basic composting in small spaces

 

The sight of morning pulp from my vegetable juice has been bugging me because it’s something we throw out on the daily. It didn’t feel right, so I would once in a while read up about composting just so that I could do something with it. I also saw the coffee grounds piling up beside the machine and I knew it was good for plants, so I started collecting it, even without reading much. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I was reading up on planting seeds. A lot of what I read mentioned having to use fertilizer once seedlings reached a certain stage, and I personally didn’t want to use fertilizer for the ones I was growing. So when I read more about composting, I learned that this is what I could use to fertilize instead!

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This is our daily morning pulp. On other days, even more.

SETTING

One thing I had difficulty with when looking for advice in composting and planting seeds is that I got different tips/advice/instructions depending on the location of the one sharing. So i’m sharing below my current setting to give you a better idea of what I had to work with.

  • Enhance Community Quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic, so a lot of stores are closed, limited number of people are allowed out and in the village.
  • No garden (except for a public parket garden in front). Other than that, I only have a lanai.
  • Soil available on hand is mixed soil (rocks, straw, earth soil)
  • Limited containers and pots for composting.
  • Summer in the Philippines is intense, so it can be challenging to keep the compost moist if it’s exposed.

WHY YOU SHOULD COMPOST

  • “Compost is organic material that can be added to soil to help plants grow.” – Environmental Protection Agency (via Good Housekeeping)
  • It reduces trash in landfills
  • It’s rich fertilizer!
  • “Not only does this reduce methane gas, which is a major factor in global warming, but composting also controls trash can odor.” – Good Housekeeping

WHAT CAN YOU COMPOST

I’m dividing this between nitrogen and carbon items because according to EarthEasy and Good Housekeeping (and a few other sources), the balance is important. It said that your compost should be 1/3 nitrogen (rotting and/or moist) and 2/3 carbon (more brown and dry). I’m going to share some things directly from this site since it also helped a lot.

“The trick is to aim for equal amounts of “green” waste and “brown” waste to keep your compost healthy. “Green” waste includes moist matter like fruits and vegetables and “brown” waste is dry matter can be items like wood shavings, dry leaves, or even old newspapers. Maintaining a balance is important is because “brown” materials are rich in carbon, feeding the organisms that break down the scraps and “green” materials supply nitrogen — key for building the cell structure of your new soil.” – Good Housekeeping

Nitrogen

“Nitrogen or protein-rich matter” – EarthEasy

“Too much nitrogen makes for a dense, smelly, slowly decomposing anaerobic mass. Good composting hygiene means covering fresh nitrogen-rich material, which can release odors if exposed to open air, with carbon-rich material, which often exudes a fresh, wonderful smell. If in doubt, add more carbon!” – EarthEasy

I’ve condensed the nitrogen samples to things that you most probably will find at home.

Samples: tea leaves, table scraps, seaweed, grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, flowers, cuttings, coffee grounds, chopped up coffee filters

Carbon

“Carbon-rich matter gives compost its light, fluffy body.” – EarthEasy

I’ve condensed the samples to things that you most probably will find at home.

Samples: wood ash, straw, shrub pruning, shredded paper, newspaper, leaves, chopped up corn cobs, cardboard

Neutral

Samples: egg shells (according to The Brotanist, this is calcium!)

WHAT CAN’T YOU COMPOST

  • Meat, bones and fish scraps (they will attract pests) – there’s a special way to do this if you want to use them.
  • Weeds and diseased plants
  • Pet manures
  • Some don’t recommend banana peels or orange peels because that might contain pesticides, but it always depends on where you source your fruits. I think generally these are okay to compost.
  • Fats, oils
  • Dairy

IS IT NORMAL TO HAVE SMELLY/MOULDING COMPOST

  • It’s ok to add scraps with mold but make sure it’s in the middle, of your compost, in between dried material.
  • Yes, it SMELLS.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COMPOST

  • For hot areas it might take about three months (as long as compost is moist).
  • For colder areas, it might take more months, possibly a year.

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY COMPOST IS DONE

  • “Turn your mixture over every week or two with a shovel or garden fork to mix it up. If you’re not seeing progress after a few weeks, add more “green” material and make sure you’re keeping the pile moist. If it’s smelly and wet, add more “brown” material and turn the compost more frequently. Also, break apart any big materials (like branches) to keep air flowing. Your compost is ready when it looks and smells like soil!”  – Good Housekeeping
  • It’s a bit smaller in size compared to the size when you started.

WHAT CAN I USE COMPOST FOR

  • Fertilizer for your plants! But it’s not a soil replacement.

THINGS YOU NEED TO START YOUR OWN COMPOST

  • A closed bin is best if you’re particular about how compost looks and smells in your garden.
  • A shovel
  • A bin, if you don’t have a whole garden or earth area for compost.

 

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COMPOSTING PROCESS

  • I started with a layer of soil, then a layer of pulp, then a layer of soil, then a layer of egg shells, then a layer of soil, then a layer of coffee grounds. I repeated the process until I filled my bin.
  • Alternate moist and dry
  • Keep your compost moist
  • Moist and heat are two essential components for compost. Cover your compost if you can.
  • Aerate your compost by turning it weekly.

WHAT TO DO WITH COMPOST WHILE WAITING

“Your compost also needs oxygen and moisture. Without air, your pile will start to rot and smell. Moisture helps break everything down; sprinkle the compost with water every now and then, unless your scraps are wet enough on their own. With the right mixture, your compost should smell like nothing but earthy dirt.” – Good Housekeeping

Lately with the heat, I’ve been doing minimal watering on a daily basis. I don’t have a cover for my compost, so I need to water it on the daily.

HEATING COMPOST

“No problem. A hot, steamy pile means that you have a large community of microscopic critters working away at making compost.” – EarthEasy

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TIPS

  • You don’t have to make your compost right away. You can store your kitchen scraps first, and when you have a good batch and complete materials, you can start your compost.
  • Make sure to cover your compost. IT. SMELLS. NASTY. It also attracts fleas. If you live with your parents or siblings, you will get it from them.
  • Inform everyone in your house about your composting plan. It’s more of a head’s up that i’m keeping smelly shit, but also a “please don’t throw egg shells and pulp and coffee grounds” (or anything else you plan to add to your compost) reminder. I’ve lost a lot because I didn’t inform them.
  • Keep old, ugly pots and random containers like take out boxes and ice cream containers for when you need to store your waste. IMPORTANT: Keep the lid!
  • With anything you put in the compost, try to make them small pieces so they don’t clump together.

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This article does not include using a composter or doing composting on bare earth.

Other websites/accounts that helped me for my first composting project:

Good HouseKeeping

EarthEasy

The Brotanist

The Daily Gardener

Public Goods

Happy composting!

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