What I’ve Learned About Compost So Far

Back in May, Rosario Dawson, Amy Smart, Adrian Grenier, Kendrick Sampson, Paul Blackthorne, & Kiss the Ground, a non-profit in Los Angeles, worked together to get the word out about how composting restores the cycle of life. They made the incredibly helpful graphic above!

They also had a Compost Challenge for International Compost Awareness Week! There were daily challenges, but the big one was to post a short video or photo of you doing something off of the following list with your left over food scraps.

Each of the options on the list are great places to put your food scraps so they will return back to the earth and become nutrient-rich soil to grow more plants, instead of a landfill trash where they become methane gas.

 

SOME COMPOSTING OPTIONS:

  • storing your food scraps in the freezer (so they don’t smell) until you’re ready to compost them
  • adding food scraps to your green or brown bin from the city
  • donating your food scraps to an community organization, farmer’s market or restaurant that accepts compost if you don’t have the space
  • adding food scraps to your outdoor or indoor worm bin
  • adding food scraps to an indoor bokashi compost bucket (more info below)
  • putting your food scraps and brown compostable waste outside in a compost pile, turning plastic composter, homemade compost trashcan, or fenced in compost area

Fellow soil lovers shared their Compost Stories with Kiss the Ground on social media and it let me see how to make it easier for myself and see how there are so many different ways to do it. It was very helpful and inspiring to hear, and see, other people’s ways of composting! Here is my compost story:

 

COMPOST STORY PART 1 | THE HOLLYWOOD ORCHARD COMPOST PILE

May 10, 2017 The Hollywood Orchard made a big compost pile this morning! (It’s even taller in the shadows.) A mix of:

  • local rabbit poo
  • local horse poo
  • fruit & veggie fiber remains from a juicery
  • straw
  • clipped up loquat tree trimmings
  • dry leaves from a yard

…all in thin repeating layers that were gently watered the whole time.

The pile will get hot even by tomorrow! We are prepping for when the Cheremoya school kids to come visit the Orchard in Beachwood Canyon in two days. We’ll put a potato and deep in the pile tonight to cook & show them how hot it gets inside! And randomly, all of this happens to coincide with International Compost Awareness Week! #hotpotato

A few years ago, a farmer friend of mine had taught me that compost piles get hot and they are actually cooking the carbon-rich brown & nitrogen-rich green scraps. They get so hot that the bad bacteria, bugs and any rodents who smell tasty treats inside the pile can’t live in there anymore. A pile covered in winter snow will still cook inside and sometimes steam will still rise off of the covering snow! When it’s done, there will be only good bacteria and healthy, nutrient-rich compost.

 

COMPOST PILE INFO

Participating in making and flipping the Hollywood Orchard compost pile over the past few months, I’m getting to learn even more fun things about composting!

  • If there is too much green, it will get very stinky. Add brown.
  • “Green” is anything with moisture. It can be any color.
  • “Brown” is anything dry.
  • No meat, dairy, fish, or animal food oils can go in the compost.
  • Pet waste is bad because sometimes it has bacteria that can survive the heat of the pile.
  • It’s important to cover the pile at the end with a layer of only brown in order to keep the smell enclosed.
  • Make sure the yard trimmings (fresh grass, brown leaves, etc) come from a yard that doesn’t use pesticides.
  • We chop up twigs and branches with shears before adding them to the pile. Making everything into smaller pieces helps the pile digest more quickly and easily, like chewing for our tummies.
  • Each time we made layers of the ingredients, we mixed them together with a pitch-forky hoe. I’m sure that’s the proper name for it. Then we’d make another set of layers and mix them and so on. Doing it slowly like this makes sure it’s thoroughly mixed and also lets it get really tall because the water gets in there and helps hold it together.
  • Without watering each layer, it apparently doesn’t cook!
  • One cubic yard is the magic size for the pile to really heat up.
  • Whatever size it starts out, it will end up being much smaller when it’s done. (Sort of like cooking fresh spinach.)
  • We’ll go back and turn or flip the pile 3-4 more times before it’s done.
  • To “turn” the pile, have a second space as large as the one the compost is in where you can put the pile. (We moved it from the left space where the pitchfork is to the right.) I thought we would flip it in place, which seemed hard, messy and confusing. Putting it next to where it was, made it so easy to flip! That may seem obvious to some, but living in apartments for most of my life apparently has made my brain not think of space as an option. This blew my mind, ha!
  • We shovel the top layer onto the empty spot and repeat the same watering/ mixing as we did for each layer before. The top layer will have cooked the least because it was exposed to the air. The inside will be more cooked, even ashy sometimes, or still steaming! When we flip the pile, the top layer becomes the bottom layer and the bottom becomes the top, so the whole thing will get a chance to cook evenly.
  • More new green or brown can be added in every time a pile is flipped.
  • A pile can be turned every three days to finish the project more quickly.
  • Turning it once a week is fine.
  • Turning it every 3 weeks or whenever is fine too, it’ll just take longer.
  • Horse poo really has a hard time breaking down. (Another gardening friend recently said that chicken poo or sheep poo work wonders! And cow poo, too, because their four stomachs break the food down more than a horse’s stomach does.)
  • If we see something that is stuck in a clump, we break it up with our hands.
  • Hollywood Orchard doesn’t worry about avocado pits or too much acidic fruits. It’ll all break down eventually.
  • If you can find a place to go watch someone do it, great!
  • Either way, let it be okay that trial and error is part of the exciting learning process!

