About Me

Someone who fell in love with the natural world early on and has been smitten ever since. A blade of grass, a mighty mountain, a tiny raindrop, a roaring waterfall, all fill me with awe and wonder. Nature feels home, filled with warmth and love. It pains my heart to see this home being ravaged. This blog is an effort to find tweaks in modern living to preserve the sanctity of this home. I sincerely hope that you join me in this green karmic journey.

Friday, 22 October 2021

How to Cook a Mean Compost

What is Compost?

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If you ask plants, compost is a root-licking delicacy:) If you ask any composting enthusiast, compost is black gold. 
Simply stated, it is decayed organic matter, which is great for soil structure and provides beneficial nutrients to plants.

Cooking Time: 4-8 months

Serves: Everyone's interest!

Equipment: 

For Collecting Kitchen Scraps

Allocate a bin to collect compostable kitchen scraps. Though you can use any covered bin, I found this kitchen countertop bin to be very useful. It also comes in a set. It has a charcoal filter in the lid that keeps smells at bay.

For Cooking the Compost
  • Any old bucket, clay pot or a plastic bin with a lid (3 of them. You'll start with one bin but will need others when the first fills up.) I would encourage you to start off with any old and handy container. As you get a hang of the process, you'll know what's the best for your family's size and available space. If your'e buying fresh bins, go for a capacity of 5 gallons each. You'll need a drill machine to make holes in the bin. 
Or
  • A Compost Tumbler: A compost tumbler is a kind of a bin. It can have one or two chambers. I use a dual chambered Miracle-Gro tumbler. The advantage of a tumbler is that it can be rotated on its axis to roll and hence aerate the mix. It also looks visually pleasing and makes things more organized. Another popular choice is a dual chambered FCMP compost tumbler. There are single chambered bins too. I would recommend a dual chambered bin as once one chamber is filled, you can let the compost sit there to mature while adding material to the other chamber.  
Ingredients:

Greens (Rich in Nitrogen):
Get all the greens you've got!

Browns (Rich in Carbon):
Get thrice the quantity of greens! 

GREENS 

BROWNS

NO-NOS

Vegetable Peels

Dried Leaves 

Cooked Food

Fruit Peels 

Dried Plants, Twigs

Dairy Products

Citrus Peels 

Straw

Meat, Bones

Watermelon Rind

Brown Cardboard

Pet Waste

Egg Shells

Bagasse Packaging

Diseased Plants

Coffee Grounds

Bagasse Plates

Weeds

Tea Bags

Uncoated Paper 

Glossy Paper

Rinsed Tea Leaves 

100% Paper Plates

Black Walnut Tree Leaves

Peanut, Pistachio Shells

Cardboard Egg CartonsGrass, Plant Cuttings if Treated with Pesticides

Mango, Avocado Pits

Cardboard Tubes from Tissue Rolls, Toilet Rolls etc.

Corn Husk & Cob

Sawdust, Wood Chips from Untreated or Natural Wood

Cotton, Pure Cotton Rags, Natural Wool



Grass, Plant Cuttings



Flowers










I prefer only dry leaves and plants as my browns because they are natural. I think it's a better choice to recycle cardboard than to compost it. Same with newspaper and any other kind of paper.

However, shredded cardboard can save the day if you don't have access to dry leaves. I used cardboard  during lockdown when I couldn't go to any trails and collect dry leaves.

Cooked food, dairy and meat can attract rodents. Raw meat can also introduce harmful bacteria like Salmonella, E Coli etc. in the compost pile and therefore should not be added to the compost. (Food waste is a huge issue in itself. You can use these tips to stop wasting food.)

I am a vegetarian and my compost ingredients consist of veggie and fruit peels, rinsed tea leaves, dry leaves, occasional dried leaves from garden plants and soil. I don't like to add any cardboard, paper or processed stuff to my pile.

My Greens and Browns Collected and Ready to be Mixed. 
I used my daughter's beach buckets to start composting.

Accelerator : 

An accelerator is supposed to fasten the pace of decomposition. In other words, it helps increase microbial activity in the mix. 

Do note that microbes are present everywhere and the mix will eventually get decomposed, accelerator or not. Some people like to buy an accelerator. I have never bought it. 

