Compost Bins, Part Two: Fill 'Em Up!

April 20, 2017

There are actually 2 kinds of composting; “hot” composting and “cold” composting. Cold composting is the kind that takes place naturally in, say, a forest. Leaves and things fall to the forest floor, get decomposed by worms, insects and weather, and never really reach temperatures above the ambient air. It takes a looong time. Our goal is to speed up the process dramatically, and to do that we need to do ”hot” composting, which requires a larger bin (which we talked about last time) that is properly filled.

Hot Composting Explained

In hot composting, the micro-bugs that will be doing the work need a good combination of green and brown plant material, as well as water and air. When combined properly, the composting pile can reach temperatures of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and can achieve complete composting in a matter of just a few weeks!

Experienced composters say you need a minimum of 1 cubic foot of material to reach critical mass. More is better, but try to start with at least this much material. And since all of the necessary microorganisms are plentiful in nature, you don’t need to worry about adding any of them yourself, just the “browns” and “greens.” However, it would give your pile a good kick-start if you added a shovelful of soil in the beginning. 

What's a Brown or Green?

Composting photo by Kathleen Walters Photography

Add a mix of one part “green” material, like kitchen vegetable scraps and lawn clippings, etc., to four parts of “brown” material, like last year’s dry leaves (preferably shredded) from the yard. The green materials are high in nitrogen and provide protein for the bugs, while brown materials are high in carbon and provide energy and air space. Of course, some greens, like rinds and seeds, are much harder to decompose than others, so you may want to stay away from them for your first try. Mix the materials thoroughly, and add just enough water to make it hold together when squeezed with your hand, about like a damp sponge would be.

That’s it! Keep the mixed composting material in a pile in your bin, and do not add to it! You might be tempted to toss in fresh material from the kitchen, but remember: rapid composting requires heat, which is generated and stored within the pile. Every time you add new material to it, you are essentially resetting the clock to day 1, greatly lengthening the time it will take to finish the process. This is a great reason to actually have two bins; one that is being left to “work”, and another to put your fresh material into. 

Next time, we’ll finish our Composting 101 series with how to care for your composting bin and materials during the summer.

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