 

COMPOST STORY PART 2 | OUR COMPOST BIN

May 11, 2017 This is Shane & I’s homemade compost bin! A trash can with drilled holes in it. We’ve had it for years, but as it filled, it was too heavy to rotate (aka roll around on the driveway)! And then we stopped adding brown stuff, so… whew! It is an intense/ rich/ thick pile of wet stuff. At the beginning of April, we started adding brown again though. But it’s still hard to truly mix the brown in to the bottom of the muck.

So we’re saving carbon-rich brown yard leaves, torn-up brown paper grocery bags, egg cartons, & toilet paper rolls to eventually mix with this nitrogen-rich giant wad of old food we have in our compost can. We’re either going to mix it in a fancy composter that we can turn easily, or build a pit topped with a raised-garden-bed-type box with cellar doors to keep out critters, or just find a spot to make a pile in the open, now that we saw how to do it at the Hollywood Orchard. Whatever we decide to do, our layers of carbon & nitrogen will be ready and abundant!

But in the meantime, we also made our own worm bin! Worms don’t need brown carbon like compost does, and since we naturally have more food scraps (which fall under “green”), a worm bin makes sense for us.

After the worms eat the food scraps, just their poo is left over (called “worm castings”) and it’s used to sprinkle on the soil around plants as a fertilizer! “Worm tea” can also be made by putting a glob of poo in some water, letting it sit for a few hours and then spraying in on the leaves of plants- they love it! In some worm bins, there is even a spout at the bottom to drain the “tea” directly. Don’t worry, people probably changed the names of the poo varieties to castings and tea because there is surprisingly nothing gross about earthworm poo. You can stick your face right near it and inhale deeply and it smells lovely! It’s as clean and refreshing to us as it is healing for the plants.

To Be Continued with our compost though… Excited to see what happens when we finally get to make proper compost with reeeeally old organic food…

 

COMPOST INGREDIENTS

Right now we only compost foods that are organic and other things that are chemical and pesticide free. Because of The Compost Challenge, we realized we were just throwing non-organic food in the trash and wasting it! So now we’re also starting to put non-organic food in our green bin to be composted by the city.

We keep our food scraps in our refrigerator before transferring them to the compost to avoid smells or a parade of ants. We need to get better tupperware for the fridge door to keep it all easily accessible and organized (Organic/ Non-organic/ Worm Bin). We keep the most chopped up and soft organic food in a separate tupperware for the worms. They like it. We also need to find inside-the-house storage for our new habit of keeping brown paper things for the compost.

As for non-food items, we’ve worked up to having all natural, basically edible, shampoo, conditioner and hair gel so that we can compost our hair with our organic compost. Hair is incredibly nitrogen-rich! So are our fingernails! So I don’t use any nail polish or nail polish remover and our body soap is also all-natural ingredients. So we can organic-compost our fingernails too! Fun fact: There are companies who even make hair-mats that cover the base of plants to keep moisture in and add nutrients!

