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Composting Guide

Ohio University is home to the largest-in vessel composting system at any college or university in the nation!

We currently produce Class II Compost and Class IV Compost. Food waste generated in the dining halls on  on campus is taken to this facility where it is processed into nutrient rich soil amendment and then used on campus grounds and sold to the public.  Learn more about this system and how to purchase soil amendment.


Basic Compmosting Information

Compost energizes the soil food web, which is made up of microscopic bacteria and fungi, along with earthworms, crickets, and many other life forms. Many fungi form symbiotic, or mutually rewarding, partnerships with plant roots, making it possible for vegetables to feed themselves more efficiently. Research shows that compost enhances the ability of tomatoes and other vegetables to stand up to common diseases and may improve their flavor and nutrition, too. Compost also helps the soil retain moisture. Through composting you enhance your garden's ability to grow healthy plants while reducing your volume of trash.  Learn more about composting.


Composting for your Backyard

You can buy a backyard bin from your local hardware store or create your own. Here are some tips to get started on backyard composting:

  • Transfer the organic waste from your kitchen compost pail to your backyard compost pile as often as needed.
  • Avoid adding pesticide and herbicide treated grass clippings, leaves, twigs, straw, acorns, moss and algae.
  • Do not fill your backyard compost pile with meat scraps, fish bones, bacon fat, cleaning chemicals, pet waste or diseased plants, all of which are capable of attracting pests and spreading disease.
  • To speed up the composting cycle, place your compost bin in an area that will receive sunlight. Use a compost turner, pitchfork or shovel to aerate your pile every two weeks by mixing up the contents (as if you were tossing a salad).
  • A great compost has a balance of carbon, nitrogen, air and water. Click  here  to learn more.

Compost Diagram

Good compost has a combination of browns, greens, air, and water

Compost Bin

Compost worms work best with fruit and vegetable scraps


Composting Inside

Outdoors or indoors, anyone can make compost. If you don't have a garden, a small space in the garage will do, or on the balcony, or even under the kitchen sink.

Composting your kitchen scraps helps the environment by reducing the amount of garbage you produce, saving landfill space, and gives you a supply of clean organic soil to grow your own healthy vegetables and herbs -- and you don't need a garden for that either (see  No ground? Use containers ).


There are two ways of doing it:

Aerobic composting, the kind gardeners make: see the other pages in this section to understand what compost is and how to make it. Indoor composting is the same, only on a smaller scale.


Vermicomposting, using red wriggler earthworms -- see  Vermicomposting  for information on indoor worm composting systems. Don't be put off -- it's clean, nuisance-free and hygienic, and many people do it: worm-compost boxes have even been used as coffee-tables!


Making aerobic compost indoors.

Composters (including us) advise gardeners to use bins or boxes with a capacity of at least 10 cubic feet: that's equivalent to a 24x24-inch box 30" high, or a 24"-diameter tub 36" high.These are too big for a household with no garden, and therefore no supply of garden wastes. So what is the minimum bulk?


We've made hot compost in a 10-gallon box rather than 10 cubic feet -- only one-sixth as much. Filled all at once, it got very hot, and was ready in two weeks. It's a bit different when the ingredients come in dribs and drabs instead of all at once, as they do from a kitchen, but you can make successful compost in a small container.


Actually you'll need two containers -- when the first one's full and processing, you start filling the second one, and by the time that's full, the compost in the first one's ready for use and can be emptied out.


A smallish (10-20 gallons) plastic or galvanized iron garbage can with a lid will do. Drill 10 or 12 holes in the bottom with a 3/8-inch bit, find a tray to stand it in, and put a couple of 1/2-inch slats under it for aeration.


A 15x15x15-inch wooden box made of 1/2-inch ply (untreated) will also do well. So will a 20x20x20-inch box. Again, drill holes in the bottom and stand it in a tray with slats under it to allow an air supply, and put a hinged lid on it. Treat it inside and out with vegetable oil.


Filling the bin

Use uncooked fruit and vegetables, no meat, fish, dairy, or oils -- at least at first. Once you're more experienced you can decide this for yourself.


By themselves, kitchen scraps are too wet to compost -- the moisture content averages 85%, and compost should be not more than 65%. So you need dry bedding to mix it with. This can be straw, dead leaves, strips of newspaper (avoid colored inks and glossy paper), cardboard or cartons, sphagnum  peat mosscoconut coir, or a mixture. You can also use some sawdust (from non-treated wood) -- mix it with other bedding materials. Keep a bucket of bedding handy by your bin. Also keep a coffee-tin full of ordinary soil next to the bucket, and some wood ash is useful.


First, put a few inches of dry bedding in the bottom of the container. Scatter the daily supply of kitchen scraps on top, and cover the scraps with about the same amount of bedding, or a little more. Scatter some soil on top, and a little lime or wood ash. Keep going until it's full. Mix the contents up every couple of weeks with a compost poker or compost aerator: buy one, or improvise.


Compost Aerator mixes and aerates your compost -- the two hinged wings fold back to plunge deep into the pile, then open to 7" to churn the material, creating new air passages. From Gardener's Supply Company (Item #31-326): http://www.gardeners.com


Problems

You shouldn't have any, but if it starts leaking liquid into the tray, use more dry bedding and mix it up with the aerator. If it starts to smell, again, use more dry bedding and give it a good working over with the compost aerator, then more bedding on top and a little more soil.