There are many facets to living Green that, at first glance, seem a little annoying or even outright preposterous. Why exactly should I pay substantially more for a light bulb that looks like a curly fry if my neighbor is already doing it? Is it really that important that I resize all my doors and windows, and install bamboo instead of hardwood floors? Well, the light bulbs are, at the end of the day, easy to replace and last longer, so it’s worth it in the long run. As for the bamboo and the house-wide resizing, they really are for the best but aren’t urgent and do require some planning.
In between these two ends of the Green-living spectrum lies the relatively simple act of composting, which, despite its reputation as an activity solely for those with dreadlocks and more than one piece of Phish merchandise, is a hugely beneficial practice that takes very little time to enact and keep up. For gardening enthusiasts and anyone even remotely interested in sustainable living, it should be a no-brainer. Oh, and did I mention it’s incredibly simple?
So, what is a compost pile? To put it simply, it’s waste, piled on top of waste, for the purpose of making the waste usable. Most of this is natural waste: dead leaves, branches, twigs, grass clippings, fruit scraps, old vegetables, vegetable waste and, lastly, coffee grounds. The committed composter maintains a healthy, even balance between the “brown” (leaves, branches, twigs) and the “green” (everything else), and regularly waters the pile. This makes an ideal mixture of carbon and nitrogen, which are the major elements in compost.
Keeping up an ideal level may not be easy for most people, but as in most things, one need not be ideal in practice to see results. Set your compost pile or bin in a dry, shady spot in your backyard. Place it as close to a water supply as possible, as you will want to moisten the materials as you add them; it’s even suggested that you place a tarp over the pile or bin to ensure the mix will remain moist.
Whenever adding new materials, try to break down larger pieces into much smaller material, through shredding or other means; this will help ensure healthy, regular breakdown throughout the pile. And, if possible, the top of the pile should be mostly “brown” material. Mix the material regularly, either with a pitchfork, a shovel or even your hands and make sure to put fruit waste about a foot beneath the top of the pile, as well as grass clippings. Mixing should occur about 3-4 times a month to distribute air and moisture.
The bad news is that compost can take up to 18 months to reach its desired state, but this is only in rare cases. Most of the time, if you tend to it correctly, the process of composting should be ready in 2-6 months. When the bottom of the pile is a dark, damp color, you’re ready to use your compost, whether it be for agriculture, horticulture or even to lessen the impact of erosion on topsoil. There are various things that should not be put into compost (diseased plants, pet waste, lawn waste treated with pesticides recently) and a little research will provide a longer list of these things to watch out for. But even with stipulations, the act of composting offers several beneficial results, not the least of which is healthy soil for gardening, regular, if minor exercise and a simple way to help the earth with little to no damage done to your wallet.