I’m madly in love with the fact that what our body exhales (carbon dioxide) and sheds (nitrogen in the form of hair and nails) naturally feeds the plants and trees around us, and what the plants and trees exhale (oxygen) and shed (fruits & veggies) naturally feed us. How magical. (I even love mites- because they are eating our dead skin!) Imagining a world without this cycle of togetherness leaves me thinking of gross piles of hair and fingernails with no where to go! But in reality, it’s amazing! I technically have no excess, because it all has a place that helps the world in some way… Even the “gross” stuff becomes beautiful!

Here is a list of what we’ve been composting:

  • Fruits & veggies
  • Peels, skins & cores of fruits & veggies
  • Herbs & spices
  • Nutshells
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Egg shells
  • Pits & seeds
  • Grains & beans
  • Tea bags without the staples
  • Shredded brown paper bags, paper egg cartons, toilet paper rolls
  • Brown, dry leaves from our pesticide-free yard
  • Chemical-free hair
  • Chemical-free fingernails
  • Down feathers from the sofa or birds outside
  • Vacuum cleaner or sweeping dust (haven’t done this one yet, but want to!)
  • House plant leaves & cut flowers (for the green bin)
  • No meat, dairy or animal products (bones, butter, fish skins)

 

MORE COMPOST STORIES

I recommend searching the hashtag #compostlife or @kissthegroundca on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to indulge in the many compost stories there!

 

BOKASHI | COMPOSTING INDOORS & COMPOSTING MEAT & DAIRY

My favorite compost story video was of a guy in Hawaii who was playful and hilarious and simply showed a covered bucket and said, “This is BO-KAA-SHIEEE. It’s from Japan. It’s meat compost. Haven’t heard of it? It exists! That’s all I’m going to tell you. Look it up.” Ha! So I did! And now I know that meat, dairy & animal oils can be composted too! And we can compost inside!

Bokashi bucket composting is a type of composting that takes two weeks to ferment food, including meat & dairy. All kitchen scraps go into an airtight bucket with bokashi, a mix of wheat bran, molasses, and specific microorganisms such as yeasts, actinomycetes, lactic acid bacteria and photosynthesis bacteria. The good bacteria breaks down the food and the lack of oxygen keeps the bad bacteria from growing. It’s essentially pickled compost.

Japan has done it for hundreds of years, but recently a professor clarified the exact ratio and type of microbes needed to make it safe, which allowed the practice to reach more people. Once the microbes in the bucket have made it safe, it’s added to soil or compost outside and soil microbes finish the process. Pretty neat! For fellow curious friends, here is a site where bokashi microbes and buckets are for sale and this site has great frequently asked questions about bokashi.

 

HEALTHY SOIL

Kiss the Ground also made this deliciously passionate video about how to keep our soil healthy with compost and how when carbon is in the air, it’s bad, but in the ground, it nourishes life:

They followed up with a graphic that shows the intricacies of what the soil is doing:

 

KISS THE GROUND’S COMPOST STORY | SCHOOL MATERIALS

Their Compost Story video below also extends into the details of why composting is important. Many school teachers shared it with their classes during the Compost Challenge. I thought that was so cool! Kiss the ground also has a lot of other wonderful composting posters, tools, and content on thecompoststory.com & kisstheground.com.

 

Thanks for listening. I would love to hear your compost story if you feel like sharing!

 

RESOURCES

More ideas for what to compost: https://www.planetnatural.com/composting-101/making/what-to-use/

Purchase a bokashi bucket & microbes: http://www.bokashicycle.com/howitworks.html

FAQs about bokashi: https://www.gardensfromgarbage.org/home/faq_about_bokashi_composting

The Hollywood Orchard: https://www.hollywoodorchard.org

The Hollywood Orchard’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HollywoodOrchard/

Kiss the Ground: http://www.kisstheground.com

Kiss the Ground’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kissthegroundCA

The Compost Story: https://www.thecompoststory

Very interesting article about how NYC is starting to compost: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/06/02/nyregion/compost-organic-recycling-new-york-city.html?_r=0&referer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mindbodygreen.com%2Farticles%2F6-things-you-need-to-know-today-april-7-2017%3Futm_source%3Dmbg&utm_medium=email&utm_content=daily&utm_campaign=170606

 

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