Fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags and the leftovers for which there is no room at the end of many an enjoyable meal: The more guests you entertain, the more waste there is to dispose of at the end of the day. But should it really all go into the organic waste garbage can?
Absolutely not: a composter will find room in even the smallest backyard and will turn kitchen waste into rich soil that you can use to provide valuable nutrients to the plants in your store.
In this article, we’ll show you how to create a compost pile in no time, how to care for it properly – and how to secure it against unpleasant odors and curious rodents with a few simple tricks.
How Is Compost Actually Made?
Before you set out to create a compost in your backyard with our little tutorial, there’s one thing you really need to know: What’s going on inside a compost pile isn’t rotting, it’s decomposing – and yes, that’s an important distinction, because your nose is the very quickest way to tell if things are going right in your compost.
Rotting is a decomposition process that happens everywhere in nature: Beneficial microorganisms such as worms, insects and microorganisms eat dead plant parts and turn them into humus, the nutrient-rich top layer of soil in which plants grow particularly well. Because compost is basically nothing more than purposefully produced humus, it smells like fresh forest soil.
But that should be the only smell your compost pile gives off: anything else is a sign that the waste is not composting properly. This is the fault of putrefactive bacteria, which also break down plant debris but produce foul-smelling byproducts such as sulfuric or butyric acid. These bacteria like it warm, dark and, above all, anaerobic – which means they can only survive where there is no oxygen.
The good news? A well-maintained compost doesn’t give these bacteria a chance.
It doesn’t take much time or money to start a compost: a suitable container, a square meter of space in your backyard and your kitchen scraps are all you need – and once you know what to do and in what order, your composter will also be ready to go within fifteen minutes.
Find The Right Location
In order to compost your kitchen scraps quickly and without odor, you should also place your compost in the right spot – because location really makes a lot of difference here. Ideally, a shady or at least semi-shady spot that is protected from rain and allows you to pile up your compost with a little distance to surrounding hedges or garbage cans.
If there is always a bit of a draft around your composter, the cooling and oxygen will make it difficult for the aforementioned rotting bacteria to colonize your compost. In addition, a well-ventilated location will ensure that your compost dries out quickly after rain. This is especially important in the summer months, as a warm, humid climate increases the risk of rot.
In addition, your compost should be placed directly on top of the soil whenever possible. That way, worms, insects and all the other beneficial microorganisms can reach it much more easily. If you only have a little bit of paved backyard in the middle of town, that doesn’t matter: just pile a few shovels of fresh meadow or forest soil at the bottom of the bin to give your compost a little jump start.
Decide On Your Compost Bin
To help aerate deeper layers, most compost bins are open on the sides. However, there are also smaller bins that are closed all around. These so-called rapid composters intentionally generate heat to speed up the creation of compost. However, this also has a major disadvantage: in the closed composter, the optimal mixing ratio of your waste is much more important, because even small mistakes quickly turn into unpleasant odors here.
For this reason, it is advisable to first develop a certain routine in feeding and maintaining your compost pile before you venture into your first quick composter. To get started, open models are simply more practical because you can quickly see – and more importantly, smell – whether everything is rotting as it should.
Now, if you’re worried about an open compost attracting rats or other rodents: There’s an easy way to prevent that. For one thing, you have the option of lining your slatted composter with chicken wire or using a close-meshed metal composter directly. On the other hand – and this is actually even more important than an access barrier – you can also ensure through the composition of your waste that rats do not find anything in it that they like.
Which brings us to the third and final step of your preparations:
Create A Scraps Plan For Your Kitchen
In principle, all organic products are compostable – but not all of them are equally suitable. You will achieve the best results if you make your compost exclusively from untreated plant residues. Organic fruit and vegetable scraps, as well as bagasse packaging, are compostable and will find a place in your compost. However, since smaller pieces decompose more quickly, it’s handy to tear bagasse packaging into pieces before disposing of it, and cut larger scraps – such as a head of lettuce gone bad – in half or quarters first.
To ensure that nothing in your workday makes its way to the compost that doesn’t belong there, it’s also important to create a leftover plan for your kitchen that reminds you and your team to sort out three groups of foods as non-compostable:
Fruit treated with pesticides decomposes very slowly. To prevent unsightly residue and rotting spots in what should be finished compost, it’s best to throw only organic fruits into the composter.
Cooked food, as well as fish, meat, cheese and fat attract rats and therefore do not belong in the compost under any circumstances.
Coffee and tea contain many nutrients, but also have a very low pH. If you put too much of it in your compost, you’ll acidify it – and that means many plants won’t be able to grow in it. Coffee grounds and tea leaves should therefore end up in the composter only rarely and in small quantities.
However, this does not mean that all this kitchen waste belongs in the residual waste: If you dispose of them in the green garbage can, they are safe from rodents and can make a valuable contribution to the energy transition as a raw material for biogas.
Ready, Steady – Grow: This Is How You Get The Finished Soil Out Of The Composter
Pick up the shovel and start composting now.
To ensure that your waste composts properly, you should turn it at least once a year. To do this, simply put your compost, scoop by scoop, into a compost screen from the hardware store: the fine, plant-ready soil will fall through the mesh and what gets stuck in the screen will simply go back into the composter.
The best time to turn your compost is in late spring, when it’s just getting warm. On the one hand, digging thoroughly also ensures that the layers in the composter are mixed and supplied with plenty of oxygen: This really gets your compost going again, just in time for the start of the warm season.
On the other hand, your composter also provides you with a nutrient-rich fertilizer when you move it in the spring. And whether you use it to feed the vegetable plants in your greenhouse at home, plant fresh herbs for your kitchen in the raised bed in the backyard, or turn your beer garden into a green oasis, summer can come.