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Breaking It Down: A Guide to Composting for Beginners

Posted November 11, 2020

The other day I was browsing social media when I scrolled to a post from a friend about grass clippings. He was asking for advice on what to do with them since the city landfill doesn’t accept yard waste. My first thought was, “compost them!” but he commented that he had “no use for compost.” That got me thinking. If you don’t have a garden or personal need for compost, why would you bother? And what other reasons are keeping people from joining the composting movement?

To answer this question, I thought back to my own experience before I started composting. For me, it came down to a lack of understanding of the importance of composting, not just for my benefit, but for the environment. It was also an intimidating process for me since I knew so little about it, but it doesn’t have to be for you.

Let’s start with the Basics: What is Compost?

Compost is decomposed organic matter that makes a great fertilizer for plants. The process of composting is an aerobic method, which means it requires the presence of air to decompose organic solid waste.

To work effectively, composting organisms require four equally important ingredients:

  1. Carbon (Browns): provides energy
  2. Nitrogen (Greens): assists in growing and reproducing more organisms to oxidize the carbon
  3. Oxygen: oxidizes the carbon, which facilitates the decomposition process
  4. Water: helps with decomposition and keeps the pile’s temperature regulated

Environmental Benefits of Composting

The benefits of composting go far beyond creating nutrient-rich fertilizer for your flower and vegetable gardens. Composting diverts organic waste from landfills, where it lacks the oxygen needed to safely decompose. When organic matter gets trapped in landfills, that lack of oxygen in the surrounding environment causes it to break down and release methane gas—a greenhouse gas roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 22 percent of what goes into municipal landfills is food waste. Much of this organic material could be composted and returned to the earth. While not all food waste should be composted, a lot of what gets tossed in the trash could be added to your compost bin.

What Can You Compost?

  • Kitchen scraps such as vegetables, eggshells, fruit peelings, and coffee grounds
  • Garden and yard material such as grass clippings, leaves, annual plants, and vegetables
  • Manure from plant-eating animals only (NOT from household pets)
  • Cardboard (including the GEOBIN box)

What Shouldn’t You Compost?

  • Meat scraps can attract flies and maggots and slow down the composting process.
  • Dairy can attract unwanted pests.
  • Cooking oil can attract unwanted pests and upset the compost’s moisture balance.
  • Bread products can attract unwanted pests.

Maintaining a Balanced Compost Pile

When creating your compost, you want to maintain a ratio of 3 parts brown material to 1 part green material. This will ensure that you’ve got the right balance of carbon and nitrogen. Brown materials are rich in carbon and include straw/hay, wood chips, cardboard, and dry leaves. Green materials are rich in nitrogen and include grass clippings, coffee grounds, crushed eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps, and trimmings from perennial and annual plants.

Layer your brown and green material and add water as necessary during drier times. If you begin to notice an unpleasant odor coming from your compost, that may mean you have too much nitrogen. This can be remedied by mixing in some dried leaves, straw, or another carbon-rich material you have on hand.

Depending on the type of compost bin you choose, you will periodically need to turn the pile to aid aeration.

The GEOBIN® Composting System Is Perfect for Beginners

Now that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to start composting. With its easy, 3-step setup, the GEOBIN Composter is a great compost bin for beginners. The GEOBIN has excellent ventilation, which helps speed up decomposition with little effort.

The GEOBIN Composter is expandable up to 3.75 feet (216 gallons), allowing it to grow with your compost pile. It’s also the most affordable composting system on the market, allowing you to get started with a smaller investment.