Sunday, July 10, 2011


So you have been composting for a while. You may ask a question: Is my composting working properly? One of you asked this question in the Composting Challenge survey. I hope this article will help to answer it.

If you are composting correctly you should get a pleasantly smelling compost pile that has heated up to about 135-160F. To have some fun with your bin, buy a thermometer to see how the temperature of your pile changes over time. Once the composting pile is warm enough, the composting process begins. To help the composting pile to heat up, many composting bins come in dark, often black, colors. Make sure that you position your composting bin in a sunny place to speed up the process.

High temperatures of the composting pile are important for destruction of pathogenic organisms and weed seeds. Decomposition is also much faster at higher temperatures. The temperature of the pile is influenced by moisture content, oxygen availability, and microbial activity. As the microbial activity increases, the temperature of the pile rises. The optimal temperature is between 135-160F. The temperatures above 160F are too high for certain microbe populations to survive. This will cause the temperature to decrease. When the temperature starts decreasing it is time to aerate the pile. Enough moisture is also important for composting microorganisms to flourish.

Another important thing to watch for is the mix of your compost. You should be properly mixing greens and browns. Too many greens in your composting pile will result in a smelly rotting pile of garbage. Typical greens are grass clippings, kitchen scraps such as fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds, egg shells and tea bags, houseplant cuttings, weeds and green leaves. For browns you can use coffee filters, stale bread, paper napkins and towels, shredded newspaper, dry leaves, dried grass, cornstalks, straw, and sawdust.

It is always a good idea to mix your kitchen food waste into the middle of the pile to avoid smell of rotting food and fruit flies. When I started composting I had hundreds of fruit flies in my composting bin. It was not very pleasant to open the bin. I did some research and found out that my problem was too much fruit scraps in the bin. I added a good pile of old leaves and dried grass from my lawn and the problem was solved! Please share your experiences with others, so we can support each other and share the best practices in composting. Did you run into any problems? What was the solution that helped? Also, please feel free to post any questions to the blog. Posting a comment will help us to create a supportive community for this fabulous process of reducing the waste and creating a healthier environment for all of us to enjoy.

Happy composting!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How Much Food Do We Throw Away?

Hello again my composting friends. I would like to apologize for not writing for a longer period of time, but my life got very busy this past month. Nonetheless, I am back and it is my goal to write more often in the future. I am very excited to announce the statistics of my waste collection that I promised you a while ago. I thought that it would be very interesting to put the composting into numbers so that you can see what impact you can make by choosing to compost your food waste as opposed to send it to a landfill.

For the past two months I have been diligently weighing all the food waste that went into my composting bin. (Note: I did not weigh any yard waste that I composted). I was able to collect and compost 46.89 pounds (21.273 kg) of food waste what resulted in the reduction of food waste send to a landfill (note: my household consists of two adults). If we extrapolate this number to a one year period, I will remove 281 pounds of food waste from the waste stream each year. This accounts to emissions reduction of 51.985 kg* of CO2e per one year period. It does not seem to be much, but it quickly adds up with more households composting.

Since the start of the Composting Challenge 11 households signed up to take the Challenge. The following table shows the breakdown by state.

I am very pleased to see that 9 states participate in the Challenge. Massachusetts is so far the winner with two households and total of 6 people composting. Go Massachusetts!!! Collectively we removed so far this year approximately 1876 pounds of waste from the waste stream and avoided 347 kg of CO2e. Great job!

Do you want to make your composting fun? Do the same exercise as I did and weigh your food waste for one month. You will be surprised how much organic waste we create in our households. Don’t forget to share the results with the group! This blog was created to share ideas and help each other, so please do not hesitate to post your own comments, success stories or concerns. Happy composting!

* The CO2e was calculated using U.S. EPA’s greenhouse gas emissions data - Measuring Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Waste

Saturday, April 16, 2011


There is a wide variety of composting systems to choose from. The cheapest way to start composting is to create a compost pile. You can simply pick a spot in your backyard and start piling your organic waste. If you want to compost your food scraps you will need to build a fence around your pile to keep away pests that would like to snack on your food. Compost piles also require the most work, because you will need to turn them often to keep the compost properly aerated. You can always choose not to aerate your compost, but it 
will take a very long time to have finished compost, it can take even up to 2 years.

