Composting is the process of recycling organic waste into a fertilizer called compost that can restore nutrients to soil. In line with the permaculture principle “Produce no waste”, it is a sustainable, closed-loop process.
Our hands imbibe like roots, so I place them on what is beautiful in this world. (St. Francis of Assisi, quoted by Merlin Sheldrake in Entangled Life in a chapter on compost)
Adding organic matter via compost to soil improves soil health, preventing erosion and improving the output of your garden. If you grow food in your garden, that’s less food you’ll buy at the grocery store shipped from somewhere else, further reducing climate change.
That improved soil health reduces the need for pesticides (as healthier plants are more naturally resistant to pests), improving the environment.
Methods of Composting
The easiest way to start composting is to let a service do it for you. I use Earth Mama Compost in Indianapolis to collect my organic waste, which they compost and distribute to local growers (I get some too if I want).
You can start a compost pile in your yard, mainly by combining “green” (nitrogen-rich) materials like food scraps and yard trimmings with “brown” (carbon-rich) materials like leaves and cardboard in a ratio of roughly 3 brown to 1 green. Give it a turn every couple weeks to aerate it, as composting depends on an aerobic (oxygen-available) environment.
Vermicomposting is composting with the help of worms, who eat the organic material and produce “castings” (💩) that’s a rich fertilizer. Unlike pile-composting, vermicomposting can be done indoors in a bin. Here’s how to get started.
Hugelkultur or hugelmounds are a kind of buried compost pile great for composting wood and other organics over a long period, giving you a richly fertile mound on which to grow plants.
The finer-grained your compostable materials, the faster they’ll turn to compost, so consider clipping/breaking up large items to accelerate the process—just be sure to leave room for air to circulate, so not too fine.
Go compost yourself! Your own hair and nail clippings (or your pet’s shed hair) are totally compostable, and make the circular economy personal.
Avoid composting meat and dairy. While these will eventually break down they will smell bad and attract pests while they do.
But don’t compost your pet’s poop (or your own, if you were thinking of it). While these are organic waste, they can contain harmful bacteria or parasites you don’t want making it into your food chain if you plan to use your compost in the vegetable garden. Same for diseased plants.
In general for the reasons above, don’t compose things containing chemicals—e.g. bleached paper, grass clippings treated with pesticides, etc.—that you wouldn’t want to eventually eat.