Guide: Getting started with compost

There are two amazing things you realize when you start composting.

One, you notice how little garbage you suddenly create. Buying fresh veggies and fruits, composting, and cutting down on packaged food or frozen meals means a full house of Better Farmers only produce one bag of trash every couple of weeks. Meanwhile, the compost pit outside (our homemade version of garden composters) and our little worm friends in the kitchen stay nice and robust.

And two, you become very aware of how much food you waste, what you use, and how the leftovers from said food can actually help to feed you in just a few short months. It's a front-seat view of the circle of life; and it's a foolproof way to cut down on waste.

Composting may seem like a time-consuming project; but the truth is that there are a plethora of composters out there that make turning your food scraps into healthy soil easy as can be. Whether you hate getting your hands dirty, hold down multiple jobs, or just feel grossed out by the thought of worms, we promise: There is a composter out there for you.

Click here for a basic breakdown of how compost works. Then, follow this handy guide to begin sorting out what kind of composting will work best for you.
  • Style Let's face it, most people think compost is sort of gross. They envision a fruit fly-infested pile of food scraps sitting next to a kitchen sink, stinking up the house. Not so! Before recently picking up a legitimate kitchen composter, we used a jumbo plastic container with lid for food scraps. We took it out once a week, scrubbed it down, and suffered no odor overload. The "worm bin", a large plastic storage container kept under a cabinet in the kitchen, has never created any odor at all; even as the worms gobble up dead houseplants, banana peels, and bagels. So while a composting toilet may not be your top-choice for your foray into turning waste into healthy soil, know that there is a composting system out there to suit every taste.
  • Location Sixty-five acres mean lots of space for us to spread out. That land also affords us the opportunity to have a fenced-off, moveable "compost cage" of sorts that keeps porcupines—and puppy dogs—out of the compost while allowing the food scraps optimal access to the elements for top-notch decomposition. (This system is an off-shoot of the upcoming, experimental "mulch garden" we've been working on.) We can move the cage around every few months, with a large "rake-out" during planting season. It's not a great system if you've got a tiny fire escape for a yard, or if your small eighth of an acre abuts your neighbor's place. Consider what you've got, and then determine whether you want a small kitchen composter, or whether you'd like a larger bin outside.
  • Time/Maintenance Commitment Our outdoor compost pit requires womanpower to turn it over every so often for aeration and to aid in decomposition. We also have to keep up with moving the enclosure itself so the most amount of ground beneath the compost gets nourished. If turning it over with a metal rake, having to move it every few months, and coming up with a design plan of your own doesn't appeal to you, you may want to simply pick up an earthmaker composter that's clean, odorless, and streamlined to do the work for you. You can put it in your backyard next to your garden, and only worry about dropping scraps in and taking fresh dirt out.
  • Size And lastly, get a sense of what you're producing. For us, it makes sense to have a kitchen collection bin of scraps, a worm bin, and an outdoor compost pit. For you, a tiny kitchen compost bucket might do the trick.
We would love to see photos of your compost strategies! Please e-mail us at info@betterfarm.org.
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    Nicole Caldwell

    Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.