How to Compost in 6 Steps

Winter has only recently softened into spring in the Northeast, but the urge to get our hands into the dirt is strong. As any gardener can tell you, one of the most valuable tools for a successful harvest or a vibrantly healthy lawn is nutrient-rich compost. It’s like an organic multi-purpose vitamin for your plants!

This week, we’re celebrating International Compost Awareness Week with @compostFdn - Learn how compost can help save the Earth – and your garden! #cabotcheese Click To Tweet

There are lots of benefits to making it in your own backyard composting system (see below), but you can also buy it from your local gardening center or hardware store. Whichever you do, you are contributing to the cycle of sustainability by recycling potentially wasted resources into what some call black gold.

Several Cabot farm families produce compost on their farms, which they sell to neighbors within their communities. The Fosters of Middlebury, Vermont have even built one of the Northeast’s larger manure-based compost companies.

Bob Foster, who was recently inducted into Vermont’s Agricultural Hall of Fame following in the footsteps of his father and uncles, is very proud of his family’s pioneering sustainability efforts. What is composting? “The whole concept is to close the loop,” he says. “I enjoy the thought that we are converting solar energy into food, fiber and energy to nourish animals, plants, and people.”

Seven members of the fourth and fifth generation work together on Foster Brothers Farm and at the family-owned company called Vermont Natural Ag Products, which produces and markets a line of gardening and landscaping products. Their signature product is MooDoo® organic, composted cow manure.

In addition to sourcing waste from their own dairy herd, the Fosters recycle manure from other farms and partner with the local solid waste district to use the community’s food scraps and leaf and yard waste diverted from the landfill. “Part of it is using materials other people call waste. We’re helping the environment as well as ourselves,” Bob says. “In the current lexicon, it’s what they call sustainable,” he adds with a chuckle.

When you compost at home, you can make an important contribution to sustainability, too.

Why is composting sustainable?

As much as 40% of the food produced in the world goes to waste. This is not only a waste of food and money, but also of all the natural and human resources it takes to make that food, as well as valuable and scarce landfill space. And, contrary to what many people think, food waste will not decompose in the landfill; instead, it rots very slowly and emits a significant amount of methane, a potent, destructive greenhouse gas.

How to learn more about composting:

It’s pretty simple, we promise. A good way to start learning how to make compost is by trying this activity Cabot created as part of our Scout and youth group patch program.

The Sustainability Patch: Cabot’s Small Steps Toward Sustainability is a free educational patch program that teaches kids how they can help make their homes and communities more sustainable. Among the activities is one that lets kids explore composting. It teaches the science behind composting, what food and yard waste can be composted, and even how to make your own micro composter! Click here to learn more about this program.

Ready, set, compost!

1) Determine your Composting Goal

First, ask yourself:

  • “Do I want to create compost for my garden?” If yes, then follow steps for Six Easy Steps to Compost for your Garden
  • Or, “Do I want to simply divert food scraps form the landfill?” If yes, then read Green Cone Composting.

Another helpful tool!

Don’t want to keep running to the back yard as you cook…no problem! Our friends and fellow B Corp Full Circle have an odor-free kitchen compost collector that lets you collect your compost scraps right in your kitchen for your next trip outside.

2) Figure out your Composting Style

The Minimalist Composter: Pile in the yard compost

The DIY Composter Enclosed Bins: Homemade open compost bins

The Hands-Off Composter: An enclosed compost bin

The Action Composter: A tumbler or spinning compost bin

3) Six Easy Steps to Compost for your Garden

1. Select an open, sun-filled spot

2. Place composter on the ground (no digging necessary) or build DIY compost bins

3. Collect food scraps from your kitchen and empty into composter (greens)

4. Add your carbon such as sticks, leaves, dried grass, sawdust, wood chips, fibers (browns)

5. Stir with a stick or shovel so that compost is being aerated and brown and green materials mix

6. Pull nutrient rich garden compost out and use it on your flowers, veggies, and more!

4) Steps to use Green Cone Composting for recycling food scraps (but not produce garden compost)

1. Select a sunny spot where you can dig into the ground

2. Dig according to manufacturer’s instructions to bury the bottom section of the composter

3. Add greens and only greens – but all of them (yup, animal waste included)

4. Watch as the Green Cone safely uses solar heating to digest up to 11 pounds of food waste a week. And, because over 90% of the waste material gets absorbed as water by the soil, you only need to clean once every few years!

5) Composting Essentials and Concerns

Carbon is key! You NEED carbon in your compost; this is what keeps it from being a pile of rotting food. Carbon = no offensive smell; no rodents or animals; no leaky, yucky mess. Carbon is found in what composters call ‘brown’ materials: leaves, fruit waste, corn stalks. Nitrogen comes from the ‘green’ materials: grass clippings, veggie scraps and other food waste like coffee grounds. A good rule of thumb is to aim for three parts carbon to one part nitrogen.

Compost should not attract rodents and other animals. This is only the case when there is too much moisture or too much nitrogen (green). Specifically, to avoid problems with bears in your area, increase the amount of brown materials in the compost. Cover kitchen scraps (green material) with brown material after they are added and turn your compost to allow oxygen and prevent strong odors.

It shouldn’t smell terribly bad. If it does, there is probably too much moisture and/or lack of oxygen; it needs to be turned. It is commonly misunderstood that cheese and other dairy products cannot be composted; however, they can in moderate quantities.

In summary: Browns + Greens + Sun/Heat + Stir = Healthy Compost!

Let the Gardens Begin!

If you’re getting your garden ready for the season, head over to MooDoo® for some tips. 

More Reasons to Compost

The nonprofit Compost Foundation, which supports International Compost Awareness Week May 3 to May 9, offers more reasons why composting will help the Earth.

This post was originally posted on 6/21/16 and updated on 5/4/20.

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