Home & Garden

Home composting is simple and effective. Here are 2 ways you can help your garden

Scraping kitchen waste is the first step toward an effective home composting system.
Scraping kitchen waste is the first step toward an effective home composting system. Sacramento Bee file

It is estimated that 30 percent of residential waste can be composted (according to the UC Davis Project Compost website). Home composting diverts kitchen waste and yard waste from landfills where decomposition increases methane production. Home composting also reduces the amount of gasoline needed to transport compostable materials to the landfill. When used as compost or mulch in the garden, homemade compost returns nutrients and microorganisms to the soil and improves the soil’s water retention.

All good reasons to start composting in your garden. And it’s simple and easy to return organic material back to the earth. You don’t need a set of large compost bins or any special equipment to start your own small compost piles that will turn kitchen scraps and autumn leaves into usable compost within two to three weeks. Here are instructions for beginning your own piles for kitchen waste as well as the rapid composting method for autumn leaves.

Kitchen waste compost

I’ve had a 3-square-foot pile of kitchen waste going for three years with little effort and great results. All fruit and vegetable scraps including avocado pits and peels and citrus peels, eggshells, coffee grounds and unbleached filters are collected in a compost pail kept by the kitchen sink. No bones, meat, dairy or grease is added. A carbon filter keeps odors down and keeps flies out of the pail. The pail is emptied onto the pile about three times a week (we’re a two-person family) and the new material is chopped up with a shovel into small, 2-inch pieces and turned into the older compost.

I’ve covered the pile with a metal grate to keep the puppy and any vermin out of the pile. Whenever I add material, I add water from the hose to wet but not soak the compost. Finished compost tends to fall to the bottom of the pile; a bucket or two of dark brown, crumbly, sweet smelling compost taken from the bottom of the pile is added into the garden soil whenever I plant or fertilize.

To speed up the process and maintain a smaller pile, use a small compost tumbler to turn a few buckets of compost daily. Higher temperatures created inside the tumbler will also kill some insect eggs and disease pathogens. Don’t be tempted to throw a few weeds onto the pile since temperatures in the interior of the small kitchen waste pile won’t get high enough to kill weed seeds.

Rapid composting method for autumn leaves

Rake up your dead, fallen leaves and gather them into 2-square-foot piles. Try to avoid using leaves from trees that have had fungal diseases (peach leaf curl, for instance) or severe pest insect infestations (aphids, scale) since the small piles won’t generate high enough temperatures to kill pest insect eggs or disease pathogens. Small twigs and large leaves should be chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces.

Place the piles near a water source if possible. Turn the piles daily and keep the leaves damp, but not soggy. Don’t add any new leaves to a pile; adding new material will slow down the decomposition process. Within two to three weeks (depending on the weather), the piles will have fully decomposed into usable compost.

Send Elinor Teague plant questions at etgrow@comcast.net.