Got Compost?

Written by Sarah P
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Compost made of old bread baskets Compost made of old bread baskets Donkeycart on flickr!

My grandmother is the consummate composter. In her home, nothing goes to waste and everything has a latent purpose. Kitchen scraps are certainly no exception. Vegetable trimmings, fruit peels, eggshells and coffee grinds are not waste, but potential fertilizer for her garden. Throwing these kitchen rejects into a bag to put on the street would be the true waste. In this rubbish, she sees opportunity and in her need to reuse, she gets a little creative. Why not give your kitchen scraps a new purpose by finding alternatives to the waste bin? But how do us “city folk” embrace this organic spirit and turn our cuisine by-products into fruitful soil? It is actually quite easy. First, learn this song. Next, let nature lead the way and the microorganisms literally do the dirty work.


Before discussing how to compost, let’s first make sure we understand what ‘compost’ is and how it helps us. Compost is simply decomposed material - either plant or animal - that has reclaimed nutrients from the decaying matter. There are two key benefits to composting. The first is a benefit we all share - a reduced amount of waste. Obviously, the more we compost, the less we contribute to the cost of trash removal and the volume of solid materials in landfills - which is the scourge of our landscapes. The second benefit is for your garden, which ultimately contributes to a healthier and more sustainable home. Once you start producing fait maison compost you will increase the potential of your garden (with either the esthetically pleasing variety or the food-producing type) and decrease your reliance on expensive chemical fertilizers. Compost improves soil, which in turn supports healthier and more productive plants by providing essential nutrients for healthy growth. Compost also improves the soil’s structure, making it easier for soil to hold and use the right amount of moisture and air.

Starting the composting process is relatively easy. A day’s work, some Euros and a healthy dose of determination are all you need to get your fertilizer factory up and running! Let’s go through this step-by-step.

  • First, you need to select an outdoor space for your project. Choose a spot with direct exposure to sunlight but which is relatively protected from the elements.
  • Next, build or buy your structure (3x3x3 works best) and lay it on bare earth (this is important because it enables helpful insects to get in and breakdown the ingredients).
  • Finally, decide if you would like to be a passive or active composter. Essentially, this boils down to choosing whether or not you want to intervene with the decomposition process. All living material will eventually breakdown, given enough time, so as a passive composter you are only required to allow nature to take its course.

As an active composter, there are tasks to be done - but there are also faster results. A purposefully managed compost pile will produce fertilizer in about 3-4 weeks, whereas a passive pile generally takes about one year. Decide which method works best for you, but either way, you will reap the benefits of your efforts (more info available here).

Once your compost bin is ready to go and you have decided which type of composter you would like to be, you can begin adding material. Most of what you are going to use to create your planetary soup are material that you would have just originally thrown out (see the chart below), so rest assured this is an easy process. There are a few important tips to keep in mind though:

  • Anything that was once living is great for compost bins
  • Add compost materials in layers, alternating brown and green (see chart below)
  • Aerate regularly to increase the speed at which your compost is composting and decrease the smell (probably beneficial for both the active or the passive type)


Browns (materials that are rich in carbon)



Greens (materials that are rich in nitrogen)


Bread and grains

Fruit and vegetable scraps


Coffee grounds AND filters

Dried flowers

Tea bags

Egg shells

Flower bouquets

Fall leaves

Spoiled juice

Food-soiled cardboard (recycle if clean but compost if dirty)

Grass clippings, pruning’s, fresh leaves, weeds



Old potting soil

Green plants

Pine needles, small twigs, straw and hay


Sawdust/wood shavings

Cornstarch and other organic packing material

Shredded newspaper

Brewery waste


Your finished product will be about ˝ the size of the original pile and should look, feel and smell like rich dark soil. The final result should not resemble its original form, so if you can still see an apple it’s not ready yet! It is best to add finished compost to your garden about 2-4 weeks before you plant, so right about now, is a good time to start building your bins! Have fun watching nature takes it course and enjoy reaping the benefits of a healthy garden. Happy composting!

This article was originally published in the May 2011 edition of the Sunbeams Newsletter.

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