decided to start composting, you need to choose the technique or method you’ll use. There are two main types, hot composting and worm composting, also called vermicomposting. “Composting is not rocket science,” says Platt. “but you do need to know a few things about composting to get started.” First up, Platt says, understand that hot composting — a process of mixing food waste scraps with dry materials such as leaves, straw and paper — is an aerobic process, which means the compost pile needs oxygen, water and carbon-rich materials.

Most people with an outside space like a backyard or roof space will make a hot compost pile. For this, you need three main things, along with your food scraps: water, air and carbon-rich materials, often called brown materials. “You want to make the microbes in your compost pile happy. They need air and they need moisture, more moisture than people think,” says Platt explaining that a new compost pile should be 40 to 60 percent water. “If you were to grab a handful of your mix, it should feel like a wrung-out sponge when you squeeze it.”

The other thing you need to get a compost pile started is a steady supply of carbon-rich materials: leaves, woodchips, straw, sawdust, shredded paper, etc. “All living things need carbon and nitrogen. And most living things need 20 to 30 times more carbon than nitrogen,” says Platt. Her advice: for every bucket of food scraps, add in two buckets of carbon-rich materials.

How to Compost: Follow the Recipe

Once you have the basic ingredients, composting is “like cooking, it’s about the recipe,” says Platt. To get a compost pile started, mix one-part food scraps with two-parts carbon-rich materials and water, stirring occasionally to aerate. While many composters aggressively manage their piles, maintaining the perfect mix of ingredients for ideal temperatures and the prime environment for food to break down, there are also the passive composters, those that Platt says like to “dump and run.”

No matter where you fall on that spectrum, there is one golden rule to keeping your compost pile well managed: always cover your food scraps. “People think they can just throw their banana peels on top of a pile of leaves or yard trimmings and it’s going to compost,” says Platt. “No. You never want to see any food scraps visible at all because you don’t want to attract anything.” A watermelon rind will attract fruit flies, rotting food will attract maggots. “It’s not terrible, there’s a lot of things living in your compost pile, but you don’t want to see it necessarily,” says Platt. To avoid a face full of flies when you open the lid to your bin, always cover your food scraps with dry leaves, wood chips or other carbon-rich materials.

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