There is composting, and then there is vermiculture.
Composting for us means a large pile down below our house in our hilly backyard that is a) fenced in, b) a menagerie of veggie & fruit & other compostables + yard cuttings, and c) free to compost at its own rate with periodic turning.
Vermiculture is using a container + worms to get that rich, wonderful black dirt. Two of my sisters do it this way as they have smaller space considerations than we do. It goes to show that you can compost regardless of your home/yard size!
1) Getting started.
First off, determine how much space you have, and how much time and material you want to devote to composting. Is this a large project to feed your large garden? Is this to cut down on garbage? Is this to fulfill your “green” conscience guidelines? Do you want a garbage can out back? Do you want an entire fenced-off area? Do you want to build a container? Do you want a fancy composter?
2) Gather your supplies.
Whether it be a self-built container, a fenced-off area (like us), or a store-bought container, set up your compost area. Don’t forget you also need a designated compost trash bin in your kitchen space. Something with holes is nice so the stuff can breathe indoors and not smell terribly badly. Consider which size is appropriate, remembering that the larger it is, the less frequently you will empty it. Also remember to cover that baby up!
Container, indoor & outdoor. Check.
3) Input your compost.
What do you put into your compost? The EPA has a good list on its website, but here’s our quick & dirty list:
a) veggie/fruit scraps;
b) paper towels;
c) egg shells;
d) coffee & tea grounds;
e) newspaper (shredded);
f) lawn clippings, weeds, and clipped branches.
You want there to be a good ratio of “green” to “brown.” Green being nitrogen-rich material and brown being carbon-rich material. Layer it, alternating between the two. Turn the pile, occasionally if you desire, or just let it decompose at its own rate. Water it if there’s no rain, ensuring it is spongy but not soggy.
Don’t add cheese, meat, grain, or dairy products as that attracts animals in a more enthusiastic way than the veggie/fruit scraps do.
4) When is it done cooking?
You’ll know it when it’s done because it looks like really rich crumbly soil with tiny white flecks. The goods are always at the bottom of the pile, so shove your spade in there to find it. The top always looks like your garbage disposal, so look deeper for hidden treasures.
I haul the cooked compost (fertilizer!) out in buckets up to the garden and give everything a nice fertilizer pat every once and a while. It is so rich! And the plants and herbs seem to eat it right now. Literally.
Vermiculture is its own beast and involves getting those lovely worms (one sister got hers in the mail . . .eeek!!). As we don’t do it ourselves, I defer to the world wide web to inform you: here, here, and here.
Compost! It cuts down on garbage, is awesomely natural, and can fertilize your garden. It’s easy and very low cost.