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Kitchen Composting: How To Compost Food Scraps From The Kitchen

Kitchen Composting: How To Compost Food Scraps From The Kitchen


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

I think by now the composting word has gotten out. The benefits far outweigh simple waste reduction. Compost increases the water retention and drainage of soil. It helps keep weeds down and adds nutrients to the garden. If you are new to composting, you may wonder how to compost food scraps. Start saving scraps and let’s get started.

Kitchen Composting Info

It may seem odd at first to save old food and trimmings on your kitchen counter. Traditionally we called that garbage, but new efforts to educate the public have now trained us in waste reduction and reuse of organic items. Composting kitchen waste can be as simple as burying the food scraps in the dirt or using a 3-stage composting bin or tumbler. The end results are nutrient rich soil additives that increase porosity and help hold important moisture in the soil.

The items that break down the quickest in kitchen composting are leafy greens. It helps to cut down the size of items for compost to no more than an inch cubed. Smaller pieces compost fastest. The slower items are meats and dairy products, though most sources do not recommend meat for composting. Compost piles must be at the proper temperature and moisture balance to ensure break down of these types of items. You will also need to cover any composting kitchen scraps so animals don’t dig them up.

Methods for Composting Kitchen Scraps

It wouldn’t really be stretching the truth to say all you need are a shovel and a patch of dirt for kitchen waste composting. Dig the scraps at least 8 inches down and cover them with dirt so animals aren’t tempted to feast on them. Chop up the scraps with a shovel or spade. Smaller pieces have open surfaces for anaerobic bacteria to attack. This makes composting a faster process.

Alternately you can invest in a 3-bin system where the first bin is raw compost or fresh kitchen scraps. The second bin will be partially broken down and well turned. The third bin will hold fully composted material, ready for your garden. You can also just make a pile in a sunny location and layer the scraps with leaf litter, grass clippings and soil. Turn the compost material every week and mist with water when composting kitchen waste.

How to Compost Food Scraps

Composting requires warm temperatures at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71 C.), moderate moisture, and space to turn the pile. You can really make kitchen waste composting as simple or as complex as you want. The end results are finer with multiple bins or a rotating tumbler, whereas piles on the ground or mixing into garden beds yields more robust and chunkier compost.

Kitchen composting can also be accomplished in a worm bin where the little guys eat their way through your debris and deposit moist worm castings for fertilizer and soil amendment.

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Read more about Compost Ingredients


How To Make Compost From Kitchen Waste (The Easy Way)

If you’re like me and you enjoy cooking, then you produce an abundance of food scraps every time you’re in the kitchen! Just about all types of organic refuse makes excellent compost material. And composting household scraps is a great way to make something beneficial for your plants, while reducing your home's weekly waste production and carbon footprint !

But how can you make compost from kitchen waste? Composting kitchen scraps is relatively straightforward and doesn't require much specialized knowledge. You just need to know that things like animal products and oils shouldn't be composted. But beware. Kitchen scraps alone will not result in compost!

It’s a common mistake to think that leftovers from your kitchen are enough to produce rich compost. Organic household refuse is high in nitrogen and is known as “green” composting material. For successful composting you need to mix this with plenty of “brown” materials which have a high carbon content.

There are several different options available for composting food waste at home.

In this article, you'll learn the benefits of composting kitchen waste, what types of materials can and can't be composted, as well as how to easily start composting your own food scraps.


Compost Pail or Bucket

Mike Harrington / Getty Images

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Mike Harrington / Getty Images

Compost pails are a good solution for those gardeners who have an area in a cabinet or pantry in which to store their kitchen scraps. Pails are a bit larger than crocks and are usually made of steel or plastic. The plastic options are, obviously, less expensive than the metal ones. Some of the metal pails incorporate filters similar to those used by compost crocks. The plastic ones prevent odors from pervading your home via air-tight lids. Prices for pails run between $10 and $50.


What To Compost

Like everything else, there is a list of do’s and don’ts for composting 101, especially if you apply it to a food garden.

Things to Avoid

Things that are high in fats and hard to break down won’t compost well and will turn rancid and smell bad. Don’t try to compost your trash like paper products. Many people feel they can add “biodegradable” waste to the compost. It will slow down the process and possibly add contaminants to your pile.

You may also want to avoid composting onions and garlic because it could discourage worms from coming.

  • Dog feces
  • Cat feces
  • Butter
  • Cooking Oil
  • Meats
  • Diseased plants (unless you are keeping your compost temperature above 140 degrees for at least two weeks)
  • Dairy products
  • Coal ash
  • Weeds that go to seed
  • Newspapers or cardboard (save these for mulching)

Things to Use

You can keep a little container in your kitchen to collect scraps as you cook. Pretty much any veggie waste can go into your compost.

