Behold the black gold of farming, compost. It fertilizes the plant, acts as a mulch and reduces organic waste at home. Heck, composting doesn’t just reduce waste, it creates a new wonderful product that would benefit your plant tremendously. It’s the circle of life, from death come life, from destruction comes creation. Life and death are not the starting point and ending point respectively, they flow into each other. Of course, unless you are talking about non-biodegrable products like plastics which are one-way street in life. Anyway, before I get too sentimental about composting and angsty about plastics, let’s get to the practicalities.
What is compost?
Compost is decayed organic material that could be used as a fertilizer. It is generally created through 2 categories of organic matters: the browns and the greens.
Browns: High in carbon, I refer to them as “dryness”. E.g. dead leaves, egg cartons, twigs, newspaper. Too much of this and the composting becomes very slow. Too little of this, the compost pile might starts to smell.
Greens: High in nitrogen, I refer to them as “freshness”. E.g. fresh vegetables scraps, young seedlings, hair, fur, grass clippings. Too much of this and the composting might become too wet and smelly. Too little of this, the compost would take a long time to rot.
So you see, the browns and greens really have different functions during the process of composting but both are necessary in order to have a mixture of nutrients available in the compost.
So what would be the proportion of browns and greens?
Composting is not an exact science, it is a natural process that happens. You could find website giving you the desired proportions of browns and greens but it is just a general guideline. For me, initially I would put in a higher amount of browns. After that, I would usually only add kitchen waste. As and when it starts to become really wet and smell funky, I would add in more brown products. It’s not a millionaire questions which you have too much to lose, so you might as well enjoy the process and learn to “feel” your compost pile. Compost is afterall a living organism. If you never learn to feel your pile, it is alright, they would always give you a jerk through your smell anyway.
Nice to hear, but really, are you going to talk about the 5 steps already?
Alright, here it is.
1) Preparing your compost bin
Firstly, get a container with lid of your desired size. I use an old rice container. Next, drill holes at the bottom of the pail for air ventilation and for water to flow out. I drill 20 – 30 holes for my container. The lid would help to prevent pest and keep the smell in.
2) Preparing a spot
Choose a spot along the walkway to place your compost bin. Ideally, the bin should always be in shade and not obstruct the walkway. Place a pot of soil to collect the water that flows out of the compost bin. This would help to make the soil fertile. Do not collect the water. Firstly it might smell, secondly, if you have forgotten to use it, it might encourage the breeding of mosquitoes. The egg would hatch into larvae within 48 hours in still water. Insects are cool but you really wouldn’t like it when you get a fine for storing stagnant water.
3) Gathering your ‘browns’ and ‘greens’
I love this part. For the browns, I would shred the newspaper, tear out some cardboard and egg cartons and collect dead leaves from the park. For the greens, just any vegetables scraps from the home kitchen and the cafe I am volunteering at. It is not advisable to put cooked food, meat, dairy products, bones, household pets manure and diseased plants into the pile. Food as per mention would smell and attract animals while the manure and diseased plants might introduce pathogens and harmful bacteria into your compost, subsequently into your vegetables if not treated properly.
4) Putting it all together, letting it compost
I usually tear up the the browns into a separate pail. Then I would put in some brown with the greens into the compost bin and stir them. I would repeat the process until I am satisfy with the way they are mix. (Refer to the compost photo above) Add some soil to introduce more microorganism into your pile and give it a good water down before stirring it for the last time. If you want a faster yet relatively odourless process, make sure your greens and browns are in small pieces but still with ventilation holes here and there within the pile.
5) Taking care of your compost
A compost is a living organism. Actually, it consists of a lot of living organims: worms, microbes and sometimes fungi. But I haven’t seen much activity of fungi in the bin, they usually appear when I use the compost as mulch. You have to make sure that your compost doesn’t get too dry or too wet. It is recommended to use a squeeze test, if you could squeeze out a few drops of water from the mix, it is good. If it is too dry, you could add more greens and/or water it down. If it is too wet, add more browns and give it a good stir. I’ll give my compost a good stir every morning. Sometimes I separate it into two separate pails and swap their position in the compost bin so that the compost that is originally at the bottom (and usually getting moist) would now be on top. And the compost that is on top, which is composting slower, would now be at the bottom. From time to time, you would have to add more stuffs as you would notice that the level of the content decreases drastically.
Other than that, there is really nothing much to do about the compost except to let nature takes its course and enjoy the process of checking how your compost is doing daily. I really love doing this but of course it is fine if you just want to check on your compost and give it a stir every once a week. Just be aware that it might smell and take a longer time.
There are still many things I would love to share about composting in HDB, troubleshooting your compost pile and how I would use them. But I shall stay true to my title, “5 simple steps to composting” and not digress, although that is what I love to do. If you want to find out more, keep a look out for my next post on how to use the compost and some additional tips. Till then, I hope you would start composting and find joy in it. Let me know if you do also share my love of composting. The soft mushy touch and sometimes you get to tear things apart, how nice isn’t it?