As vegetarians, we have plenty of food scraps lying around. Pretty much every meal consists of at least some sort of fruit and vegetable, and we are all the more healthy for it. Eating 5 – 9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day keeps us feeling health, strong, and provides us with all the vitamins and minerals we need to power through it all.
Instead of throwing those scraps away, destined to lay in the anaerobic wasteland that is a landfill, it’s better to put these to use in one way or another. There are, after all, plenty of calories in onion skins, carrot tops, and potato peels. Throwing these scraps into a pile outside somewhere – anywhere, really – will yield a beautiful bounty of compost over time. No matter what you do, you can’t mess it up – that’s the beautiful thing! These food scraps will eventually breakdown, and provide your garden or lawn with some additional organic matter to get them cruising along.
Make Broth First!
Before we get into composting, though, I want to give you a tip to get even more from your vegetables, while also breaking them down further so that they’ll turn into compost quicker. Try making vegetable broth with it! Take a large Ziploc bag and fill it with all your plant-based kitchen scraps and put it in the freezer. Gradually fill this bag up. Once it’s totally filled, bulging and ready to burst, toss them into a large soup pot – they can still be frozen. Fill the pot with water until it’s roughly 4 inches from the rim of the pot, and boil it. Let it boil for an hour, mixing occasionally, and strain the liquid into a large jar. Voila! You have a whole bunch of vegetable broth – made right in your own kitchen – to cook rice, beans, make soup, or whatever other functions you might find for it. Take the boiled vegetable scraps and toss them into your compost pile – they’ll breakdown even faster, now.
You need 4 things to make great compost – nitrogen, carbon, water, and air. First, you need a spot to put it all. Try finding a nice shaded corner of the yard. You can build a container out of wood or use an old barrel, but a simple open pile works just as well, and is much less work.
Go out and buy a bale of straw. Or, if you have a bunch of leaves piled in the yard, you can use these as a substitute. This will serve as your carbon ingredient. Put this right next to your compost pile, as you’ll be adding it often. Make a 6 inch layer of straw at the base of the pile, right on top of the ground. Add a 2 inch layer of soil on top of this – this can come from anywhere in your yard, and does not need to be the primo stuff. This will serve as the initial bed for your compost ingredients.
Get a bin for the kitchen to use for your food scraps (again, plant-based foods only – no fats). I just use a large bowl I found at a garage sale, but use whatever you want. If you’re feeling fancy, you can spend a pretty penny for a food-scrap bin, but this is largely unnecessary. Whenever your container fills up, take it out to your compost pile and dump it on that bed of straw you made. When you have a good 4 inch layer of food scraps, layer this with 2-3 inches of straw. Dump more food scraps on top of this until 4 inches thick and, again, add 2-3 inches of straw. You may want to add a little bit of soil into a layer occasionally, as this will assist in breaking everything down quicker. Repeat this until the pile is a maximum of 6 feet high, and a minimum of 4 feet high.
Now, you have two options: the lazy way, or the better way. I often choose the former, because that’s how I roll, but every now and then I’ll will myself to do it the better way. The lazy way is to simply let the compost pile break down over the next two months or so, watering it every week or so in dry climates. Otherwise, I don’t touch it. This method takes longer, but will still yield compost on the inside layers, and the outer layers can be used to start your next pile.
The better way is to turn the pile about once a month. After you’ve built your compost pile up, let it sit for about a month. Once it slumps down and no longer feels warm (the pile will heat up as it breaks things down, but will cool once the ingredients fully breakdown), take a pitchfork to it, and move the pile over one spot, one pitchfork at a time. This takes all the ingredients on the outer part of the pile, and puts them on the inside to breakdown. This will speed up the decomposition, and give you more complete, better compost.
In the end, though, the most important part of composting is that you actually do it. You’ll be making food for your garden, and taking out a considerable chunk of what you’d otherwise be dumping in a landfill. And, always remind yourself that you cannot possibly mess up. Even if your pile is poorly made, time will eventually do its job, and the pile of death will, once again, become a bed of life.