I personally don’t put any food scraps in my compost. Why? I run all food scraps through animals first. Salad fixings and bread to the chickens or goats. Then I collect it back when I clean their stalls. If you don’t have this advantage, just go ahead and toss them straight in.

  • Livestock manure
  • Straw
  • Grass clippings
  • Small branches (cut them up first)
  • Spent plants
  • Food scraps
  • Leftover veggies
  • Bread
  • Eggshells
  • Leaves
  • Vacuum and dryer lint
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Coffee grounds


MATERIALS TO COMPOST

GREEN WASTE: Green waste includes grass clippings and the fruit and vegetable waste you would normally put in the trash. Try keeping a metal bowl on the counter to hold your orange peels, wilted spinach leaves, banana peels, coffee grounds, etc. Empty it daily to keep from attracting fruit flies. They also sell little counter top buckets with lids for holding your compost. I own one but I find that I tend to ignore it, even once it’s filled (out of sight out of mind!), and then end up with a smelly mess that is harder to get out of the container. A bowl keeps things visible so I don’t forget to dump it out regularly.

BROWN WASTE: Brown material can include dried leaves from your trees, cardboard egg cartons, paper bags, sawdust, and tree bark or cuttings. As with the green waste, breaking this material in to smaller pieces will speed up the process – shred the paper bag or egg carton, use a wood chipper to chop up large branches, and so on.

AIR: There are steps to composting that include making sure the pile gets air, turning it, and making sure it stays moist. These will help speed the process. If you have the space for your compost to sit and do its thing for months, rather than weeks, then these steps can be more intermittent. I have been a slow composter from the start (mostly due to laziness! Turning is something I just don’t remember to do very often). If you want your compost churned out at a faster pace, then you’ll need to be more mindful of these steps.

HEAT: Heat is important to composting, too, but don’t let that stop you from putting organic material from your scrap bowl in to the composter (rather than sending it to the landfill) during the winter. The decomposition process still occurs during the winter but at a slower pace and will pick back up once it starts to warm up.

It is important to remember that you need a mix of green and brown waste to make good compost. The green waste will provide nitrogen for the final product and the brown waste will provide carbon. Both components are essential. Too much nitrogen in the compost will make it a smelly mess. Too much carbon and the compost will take a very long time to decompose in to that black soil you’re hoping for.


What can you put in an indoor compost bin?

You can put most food scraps you would put into an outdoor bin in an indoor one. Fruit and vegetable scraps, eggshells, nutshells, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, shredded paper and house plant trimmings are all good options. Cut or tear scraps into small pieces before adding them to your bin to speed up decomposition. You can also compost pet hair, although this may take longer to break down in an indoor bin.

It’s important not to put anything in your bin that will cause odors or attract flies or rodents. This includes meat, dairy, eggs or anything fatty. You may also want to avoid adding too many items like melon and squash, which are high in water content.


Waste not: Turn kitchen scraps into rich, healthy compost

Jamie Nixon Garcia stands beside her raised garden beds and composting tumbler in her back yard in Moses Lake on Wednesday afternoon.
Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Jamie Nixon Garcia stands beside her raised garden beds and composting tumbler in her back yard in Moses Lake on Wednesday afternoon.

The left side of Jamie Nixon Garcia's compost tumbler is filled with fresh produce scraps and other kitchen waste while the right side has more broken down composted materials.

Randy Zielke holds a pile of "black gold" fertilized dirt that is the end result of his vermicomposting process.

Paper and cardboard shavings are some of the materials Randy Zeilke said he adds to his worm bins as bedding.

An abundance of "red wiggler" worms sit inside one of Randy Zielke's active worm bins inside his garage in Moses Lake.

Jamie Nixon Garcia of Moses Lake adds some kitchen scraps and produce waste into her composting tumbler in her backyard on Wednesday morning.

Jamie Nixon Garcia shows some of the variety of materials that she adds into her composting tumbler in her backyard in Moses Lake.

A fun sign Jamie Nixon Garcia keeps around the house to help her kids know what to put in, and what not to put into her composting tumbler in her backyard in Moses Lake.

Randy Zielke stands beside his worm bins inside his garage in Moses Lake on Wednesday afternoon.

Resourceful gardeners can make an organic soil amendment, even if they don’t have much space at home to work with. Two local gardeners have developed their expertise in composting methods and shared their knowledge with the Herald.

Composting has grown in popularity in recent years. It involves the process of decomposing organic materials otherwise seen as waste into a composted material rich with plant nutrients and beneficial organisms.

The natural process reduces the need for other chemicals and encourages the production of beneficial bacteria and fungi in the dirt, according to information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Added to soil, the compost helps it retain moisture and suppress disease.

Jamie Nixon Garcia has been composting on and off for about 10 years. She had a much bigger compost pile on her 20-acre farm in Michigan before moving back to Moses Lake a few years ago.

