Did you know that 20% of garbage in the landfill originate from our homes? Yeah, that’s right. We’re talking about organic waste from our landscape, kitchen, and garden waste.
This doesn’t need to be the case. Today, you’ll learn how to use the top 8 composting methods to reduce your waste.
If you want to learn how to properly apply compost and build a compost bin, you’ll find links to those at the end of this post.
Let’s get started.
What is the Best Composting Method?
With all the available composting methods, it may become hard to assess which one is the best. Fortunately, this is not relevant at all. Why? Because there is no best overall composting method. The best composting method for you will depend on your lifestyle, your goals, living conditions, and space.
What’s important here is to start minimizing your carbon footprint. Once you become experienced at composting, it will be easier to identify the best one for you.
Using several methods at once is also a good idea. Each one of them fills a specific need and can help you reach your specific goals.
Getting familiar with different composting methods and their pros and cons is also beneficial, as you can quickly make a switch to different composting methods should your conditions change.
Before you can find the best method for you, you should get familiar with two groups of composting techniques. The first group includes continuous and batch composting, and the second one includes hot and cold composting.
Continuous or Batch Composting
Continuous composting is an excellent choice if you generate a steady amount of organic waste. Be aware though, as this will also generate a steady amount of compost, and you will have to plan on what to do with it.
A continuous compost system will allow you to keep adding fresh ingredients to the compost.
A simple continuous system is a 3-bin compost. The first bin is where your fresh organic material is placed. After it breaks down for a couple of weeks it’s moved to the second bin. Once the material in the second bin is almost ready, move it to the third bin to finish off the decomposition. The finished compost can stay in the third bin until ready to use.
Batch composting is more convenient for people who generate a lot of organic waste all at once – for instance, after clipping the yard or taking care of the leaves in the autumn. This amount of organic waste is enough to fill an entire, if not several compost bins.
This is a very popular suburban composting technique among people with big yards and a lot of vegetation.
Hot or Cold Composting
Cold composting is what we usually call regular composting. This term is used to describe the elemental composting process – put different organic materials in a compost bin and leave it until it breaks down.
This process can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months, which is why it is considered slow. To speed it up, people usually turn the compost. This gets more oxygen inside and promotes the composting process.
Hot composting, on the other hand, is much faster. But the speed is not the only advantage it has over cold composting. It also kills weed seeds and pathogens that can potentially cause diseases. Finally, the compost is much finer than the one produced via cold composting.
The main difference is hot composting involves adding moisture to the compost pile and having a specific ratio of carbon to nitrogen. This will be explained below.
For complete instructions on the fastest way to hot compost, called the Berkly method, click here.
Before we get into different types of composting methods, let’s explore what’s required to make an effective compost.
Elements Required in Most Compost Systems
While compost systems differ in their nature, most of them require the same elements to break down organic waste into compost.
An oxygen-free environment is also called anaerobic. In this environment, bacteria produce unpleasant odors and attract vermin. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the compost can breathe fresh air. This is achieved by turning your compost often.
Compost should always be kept moist. Water ensures that biochemical processes never stop.
Without vegetables, there would be no organic materials in the compost, and without organic materials, bacteria are rendered incapable of decomposing anything.
Worms are present in many composting methods because they eat and digest waste and enrich the nutritive value of the compost with their castings.
The Carbon-nitrogen mix is used for creating adequate temperature in a compost. This temperature kills pathogens and seeds.
Bacteria are responsible for decomposing food in the waste. This is very important because if there are no bacteria, there is no decomposition.
Although not a requirement, soldier flies are often used to speed up the process of decomposing. They decompose organic waste way faster than bacteria and worms.
Other Beneficial Bugs
The decomposition process can be further sped up with other beneficial bugs, such as cockroaches and maggots.
Carbon and Nitrogen
The carbon-nitrogen mix is used to control the temperature of the compost. If you choose to use a hot compost technique, you will need to use the correct ratio of carbon to nitrogen. The requirements go as follows:
- The temperature of the compost should be maintained between 55 to 56°C
- The heap of the compost should be 1.5m high
- Big chunks of organic materials high in carbon (tree branches), must be broken up with a mulcher
- Compost must be mixed thoroughly, usually by turning it from outside to inside
- The Carbon to Nitrogen balance should be 25-30 to 1
This ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen is required because these nutrients are used by bacteria as they reproduce and multiply.
What You Can Compost and What You Should Avoid
Building a good compost pile is not that hard. In fact, you will be able to source most of the compost materials needed yourself. If you maintain the recommended Carbon to Nitrogen ratio, everything will work like a charm.
To avoid unpleasant odors you can use closed bins or cover your bins with newspapers, used soil from house plants, or cardboard.
Things you can compost are divided into two groups – carbon-rich materials also called “Browns”, and nitrogen-rich materials also called “Greens”.
Carbon Rich Materials
- Cardboard (remove dyes before breaking it up)
- Corn stalks
- Fruit waste
- Peat Moss
- Stems & twigs
Nitrogen Rich Materials
- Coffee grounds
- Kitchen food waste
- Garden waste
- Grass clippings
- Hedge clippings
- Vegetable scraps
- Weeds (without seed on them)
Things You Should Avoid
- Diseased plant material
- Colored paper
- Cat/dog waste
- Manures from carnivorous animals
- Citrus peels
Now, that we’ve covered essential information, let’s look at the top 8 methods of composting.
