Sustainable Seawolf: What is composting?

Composting is the process in which organic materials are broken down to become usable, highly-fertile soil for gardeners. The soil created by this process is valuable to anyone wanting to grow plants, especially if they have an indoor garden that just needs an extra boost of nutrients. While some stores, such as Susitna Organics, sell compost to consumers, making your own compost is easy.

For people starting out, the biggest concerns are the smell, the mess and fear that conditions will become unsanitary. However, placing a compost bin in a garage or outdoors in the summer will keep a clamp on smell. The mess and sanitary conditions depend on keeping the compost going in order for everything to properly decompose.

It’s important to note that there are a few different kinds of composting. One is called cold compost, which is when a layer of soil is placed on top a layer of compostable items and left to sit. While this is the least involved way to compost, it also takes up to a year to yield results.

The second type is called hot compost, in which temperature is regulated within the compost bin by adding high-nitrogen items in, such as greens and grass trimmings. To strike the right balance of nitrogen-heavy items to compostable and brown items, the general rule is three parts brown items like dried leaves and straw to one part green, with a layer of compostable items in as well. If it’s warm or hot to the touch, then there is enough nitrogen. If it is room temperature, you need to add in more greens.

Vericomposting is the third option. This is similar to the second option, except that it uses red worms to produce the nitrogen instead of greens and grass trimmings. Worms can be purchased in packages online. Add in compostable items, some soil and the worms in layers. Both this, and the second type of composting take about two to three months.

The general rule of any composting is to keep the bin moist but not overly wet. For the second two options, temperature plays a factor. You can go by touch or purchase a digital thermometer from any hardware store. Remember to turn your pile every week, mixing the layers in a bit to keep the flow of air and nitrogen going.

Many gardening centers also offer starter compost; the previously composted material acts as an enabler for the rest of your compostable materials, keeping the decomposition process going.

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What is Compostable?

  • Fresh fruit peels
  • Veggie scraps
  • Egg shells
  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Old oatmeal
  • Herbs
  • Peanut shells
  • Cooked pasta and rice
  • Cereal boxes
  • Shredded newspaper

What Should Be Avoided?

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Fish bones
  • Plastic
  • Manure
  • Animal waste

If Composting Just Isn’t For You

If the idea of having a bin of rotting stuff in your house just doesn’t seem appealing, Anchorage residents have an alternative option provided by the Municipality of Anchorage.

Residents pick up a compost bin from American Landscaping’s nursery, spend a week or so filling it with compostable materials and drop it off at either the Anchorage Regional Landfill in Eagle River or the Central Transfer Station in Midtown Anchorage. Then, you are free to take the Municipality’s compost in a weight equal to what you dropped off. Essentially, you can compost without having to worry about the maintenance.

Composting can help residents keep up to 40 percent of their waste out of landfills and turn it into something usable for the community.