Nixon Garcia has a small compost tumbler in her backyard in Moses Lake now. It has a two-sided bin that be turned to mix up the contents and prevent anaerobic byproducts from building up. One side of the bin is for more recently added materials with the other side filled with more “complete” composted dirt.

“For me, one of the biggest reasons that I’m composting is reducing landfill waste, I’m into being less of a consumer and less of an environmental footprint,” Nixon Garcia said.

She said she keeps an old popcorn tub under her sink for materials she’ll add to her compost pile. Things that can be added to the pile include: produce scraps, potato peelings, coffee grounds, apple cores and banana peels.

Nixon Garcia said she tries to tumble her compost bin about once a week. The materials will eventually break down into the dirt gardeners desire. She said the process typically takes about 30 days for the composted materials to be ready to be added to her raised garden beds and herb garden.

When starting a compost pile, it can help to add soil or leftover plants from last season. A long thermometer is key to having a compost pile function, ideally at around 140 degrees.

Once the contents are a nice black color, Nixon Garcia said she knows she has the fertilizer she can put in her garden. She said the process can involve some trial and error, making sure she has the right amount of moisture and the right mix of materials composting.

A good mix of “brown materials,” such as dry leaves, shredded paper and straw, and “green materials,” like coffee grounds and produce waste, is key for the compost to have ideal microbiome conditions.

Too much produce waste can make the compost pile stink sometimes, which Nixon Garcia said shouldn’t be the case.

“It should have just a dirt smell,” Nixon Garcia said. “Maybe if it’s really stinking, maybe you need to add more dry leaves or paper scraps.”

As someone who would buy the organic products anyway, Nixon Garcia said it’s a bonus to be able to make her own and have control over the food she’s growing.

She said composting is something anyone can do without worrying about having a ton of extra space or time on their hands.

“I bought a tumbler, but you can make one out of a big tote bin,” Nixon Garcia said. “There’s a lot you can do for a little if you’re interested in reducing landfill waste and making healthy garden fertilizer, teaching your kids about the natural processes in soil, what happens to things.”

Randy Zielke, of Moses Lake, took his compost pile a step further by introducing “red wiggler” worms in a process called vermicomposting. Zielke said he started his first worm bins about a year ago.

He started with some roughly 4-foot bins and added some bedding material, which consisted of things like coffee grounds, shredded cardboard, office paper, peat moss and even shavings from the outer shell of coconuts.

Zielke said you want materials to be moist when you ball them up in your hand, with maybe a few droplets coming off. Anymore than that and there is too much moisture.

“I went to Walmart and bought about 10 cartons of worms and stuck them in there,” Zielke said. “I had worms right away that wanted to take off. If I’d known at the time, all you need is a light on it. They don’t like light, so they’ll (go) back into the compost bin.”

He said the worms tend to work mostly in the top 3-6 inches of the soil, so a really large container isn’t necessary to start your worm bins. Shredded paper and egg cartons added to the top keep in some of the odor and can help prevent fruit fly infestations in the warmer months.

Vermicomposting can lead to an even more nutrient-rich soil then traditional composting, as it creates compost more quickly and can bring a lot of beneficial microorganisms and micronutrients to your garden.

“I basically check on them every day or two, at least once a week,” Zielke said. “By having a combination of peat moss and coconut and paper, you kind of have a fluffy material there and then open your carton of worms and place them on top to penetrate that material.”

While not a direct substitute for fertilizer, worm castings, an organic fertilizer byproduct produced by the worms, can be extremely beneficial for the soil when mixed in with the rest of the compost pile added to the garden.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Randy Zielke stands beside his worm bins inside his garage in Moses Lake on Wednesday afternoon.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

A fun sign Jamie Nixon Garcia keeps around the house to help her kids know what to put in, and what not to put into her composting tumbler in her backyard in Moses Lake.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Jamie Nixon Garcia shows some of the variety of materials that she adds into her composting tumbler in her backyard in Moses Lake.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Jamie Nixon Garcia of Moses Lake adds some kitchen scraps and produce waste into her composting tumbler in her backyard on Wednesday morning.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

An abundance of "red wiggler" worms sit inside one of Randy Zielke's active worm bins inside his garage in Moses Lake.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Paper and cardboard shavings are some of the materials Randy Zeilke said he adds to his worm bins as bedding.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Randy Zielke holds a pile of "black gold" fertilized dirt that is the end result of his vermicomposting process.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

The left side of Jamie Nixon Garcia's compost tumbler is filled with fresh produce scraps and other kitchen waste while the right side has more broken down composted materials.

Casey McCarthy/Columbia Basin Herald

Jamie Nixon Garcia stands beside her raised garden beds and composting tumbler in her back yard in Moses Lake on Wednesday afternoon.


Watch the video: Turning Food Scraps into Fertilizer in 5 Hours?