1. Community Compost / Commercial Compost
A community compost is a
popular method offered by many municipalities. Typically, you will have a
curbside compost bin that is collected every week. In some communities, you must
drop off compost yourself.
Pro Tip:Freeze your waste until you have time to bring it to a community compost. If your workplace has a compost bin, take advantage and drop off there.
Open your favorite search engine and input “compost service near me” to list out your community compost opportunities. These can include:
- Private company – for a fraction of the price you get finished compost.
- Community garden – compost piles are often found in community gardens. Contact garden managers and check if you can contribute.
- Local farmers and gardeners – if there’s a local gardener or farmer, contact them and check if you can add your kitchen or yard waste to their compost pile.
- You don’t have to manage composting on your own
- Less trash in the landfill
- You don’t need extra room for bins
- Community compost usually attracts vermin
- An unpleasant odor can be present in the community
- It requires ongoing public education
2. Bokashi Bucket
Bokashi is an inoculant used in both anaerobic and aerobic composting. It’s either inserted directly into the compost, or compost tea is made from it. Thanks to its low price, Bokashi-based compost systems are the most affordable on the market.
On top of that, the Bokashi Bucket can be used for decomposing both meat and waste from dairy products. The decomposition time ranges from 10 to 14 days, after which you must bury the contents of the bin or add it to another compost system.
- Can be used for a variety of kitchen waste (meats and dairy included)
- The Bokashi-based composting system is small and convenient for use in urban areas
- It doesn’t compost waste to the end. You need to add it to a hot compost system, tumbler, or worm farm to complete the breakdown.
- It is very acidic, and if you bury it near plants in your yard, you can easily kill them. Bokashi must be broken down further before you use it as compost.
3. Worm Bin
Worms have been recycling food for centuries now, and a worm bin is a composting system that leverages worm composting. Worms recycle organic materials and turn them into a soil amendment – vermicompost/worm compost.
Worms eat nutrient-rich foods. That’s why worm castings (a.k.a worm poop) are rich with nutrients too. To make it easier for the worms to eat organic waste, make sure to process the waste with a knife, blender, or food processor.
- Worm composting is very fast, and you will have it ready for use in approximately 3 months.
- You can place a worm bin both inside and outside.
- It Can be small enough for urban areas or apartments.
- Worms reproduce very quickly, and you can expand the colony to other worm bins.
- It takes longer for pathogens to be neutralized.
- Needs a bit more cash upfront for worms and bins.
- Worm composting attracts annoying fruit flies.
4. Green Cone
The Green Cone is a device that serves as a food digester. It’s made of plastic and consists of two parts: a cone-shaped top and basket. To start the composting process, you must bury the basket underground.
The Green Cone can process up to 1kg of kitchen waste per day during warm months.
- It can manage all types of kitchen waste
- There is no need for stirring
- Minimal odor
- Slows down during winter
- Draws in fruit flies
Click here for a more in-depth explanation and where to buy.
A heap is the simplest composting system. All you have to do is pile up organic waste in one location and wait for it to start composting. This is usually done in a small area of the yard.
While this method requires minimal effort on your part, it doesn’t kill weed seeds or pathogens. That’s why people apply the Berkeley Method of heap composting. It speeds up the process and kills pathogens and seeds.
- Heap composting is free
- It requires no effort at all
- Your yard is your limit
- Can take a lot of space
- It takes away from your yard’s aesthetics
6. Sheet Mulch
Sheet Mulch is a commonly used, no-dig gardening technique. It’s designed to mimic the soil-building process that naturally occurs in the forests. It’s also known as composting in place. The composting process in sheet mulch starts in the top layers and moves down.
This technique can be used to transform several surfaces, ranging from lawns to rooftops, into fertile soil.
- Minimal effort – no tilling or digging
- Any organic material can be used, even a small amount
- Can be done during the entire year
- Protects soil ecosystem
- Works on multiple surfaces
Check out this guide.
- The moist layers of compost attract insects and slugs
- Promotes plant growth and seed sprout
7. Trench or Pit
This is a very common composting method. All you need to do is dig a trench or pit in your yard and start adding organic waste to it. Once you’re done, you need to cover the pit again. The soil level on top of the waste should be at least 6 inches thick.
The trench doesn’t need to be too deep – a few feet will suffice. The natural processes take place once you cover the trench.
This method should be used in a location where you want to plant future tress, flowers or a garden.
- Works with any kind of waste
- It’s completely free
- The composting system is invisible (underground)
- No effort required once you place the top layer of soil
- Initial effort is significant (you need to dig a hole)
- Finished compost remains where it is
- It takes a long time for waste to break down
- Can’t hot compost
8. Leaf Mold
Leaves are “brown” materials, which means that they are rich with carbon.
The best results are achieved with shredded leaves. Wet the pile of shredded leaves and just leave it outside or put them in a bin.
Compost made in this way is not as rich in nutrients as the ones made via other methods but it’s still viable as a soil amendment and produces great mulch.
- It is a very cheap method
- Compost process doesn’t take long
- Compost is not rich in nutrients
- The process is very slow if you don’t shred leaves
See the full guide to creating a leaf mold here.
As you can see, there are plenty of composting methods at your disposal. Now that you know the general mechanism behind composting and specifics about each of these 8 composting techniques, you can make better decisions.
Assess your current circumstances and compare them against the pros and cons of each method. This is the best way to choose a composting method appropriate to you.
Please leave a comment and let us know your favorite composting method.
If you’re interested in how to properly apply compost, see our guide here.
Want to build your own compost bin? See our DIY guide here.