Things that can be used as an accelerator:

Garden Soil or Store Bought Soil (I add this)
or
Ready Compost (I add this)
or
Thin Curd or Whey (I add this sometimes)
or
Cocopeat (I never bought this) 
or 
A packaged accelerator (I never bought this) 

Method:

Whether you're using a bin or a compost tumbler, the basic process remains the same. I started with a bin to get the hang of the process and now I'm switching to a compost tumbler for ease of use.

1. If using a bin, drill holes on the sides and on the lid of the chosen bin. The holes are for air circulation. Holes can be drilled at the bottom too. Some water (which is also called compost tea) might get released during the composting process. Place a tray or a tub below the bin to collect this water. 

I didn't have a drill machine, so I didn't drill any holes. I just used to poke the mix quite often to aerate it.

2. Put a couple of inches of soil in the bucket. 

3. Cut greens in small pieces. This helps in faster decomposition. Remember, the smaller and softer the stuff, the faster it's going to decompose. Put greens in the bin. 

4. Add double or triple the quantity of dried leaves which will act as browns. You can crush leaves lightly for a faster decomposition. 

5. Add accelerator. I generally use garden soil or ready compost or a bit of sour curd as an accelerator. 

6. Mix with a shovel. Cover it with browns again. 

7. Keep adding greens and browns to this mix everyday or every few days and keep turning. I add a bit of soil or leaves as the top layer every time I add greens to the bin. This deters flies.  

8. When the bin gets full, let it rest. I poke the mix every few days for it to aerate. If you're using a composter, turn it every few days too. The compost will get ready in around 4-8 months, depending on a lot of factors, including weather. 

9. While the first bin rests, start the same process in another bin. If you're using a double chambered compost tumbler, let the first chamber rest and start the process in another chamber.

Location of the bin:


Keep it accessible, yet not too close to your house if space permits. Keep it away from rain and too much sun. Place a tray or a tub below the container to collect compost tea.

What should be the consistency of the mix?

It should be like a moist sponge. When you pick a handful of this mix and wring it, water shouldn't drip out of your hand. The mix should be moist. 

Too wet, and the compost will start smelling. 
Too dry, and the compost won't get decomposed well. 

Common Issues:

1. Smelly Compost - If you've added too little browns, it would start to smell bad. To rectify this, add at least double or triple the browns, get the moisture level right and aerate the compost well.

You can empty the contents of the bin in another bin or a tray and sun and aerate it for a while. Don't leave it out for too long as it would attract flies.

2. Wet Compost - Again, add more browns and aerate it well. The issue of smelly and wet compost go hand in hand. The compost starts smelling when it's wet and not well aerated.

3. Flies and Fruit Flies - Make sure that the compost is covered with browns or with soil. If there are fruit scraps like banana peels, pineapple skin, melon rinds, lemon peels etc. fruit flies get attracted to them. The easiest way is to bury these peels deep in the compost and cover them with soil. This helps prevents flies to get to their food source. 

4. Maggots in the Compost - Add more browns and get the moisture level right.

5. Too Dry a Compost - If the mix is sitting out in too much sun and has gotten dry, add some water to the compost. I haven't had to do it yet. I'm mostly trying to balance the wetness rather than dealing with dryness.

So basically, the answer to most composting issues would be:

Add More Browns!!
Add More Air!!
Keep it Moist!!

Cooking Time:

This depends on a lot of factors. I would say, don't worry too much about it. Fill it, shut it, forget it (errr...just keep aerating it though!). Decomposition is a slow process. It takes time and even if you are at it diligently, expect just one or, at the most, two rounds of finished compost in a year. 

If the temperature is in the 70s (F) and you've cut the greens to small bits and have diligently balanced greens and browns, the compost can get there anywhere between 4-8 months.  

You'll still find some stuff that hasn't been decomposed, like pistachio and peanut shells, mango and avocado pits, corn cobs etc. You can take this undecomposed stuff and add it to the next batch of compost.  

You might be a bit surprised to see that the mix has reduced to one-third or even less. As organic stuff decomposes, it loses moisture and hence volume. 

When the mix looks brown and smells like earth and when you're not able to identify if something was a former banana skin or an avocado peel, when you pick a lump and it crumbles well in your hand, voila! You've done it! Time to celebrate!

Serve:

When the compost is done, serve with lots of love to your plants. They'll express their gratitude by being healthier, greener and more productive:) 


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