Open thread: Starting a composting program

Photo: Wikipedia

After reading Composting is a Redemptive Act by Ed Bruske, I really would like to start composting at home in 2012. I don’t know where to start –and I can’t even imagine how one would start large scale composting in a school cafeteria. I know it can be done and I should ask my friend Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, founder of the Academy for Global Citizenship about composting as they are a zero waste school in my district.

What do you know about composting? How do you start? What materials are necessary? How would you start on a large scale?

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16 Responses to Open thread: Starting a composting program

  1. Katie December 31, 2011 at 8:34 am #

    We do vermicomosting (using worms) at home for our family of 5. Once you get over the ick factor it’s not complicated and can be done in any space. As for large scale, it may be worth looking into what some metro areas like Seattle are doing.

  2. Tre December 31, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    We have a small compost bin in our back yard. It’s open on the bottom so the lovely worms can come in and do their jobs. We have a small container in the kitchen to collect food scraps for composting. When it’s full, it gets dumped in the big bin. About once a week hubby goes out and stirs it up to keep things mixed.

    There are tons of composting ideas and tools.

  3. Sarah December 31, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    I have a worm composting bin under the sink in my apartment. It’s amazing. I got started at a workshop at Green Grocer about two years ago.

  4. Ed Bruske January 1, 2012 at 6:48 am #

    Thanks for the link, Sarah. Composting is not difficult. It can be done on a large scale, or on a very small scale–even inside an apartment. Readers might take a look at this series of film clips I made that explains everything. Unfortunately, I notice theres a short add in front of each film clip:

    http://www.theslowcook.com/video/

    Compost can be made in commercial tumberls, which you can easily find online using Google. There are also electric-assisted models that will fit under your kitchen sink. Or, if you are just composting your kitchen scraps, you might consider a worm bin. This also are compatible with apartment living. They don’t smell and the average worm bin will fit in a coat closet.

    Anything that was once alive (organic) will compost including old cotton underwear, newspapers, your old tax returns or carrot peels and apple cores. But we refrain from putting meat or dairy in our compost because it does tend to take longer and attracts pests, as you can imagine. City dwellers composting outside might consider composting in a metal trash can. You can use a regular line trimmer (weed wacker) to chop up old leaves in a metal trash can. Since compost won’t work outside in our part of the world (it freezes and the bacteria become inactive), you might consider doing it in your basement. A properly maintained compost pile or worm bin does not generate odors. In fact, if your compost smells, it’s probably because it’s too wet. Add some more leaves or shredded paper.

  5. Katie January 1, 2012 at 11:15 am #

    http://www.instructables.com/id/Learn-How-to-Compost-in-Less-Than-an-Hour-1/

    This is how I’ve seen most people around here (southern Illinois) compost. My ex-boyfriend’s family didn’t even use the chicken wire. They just kept the food scraps in a little container and then went out dumped them on, stirred them around, and then let them decompose. Then, they used the little built up pile of dirt, leaves, and compost to fertilize their garden every year.

  6. Andrew @ Eating Rules January 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    We’ve been vermicomposting for a couple of months, since our friends bought us a Worm Factory 360 as a housewarming present! We started the bin in our kitchen since I wasn’t sure where in the backyard to put the bin… When we did finally move the bin to the backyard, we felt bad — like we had banished them. We’ve since brought them back inside. It makes it easier, too, since we don’t have to go outside to drop any scraps in the bin.

    I bet Charlie will LOOOOVE the wormies, too!

    http://unclejimswormfarm.com/index.php/Outdoor-Composters/The-Worm-Factory-360-Free-Shipping/flypage.tpl.html

  7. Cindy January 1, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    We have a big pile beside the chicken coop. I used to have a specially designed plastic bin, but animals kept breaking into it. I keep citrus, oils, and meat out of there. I used to dump fruit bits on too but stopped because it attracted animals. You’d be surprised how quickly a compost pile can grow. Get yourself a miniature rake or stirring tool and you’re all set.

  8. MemeGRL January 1, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    I’m glad to see you address this, and I don’t want to rain on the parade, but I found composting more difficult than I thought. I took a course at my local 4H, got a free Earth Machine (I think; it was an open bottom composting bin) and I struggled to figure out how to make the thing work as far as the right mix of browns and greens, and how to get usable compost without undecomposed stuff in there. In fact, I put a moratorium on composting a few months ago in hopes of being able to see it actually transform.
    I think it can be challenging in a larger organization to keep oily dips and dressings and meat out of there but rock on and good luck!

