Composting Tips and Tricks

April 1st, 2020

Composting has direct benefits for the environment, one of biggest being that composting conserves landfill space. Ontario’s landfills are filling up and composting not only reduces the volume of waste going to landfill, it also reduces the production of greenhouse gases. Specifically, methane gas emissions are lowered when less food waste is added to landfill.

Fleming College students conducted a waste audit on behalf of the County of Peterborough, capturing waste generation habits by analyzing contents of garbage and recycling. Results showed that 50 per cent of residential garbage bags are filled with organic waste that could be composted instead of ending up in landfill.

Fleming College students conducted a waste audit on behalf of the County of Peterborough. Results showed that 50 per cent of residential garbage bags are filled with organic waste that could be composted instead of ending up in landfill.

Composting completes the food cycle by returning plant scrap nutrients to the soil. Most farmers and avid gardeners will make soil amendments before planting for the season, and compost is a viable soil additive that can help enrich your garden beds with nutrients.

Many gardeners refer to compost as, “black gold” mostly due to its dark, earthy colour and nutrient rich content that is a valuable addition to your beds. Compost not only adds nutrients to the soil but also saves water. Organic matter retains almost 20 times its weight in water, acting like a soil sponge.

For residents who are already composting or are looking to start a composter, here are some tips about how to get your composter started up now that spring is here.

Unwanted Guests

To avoid unwanted guests, you will want to be sure to choose the right contents for your composter. To deter wildlife from snacking, do not put any meats, fats, or dairy products in your composter.

Be aware of what we call the nitrogen-to-carbon ratio, otherwise known as the greens and browns balance. A healthy composter should always have more browns (carbon) than greens (nitrogen). Greens are the waste items you bring from your kitchen such as veggie scraps and coffee grounds while the browns are yard waste items such as grass clippings and collected leaves.

“Any food waste placed in your composter should then be covered with browns such as leaves or a small amount of earth,” suggests Peterborough Waste Diversion Manager Virginia Swinson, “Since leaves are not readily available over the winter, you can add shredded newspaper in their place. Cardboard egg cartons and recyclable paper towel can be used as well.”

If you have a persistent squirrel or raccoon, you can pest-proof your composter. Swinson suggests using a heavy gauge mesh along the bottom opening of the composter, “Dig a shallow hole, around 1 inch deep, in which to place your composter. Then backfill with the dirt you dug out and surround the perimeter with rocks.”

Smell

You may be interested in composting but are concerned about the potential for offensive odours. Unwanted smells can be avoided, both in your kitchen catcher and at the compost heap. Keep an eye on the moisture level in both areas to avoid any stinky scraps.

“If a composter gets too wet it may begin to smell,” says Swinson. Again, make sure you have more browns (leaves, newspaper, cardboard) in your composter, which will keep the moisture balanced. If you are keeping your indoor food scraps in a countertop container, avoid placing it in the sun, “If there is room, keep your kitchen catcher in the fridge, or a cool area under the counter; line your indoor pail with newspaper or paper towel to absorb liquids. This will help eliminate indoor odours and pests such as fruit flies.”

Aeration

Oxygen is also an important factor to consider in the process of compost breakdown. Add oxygen to your composter by turning it once per week with a shovel or a pitchfork. Once your compost is established, mix in newly added materials instead of layering. This will accelerate the process, providing you with nutrient-rich soil more quickly.

Patience

Even with the proper care, it can take a composter six months to fully decompose your scraps into valuable soil. Temperature and moisture are limiting factors, even when you are doing everything right. Don’t give up, even during those cold winter months the process will likely slow down, but that rich “black gold” will be worth the wait and your plants will thank you for it.

Need More Compost?

Regardless of how much compost you produce at home, many gardeners are looking for even more “black gold” to add to their gardens. When GreenUP Ecology Park is open you can purchase small quantities of compost on a self-serve basis.

For further information about Ontario’s Waste Free Strategy please read here: www.ontario.ca/page/strategy-waste-free-ontario-building-circular-economy

For more information, tips, and tricks for backyard composting, download our compost fact sheet. Please note: the Kitchen to Compost program is not yet confirmed for 2020

The original version of this article was written by Danica Jarvis, GreenUP Environmental Education Coordinator

Posted in Waste Free