Compostable materials, such as yard and kitchen waste make up more than 30% of household waste. Composting these materials goes a long way towards reaching the Fraser – Fort George Regional District’s goal of reducing waste going into landfill by 50%.
Goals aside, why send to the dump material that can enrich the soil and save you money? Finished compost can replace expensive chemical fertilizers, and give you healthier shrubs, vegetables, flowers and grass.
What is Composting?
Composting is a natural process that occurs when plant material dies. Bacteria, fungi, worms, and other organisms living in the soil and air transform dead plants, leaves, vegetable scraps and more into a rich dark material called humus or compost. Best of all, you can do this at home with easily available composters and following a few guidelines. Don’t forget, we host workshops and are available to answer your composting questions if you are unsure how to start.
Business Organic Waste Collection is a service we provide free to businesses to collect their kitchen wastes May to September FREE to feed our composters and worms. Contact us for more information.
Anything that was once a living plant can be composted, but to make your compost work well you need a balance of nitrogen and carbon-rich materials. All plants contain nitrogen and carbon but the ratio of nitrogen to carbon varies. Green-coloured materials such as grass clippings are high in nitrogen whereas brown materials such as the autumn leaves are high in carbon. If you use equal amounts of green and brown materials (i.e. one bucket of grass clippings to one bucket of leaves) you should obtain a good balance. The materials can be layered or mixed together. Mixing will start the compost working more quickly.
Four Essential Ingredients for Good Composting: Nitrogen… Carbon… Water… Oxygen
Balancing the supply of water and oxygen is essential for good composting. The decomposers – bacteria, fungus, worms etc. – need moisture to do their work. If the pile is too dry, nothing much will happen. If the pile is too wet, it will smell. The pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Too wet a pile eliminates the essential oxygen that the decomposers need. Even with the right amount of moisture the pile tends to pack down and squeeze out the oxygen. To avoid this, aerate your pile at least once a week. A compost turner, shovel, garden fork, potato hoe, or stirrup hoe can be used to turn your pile. Use a tool that is easy on your back and that you are comfortable using. A lid can be helpful for retaining or repelling water.
Building the Pile
Whether using a purchased or hand-built container, always start with a layer of twigs or coarse material such as straw to allow for good air circulation. Materials can then be added in layers no more than 10cm thick. Alternate the kinds of material used or mix them together. The smaller the materials are chopped or shredded, the faster the composting process will work. The pile should be at least one cubic metre in size but no larger than 3.5 cubic metres.
What to Put In
- Cardboard – Very high in carbon
- Coffee – Grounds acidic
- Cornstalks – Chop and mix with high nitrogen material
- Eggshells – Crush before adding
- Feathers – Rich in nitrogen
- Grass Clippings – Not from pesticide or chemically treated lawns
- Hair – Except chemically treated hair
- Vegetable Kitchen Waste
- Leaves – High in Carbon
- Manures – Careful, these may bring weed seeds
- Mushroom Compost – Check if treated with fungicides
- Black & White Newspaper – Paper high in carbon, shred finely. (Coloured paper may contain heavy metals toxic to plants and animals.)
- Pinecones and Needles – Acidic, but decompose slowly
- Plant Trimmings
- Straw and Hay – Carbon rich
- Tea Bags
- Sawdust – Not from treated lumber or cedar
- Weeds – Don’t add weeds with seeds unless you will have very hot compost
- Wood Ash – Use in small amounts, very alkaline
What to Avoid
- Barbecue Ashes – Contains sulfur oxides
- Diseased Plants – Pathogens only killed by very hot compost
- Dishwashing Water – May contain perfumes, greases, sodium
- Dog, Cat Feces, or Kitty Litter – Can contain diseased organisms
- Fish Scraps – Attracts animals. You could bury in a trench.
- Grease or Milk Products – Attracts animals, and large amounts are to slow compost
- Meat Scraps – Attracts animals
- Quackgrass – Unless thoroughly dried before adding, it will grow again
Vermicompost – Composting with Worms
It’s a natural method for recycling your kitchen scraps. It can be done all year round, indoors and outdoors, in apartments, houses, offices, and schools. The finished castings provide a good soil conditioner for houseplants, lawns, and gardens.
Removing worms from their natural environment and placing them in containers creates a human responsibility. They are living, breathing creatures with their own unique needs, so it is important to create and maintain a healthy environment for them to continue to do their work. If you supply the essential ingredients and care, your worms will thrive and make rich castings for you.
Essentials to Vermicompost
- Container (wood / plastic)
- Bedding – Bedding ingredients (newspaper, cardboard) and fine sand
- Kitchen waste
By creating the optimum conditions in your vermicomposter, you can successfully breed and produce castings. Three important factors are: food, space and a moist, cool environment.
If your family produces one pound of kitchen waste per day, you will need two pounds of worms (approximately 2000 worms). If you are unable to get this many worms, or do not produce this amount of kitchen waste daily, reduce accordingly to achieve a balanced vermicomposter.
How It’s Done
- Fill container with bedding and sand
- Sprinkle with water until moist
- Add worms
- Bury kitchen wastes in the bedding, alternating the location at each feeding
Over 1-3 months the worms and microorganisms eat the organic materials and bedding. A variety of kitchen wastes ensures the worms are receiving all the required nutrients and provides richer castings. When little original bedding is visible in the bin and it appears brown and earthy, it is time to harvest. The worms need to be separated from the castings, the bedding replaced, and the cycle starts over again. The castings can be used as soil conditioner for indoor and outdoor plants.
What Do Worms Need
- To live a dark, cool spot
- Be kept from direct sunlight, heavy rain and cold
- Below 4°C the vermicomposter should be moved inside
Visit out our page on worms to see where you can locally purchase wrigglers for your pile.
We hold regular workshops on composting and vermicomposting, so check out the schedule (Link to events) if you have any questions. Or get in touch, we will be happy to answer your questions and help you on your way to composting success. For a child-friendly guide on composting with worms, see the Castings newsletter on our Publications page
Composters and Rain Barrels
We can help you get you started with sustainable gardening practices by connecting you with suppliers of rain barrels and composters. We also hold workshops in our Compost Demonstration Garden to show techniques like topdressing, compost tea making, natural pest control methods and more. View our workshop schedule, and other waste reduction events.
The City of Prince George and REAPS have partnered to provide rain barrels for residents of Prince George. Cream rain barrels are $80. If you add a downspout rainwater diverter, available at most home improvement stores, it simplifies the collection of rainwater.
Composters & Aerators
REAPS sells the Earth Machine brand of composters in partnership with the RDFFG for $50. The Wingdigger-branded composter turner is also available at a cost of $15.
To buy any of the above, stop by the REAPS Demonstration Garden daily between 12:30 and 4:30pm, 1950 Gorse Street by Lheidli T’enneh Memorial Park (end of 20th Avenue).