Compost Basics

Crazy! I could have sworn I had already given you a post by this title, but apparently I had not. Please pardon me for waiting so long to create this post on such an important topic.

You can make composting as simple or as complicated as you want. I prefer simple. If you prefer complicated, Google will be happy to oblige! I specialize in simple. So here you go:

When you think about ways to mitigate climate change and extreme weather, what comes to mind? You probably said “planting trees.” But an even more powerful way is by adding organic matter to the soil. In other words: Compost! By composting your kitchen scraps and yard trimmings instead of sending them to landfill, you become a strong climate ally. 

There’s a lot of misinformation out there about composting. If done properly, compost is not messy or smelly. (In fact, it’s a lot less messy and smelly than putting your food scraps in the trash.) 

And it doesn’t require hard labor. If you’re fit enough to get in a car and drive somewhere, you’re fit enough to manage a compost bin. And you don’t need a yard or garden.  Whether you choose to collect your kitchen scraps in a tidy bin that fits under your kitchen sink, feed them to your worms in an in-house vermicompost box, or carry them out to a bin or pile in your yard, the basic principle is the same. Compost requires just four ingredients: 1) Air; 2) Water; 3) Greens; 4) Browns. 

“Greens” are kitchen scraps (vegetable, meat, cheese, coffee grounds, shrimp tails, etc.), and fresh yard trimmings. “Browns” are dried grass clippings or leaves, paper, cardboard scraps. Greens are rich in nitrogen; browns are rich in carbon. Together with air and water, they break down into a rich material that fertilizes the soil while sequestering carbon. Believe it or not, the pedosphere (soil) can sequester four times as much carbon as the biosphere (trees and other plants). But in order to accomplish this feat, the soil needs organic matter. That’s why composting is so important (besides radically reducing the bulk, weight, and odor of your household trash).

If composting seems like too much trouble to you, it’s probably just because you don’t realize how easy it actually is, or how much good it does the planet. Once you actually try it, you will be amazed at how easy it is. You simply alternate layers of greens and browns in your bin or pile, and nature takes care of the rest. I think of it as making layers of lasagna — microbial lasagna!

The main obstacle to composting is just … starting. Just start. It’s a natural process and you can’t go wrong. The main thing that turns people off, once they get started, is if the pile gets slimy and smelly. You haven’t made some horrible mistake. Don’t let this turn you off of composting. All this means is you need to add more “browns” to your pile. Dried twigs, dead leaves, hay, straw, dry grass clippings are all good.

(And: Contrary to popular belief, you can include meat scraps, cheese, and other animal products in the pile.)

One of the best ways we can show love for our kids and grandkids is by making sure we leave the world in better shape for them than we found it. This is far more important than showering them with expensive gifts. If we love our kids and grandkids enough to travel across the country or around the world to see them (and by the way, ideally we’re all purchasing carbon offsets for that travel — it only adds a few bucks to the ticket price, and it’s the right thing to do), we need to back up that love with strong eco action at the household level.

I have a lot of composting experience, from household to community scale, and am familiar with many different approaches. As part of the free “Deep Green” consultation that comes with your purchase of my book (and now also with your download of the free PDF version), I’m happy to help you research the best compost system for your circumstances, and get it set up.