    • Mrs Q January 2, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

      That’s good to know! I want to know the good and the bad. Happy New Year! :)

  9. AP January 2, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    @MemeGRL- composting with an earth machine (we’ve had one for about four years now) just takes patience. It was about a year after we began using it that we “harvested” our first black gold. We didn’t pay much attention to it, just put in our kitchen scraps and some dry leaves. Good luck, Mrs. Q, composting is really easy and fun, our daughter really digs the worms that live in our bin and I’ll bet your son will also be fascinated.

  10. Linda January 3, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    http://www.toronto.ca/greenbin/index.htm

    Let’s think big for 2012! Toronto collects household compost in green bins along with the garbage pickup – it is composted by the city, then available for pickup for gardens, farms, etc. I saw a post that mentioned a program in Seattle too. Why can’t a great city like Chicago be ahead of the pack and implement a composting program?

    Good luck with your household composting in the meantime!

  11. Dan January 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Hi Mrs. Q!
    Home composting can happen in many ways- it all depends on how much space you have available, how much food you have to compost, how much time you want to spend on it etc. Worm composting is easy and fun- especially for your wee one. One of the keys is “if it smells, somethings is wrong.” Worm composting, on an at-home, scale is for a relatively small amount of food waste– they should not be fed anything oily, processed (though minimal-ingredient bread is fine) or anything that you would not put in your eye (ie. no onions, citrus, garlic etc). Tip: blend or mash up worm food for significantly quicker consumption by the worms!

    “Backyard” composting can be done in pre-built, home-built pens or even in a large trash can (which is what I do on my second story porch). This process can take more diverse matter (processed foods such as breads, but not oil covered things, meat, dairy or bones as they take a long time to break down, get stinky fast and attract rats etc). This is a balance of Greens (food waste) and Browns (yard waste). This process needs to be a little more monitored and watered but it is not rocket science once you get it going.

    Here’s a link to some great and diverse backyard options: http://www4.uwm.edu/shwec/composter/how-to-build-a-compost-bin.cfm

    As for the Academy for Global Citizenship, we do worm composting in the classrooom (a student led job), “backyard composting” out by the chicken coop (3 big barrels) and then we haul the rest to Land and Lake Commercial Composting facility through Erlene Howard and her wonderful team at Collective Resources (http://collectiveresource.us/)

    Enjoy!

  12. Penny V January 5, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

    I have a book by Ken Thompson on composting, that contains enough “science” for my taste, and I heartily recommend it. It’s got good instructions and pictures on what kind of composts you could build, about the volume you need for a family of 2 or 4, and talks about the CN (Carbon & Nitrogen) ratio, that affects how efficiently a compost converts material into humus. The general rule for dark, rich soil is three parts green stuff (N) to one part brown stuff (C) in the compost.

    http://www.amazon.com/Compost-natural-make-food-garden/dp/0756613418/

  13. Maritza January 7, 2012 at 12:45 am #

    I was very involved in green issues in college at the University of Chicago. Some info that may help…

    The Shedd Aquarium actually has a publication on this: http://www.sheddaquarium.org/pdf/Shedd_Worm_Brochure.pdf

    When I helped organize Earth Week several years ago someone from the Shedd actually came out and helped 20 people start their own worm box. They may be willing to do something similar for your school, or you can contact them for more information.

    Aramark, which does the food service at the University of Chicago, installed industrial composters at the dining halls on campus. They may have since moved to more places (this happened right before I graduated). Again, I’d bet that since you are in education and Aramark likes to have people like them, they would be happy to give you more information, or a tour. They may also have composting units somewhere closer to you school. I dont’ know about UIC or the private schools on the north side but they may also have info.

    I hope that helps a little; please feel free to email me if you have any other questions.

    • Mrs Q January 7, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

      Thanks so much for the link! I’m going to have to do some research!

  14. Amy McIntyre March 12, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    Aloha! I am an Idaho Master Gardener and freelance write for the Idaho Statesman. Here is an article I wrote last fall about composting…. Enjoy! :-)

    http://www.idahostatesman.com/2011/10/19/1845760/u-of-i-master-gardener-rake-up.html

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