In my post “My New Composting Bin”, I introduced an enclosed bin. This system offers fairly easy composting. You can simply fill it up and do nothing, or you can occasionally mix it up to speed up the decomposing process. As with the pile, this system offers very slow composting process if not properly aerated. The advantage is that your composting bin comes with aerating wholes what speeds up the decomposing process. The disadvantage is that even if you aerate your compost it may take up to 6 months for your compost to be ready for use. You will also need to separate your finished compost from the unfinished organic waste piled on the top.

Another type of a composting bin is a rolling bin. This is very similar to the enclosed bin. The special feature of this bin is its round shape, thus allowing you to roll it around in your garden. The rolling process helps to aerate the waste and accelerate break down of the organic matter. In addition, I think it is easier to roll the bin than mix it with an aerator as it is required for a regular bin. One disadvantage of this bin is that when the bin gets full it is quite heavy to roll.

The fourth type of a composting bin is a compost tumbler. Tumblers are round bins set in some kind of a construction to keep them off the ground for an easy spinning. They are very easy to use, however they are often significantly more expensive than the enclosed composting bins. Another disadvantage of rolling and tumbling bins is that if you want to use the compost, you need to stop feeding them at some point to let the compost finish. Therefore, if you like one of these it would be a good idea to have at least two bins - one that is finishing and one that you are filling up.

The fifth type of a composting system is a worm bin. This is a perfect bin for people with a limited space. Worm bins are very popular with people living in apartments where none of the above composting systems can be used (unless you have a deck or a patio). This system uses red worms to eat your food scraps and turn them into a rich organic matter. There is no need to turn your compost pile, the worms will eat right through it. One disadvantage that I personally find to be a disadvantage is harvesting the compost. Simply, you need to separate your worms and the finished compost and that can be a messy business. However, I have never tried using a worm bin, so I have the least right to judge how easy or difficult this process is. I would be very happy to hear from you if you have any experience with a worm bin. In fact, I have met many people who use this method and they love it! It is by far the fastest way to turn your food scraps into rich compost.

The last type of a composting system that I would like to mention here is compost trenching. Although this method requires you to have space in your garden to burry your waste, it is a very low maintenance method of composting. Dig a trench, fill it up with compostable materials, cover the trench and you are done! Similar as with the worm bin composting, the earthworms will do the work for you. The great thing about this method is that it instantly fertilizes your soil. You don’t need to mix the finished compost into your soil. Trenching eliminates odors from compost and the burying process keeps away the unwanted pests and attracts the beneficial earthworms.

I am curious to learn what composting system works best for you. If you found your favorite composting system, please comment on this post and share your experience with others.

Stay tuned, the Composting Challenge progress data is coming soon! Happy composting! 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Have you noticed how much longer the days are getting recently? Yes, the spring is coming! I love spring and even more I love summer. With the days warming up, the nature is waking up again. And guess what? This is a perfect time to start thinking about setting up your own composting system. Whether you are a beginner or you have been composting for a long time, I will do my best to create a supportive environment for all of you and make the composting even fun. I will share with you my composting experience and I hope you will share yours as well.

About a week ago I had a very productive weekend. I bought my first composting bin and I set it up in my garden. The composting bin I purchased is The Earth Machine ( I chose this particular bin mostly because of its low price and convenience as I was able to buy it at my local farm in Westchester, NY. If you are interested, check out their web site: Hilltop Hanover Farm is owned by the Westchester County, NY and run by Friends of Hilltop Hanover Farm and Environmental Center, Inc. The Earth Machine costs $139 on Amazon. The good news is that you can buy The Earth Machine for less than half of that price. In fact many municipalities offer Earth Machine through their municipal programs, so before you buy your composting bin online, check if The Earth Machine is being sold locally for a fraction of the cost of the composting bins available online.

