What is the best composting method?
Gardeners have argued this question for many a season, and yet it seems we are left with more questions than answers. Are worm farms better than compost heaps? Are compost tumblers worth the money? What is the right browns to greens ratio?
I believe the answer is simple.
There is no ONE composting method that is best.
Rather than giving in to the natural human urge to rank things, and to choose only from the “best” at the top, allow yourself to think outside the box… or bin, as it were. 🙂
A combination of strategies is likely the best way to divert your yard waste and kitchen scraps from the landfill and turn them into black gold for your plants.
Rather than choosing a one “best” method, why not let all of them work for you as a team?
My 4-Point Composting System
I use a 4 point system for integrating waste back into the soil; a large ComposTumbler, two indoor worm bins, an outdoor pile, and mulching.
I like the tumbler because it deters rats and pests, and gives me an easy way to turn and aerate up to 40 bushels of material.
I like the worm bin because I can use it year-round.
I like the outdoor pile because earthworms come in and help the process.
I like the mulching method because it’s efficient and easy.
Whenever I mow the lawns (I do my neighbors as well for the free grass clippings), I mix the clippings with about twice as many brown leaves or wood chips and throw them in the tumbler, watering as needed to keep it moist. This along with the tumbling effect produces a very nice compost fairly rapidly.
During the growing season, I also treat the tumbler like a bottomless waste can, adding kitchen scraps the worms can’t eat, weeds I’ve pulled, prunings, etc. I empty it as needed and use it as mulch, or add it to the pile if it is still too rough.
At the end of the growing season, I empty my tumbler so that it doesn’t have material sitting in it and contributing to its tendency to rust. I take the grass clippings and fallen leaves and put them in a pile in the corner of my garden for the worms to work on.
Additionally, I have enough material from mowing and shredding leaves to put down a nice layer of mulch in all my beds to keep the plants cozy all winter and give them a boost of nutrients in spring. It has a good ratio of c:n, so it breaks down well and the plants love it. I simply empty the lawnmower bag right into the beds.
The indoor worm bin gets specific types of kitchen scraps, cardboard boxes, and occasionally some of the shredded leaves from the yards.
I do recommend caution using material from outside in the indoor worm bin because you can end up with pest bugs like centipedes that are harmful to your worms.
The bin is emptied twice a year and I re-start the worms in a mix of coconut coir with cardboard and plenty of green scraps for them to eat.
This 4-point system means that organic waste has somewhere to go year-round and that I am always converting waste into that which can support new life. I learn from Gaia every season and intend to keep tweaking the system as needed, but for now, it’s great! I don’t need to buy many inputs for the garden, and I hope to arrive at zero inputs very soon.
Once I reach the abundant state of having more compost than my garden needs, I will simply share it 🙂
How to Get Started Composting
Getting started can be as simple as collecting your kitchen scraps in a countertop bin and periodically burying them in your garden beds.
Keep in mind that actively decaying material will impede root growth of plants, so you may want to dig a trench beside your plants for the scraps, or bury them in an area that will not be planted right away.
Take Your Composting to the Next Level
To step up your game, you could buy a compost tumbler, or even make your own from pallets or plastic bins.
If you want to speed up your composting process and prevent off odors, be sure to set up and maintain the proper carbon to nitrogen ratio in your composting material. The microbes that turn plant matter into rich compost like a ratio of 30:1, or 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
Here are some examples of the C:N ratio of common compost ingredients:
Carbon: Nitrogen Ratio
|Coffee grounds and food waste||20:1|
One Step at a Time
All this information might feel like too much to take in and use right now, and that’s totally okay.
The idea is to just start somewhere without overthinking it too much, and then tweak your system over time until it suits your needs.
Trying to set up the “perfect” system from day one will have you stuck in procrastination and overwhelm, heading to the local nursery to buy expensive bags of compost.
Whether you do it perfectly or not, Mother Nature will do her thing, and you will eventually have compost.
Take a look at the supplies you have on hand, or can easily obtain from a local resource, and begin your first composting effort from there. You can do it!