I took some pictures of my new composting bin and other tools in my composting collection, as well as some pictures of organic waste that is now “cooking” in my bin. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

In the near future I am going to write a post about different composting systems and tools that will help you in your composting process. Some of you who were brave enough to take The Composting Challenge 2011 were also interested in vermicomposting and I will discuss this topic as well. I am looking forward to learn what system you chose and how it has been working for you. Let’s get composting!

Basic tools you need for composting - composting bin, small composter for your kitchen (optional) and aerator.

Greens and browns for the composting.

Kitchen waste - I collect my kitchen waste in this small kitchen composter with a filter to eliminate the odors. When you use this system you can keep your organic waste in the kitchen for several days reducing the number of trips to your garden composting bin.
Add your kitchen waste to the composting bin.
Add your yard waste such as leaves, hay, grass and plant trimmings. 

Mix everything together and you are done!

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Composting is a natural biological process that accelerates the breakdown of organic materials. The product of composting is compost, an essential part of healthy crops.
The composting process supports the production of beneficial micro-organisms that create humus. Humus is rich in nutrients that are slowly released into the soil for plant use and improved soil structure. The organic matter in compost increases the soil’s ability to retain moisture and reduces its erosion.[1] Researchers also believe that organic farming with compost decreases the occurrence of insect problems and plant diseases.
According to a research study performed at the University of California at Berkeley, organic fertilizers improve the overall nutritional status of crops, and also support resistance to insect attacks.[2] Furthermore, a study conducted by Italian researchers in 2004 claims that composting improves the soil porosity and the soil aggregation. The results of this study confirmed that compost improves soil pore system characteristics.[3] Better infiltration of both air and water into the root zone improves plant health. The combination of less fertilizer being applied and better penetration into the soil reduces runoff into rivers and streams as well as erosion of topsoil. In fact, researchers at the University of Missouri concluded that: “The use of food waste in producing composts for amending soils removes a major and problematic component from the waste generation cycle and provides a valuable, recycled product that can benefit soil fertility and crop productivity.”[1]  Finally, composting conserves the landfill space and serves also as a marketable commodity.

[1] Nathan Means, Christopher Starbuck, Robert Kremer, Lewis Jett , “Effects of a Food Waste-based Soil Conditioner on Soil Properties and Plant Growth”, Compost Science and Utilization June 2005,
[2] Miguel A. Altieri, Clara I. Nicholls, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, Division of Insect Biology, “Soil fertility management and insect pests: harmonizing soil and plant health in agroecosystems”, University of California at Berkeley, March 2002,

[3] M. Pagliai, N. Vignozzi, S. Pellegrini, Istituto Sperimentale per lo Studio e la Difesa del Suolo, Italy, Soil structure and the effect of management practices”, September 2004,


My name is Jana and I am a creator of this blog. This year, I decided to start my first garden composting. I would like to find at least other 100 people to join me in this challenge. Together we can use valuable organic waste, which would otherwise end up in landfills, to enhance the quality of soil in our local communities.

Did you know that food waste represents the third largest source of municipal solid waste in the US? This accounts for more than 14.1% of the total municipal solid waste stream. In addition, yard trimmings represent another 13.7% of municipal waste! What is alarming it the fact that only 3% of the food waste generated in 2009 was recovered and recycled, the rest was thrown away into landfills or incinerators. (Source: U.S. EPA)
The food waste and other organic matter that ends up in landfills create methane, a green house gas that is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2). According to IPCC’s SAR (Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change, Second Assessment Report) this means that the ability of methane to trap the heat in the atmosphere is 21 times higher when compared to CO2 over a 100-year time period. By removing the food waste and other organic matter from the landfills, we can reduce the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), improve soil health and structure, increase drought resistance, and reduce the need for supplemental water, fertilizers, and pesticides. (Source: U.S. EPA)
Now you know more about composting and its numerous benefits. Are you ready to take the challenge and start your own compost? All you need to do is fill out a simple survey so we can track our progress, make or buy your own composting bin and follow this blog for helpful tips and advice. You can also share your own experiences, concerns and success stories with others right in this blog!