For the past year, I have been downright religious with not throwing away any kitchen waste or yard debris that can be composted. I’ve set aside storage space in my freezer, actively gathered grass clippings and leaves, and managed to create a good amount of nutrient-rich compost. But for all my efforts, is it really a good use of my time? If you have wondered this too then here are my findings after a full year of dedication.
Is composting worth it? Composting is worth the effort to produce your own nutrient-rich soil amendment. You can choose to take an active or passive approach and save money on soil for your yard, garden, or flower beds. At the same time, you can reduce the amount of material being sent to landfills.
Consider these benefits of composting:
- Save Money On Soil and Fertilizers – Buying quality soil can get very expensive yet you have the ingredients to make your own! Compost also reduces the amount of fertilizer required.
- Better For The Environment – With 20% of landfill waste being food products (source) you can do your part to make a positive impact by composting those kitchen scraps instead of tossing them in the garbage.
- It Can Be As Active Or Passive As You Want – Composting doesn’t have to be a chore. You get to choose how much effort to put in.
Below are the challenges and observations that I’ve encountered over the past year in my adventures in composting. I like to test something for at least a year to get a solid idea of its practicality and usefulness.
Active Composting Is Faster And Produces Better Results
Active composting is when you are routinely “turning” the compost ingredients. There are a lot of benefits to this approach but the main one is the speed at which organic material decomposes. (For a better understanding, read The Complete Guide to Active Compost). The challenge with active composting is that it does require some level of ongoing intervention.
Fortunately, compost ingredients do not have to be turned often but it is something worth mentioning here because it does allow the pile to heat up, resulting in a faster breakdown (source). in a side-by-side comparison in my back yard, it became evident very quickly that regularly turning or aggregating the compost to allow for air makes a significant difference in how fast the organic material decomposes.
Compost Tumblers Can Really Accelerate The Process
Sometimes I tend to dismiss things too quickly. The need for a compost tumbler seemed like a solution in search of a problem. Why not simply take a pitchfork or shovel and turn the pile manually? In truth, there are a few simple answers:
- Time and Labor – The effort of turning compost manually can be a little backbreaking. Depending on the size of your pile, it can take a while to sift through and turn it effectively to improve aeration and balance moisture content throughout.
- Pest and Rodent Resistance – There are some preventative measures you can take to keep pests and rodents out of your compost pile but it’s nice having an enclosed system that prevents them from entering in the first place. On top of that, the fact that many compost tumblers are elevated, it further hinders pest entry.
- You’re More Likely To Do It – When all you need to do is rotate a barrel to turn your entire pile, you are more likely to not procrastinate. It’s super easy and ensures a complete turn and mix of the ingredients.
- It’s Tidy – Some people may not like the idea of having a pile of grass clippings and veggie scraps in their back yard. I get it; it’s a little unsightly. A compost tumbler keeps those ingredients compartmentalized and out of sight.
Beyond all of this, however, is the accelerated speed at which composting ingredients break down. The regular aggregation of organic material to support aeration and to balance moisture content can make a remarkable difference in how fast those scraps are composted and ready for the garden.
Passive Composting Is Slower But Still Works
Despite the benefits of active composting, taking a more passive approach has its appeal. Composting, after all, shouldn’t be an obligation. It should be something that you can do with very little time and reap rewards beyond the effort put in. In this way, passive composting is great! You can simply pile up your ingredients and let them decay slowly with time. You can also dig holes and bury kitchen scraps to compost in the ground.
Granted, you are not going to produce compost anywhere near as quickly as you will with active composting but you also aren’t going to be burdened with rotating a pile or checking whether your compost is too wet or dry.
You Don’t Have To Buy Anything To Get Started Composting
If there’s one advantage that passive composting has above active composting, it’s that you don’t need to buy anything at all to get started. You don’t even need a shovel. You can build a small pile in your backyard and compost your grass clippings or even start a compost pile in a cardboard box. Yes, turning your pile will speed things up but the simple fact is this – if you give nature what it needs, it knows what to do with it. The process is much slower but organic material will break down over time.
I’ve come to realize that it’s great to build a passive pile that sits and begins decomposing while I’m working a smaller, active pile. This has turned out to be a good balance for me. Once the active pile is fully composted, I can start working the passive pile which has already begun the decomposition process. In the beginning, I would keep adding to the active pile but that was never allowing it to fully compost. By having a pile I am active working but piling up debris into a passive pile for future use, I get the best of both worlds.
Compost Starters (Accelerators) Help But Aren’t Always Required
I’ve come to appreciate compost accelerators and their place in kick-starting a composting project. These usually include bacteria to get the biological decomposition process underway. They can also reduce smells which is a plus. But you don’t have to use them to begin composting.
As I stated before, the decomposition of organic material is a natural process. It will happen whether you add a compost activator or not. In a tumbler or in a pile, organic material will decay. But just as a compost tumbler can accelerate the decomposition process, a quality compost starter can help in getting the process kicked off. Deciding whether or not to use one will depend on your impatience level.
Mistakes Happen But Are Easy To Correct
Yes, there are some golden rules for composting. There are things you shouldn’t put in your compost pile and there are items you need to be careful with. Composting potatoes is a good example of this. But unless you are throwing meat and dairy in, the decomposition process will correct a lot of your mistakes.
I have found that the key to successful composting is maintaining balance. Not too wet, not too dry. A healthy balance of browns (carbon sources) and greens (nitrogen). There is an ideal balance for the nitrogen-carbon ratio but if you are just getting started the easiest thing to do is to make sure there are more browns than greens. This will prevent your compost from smelling and getting slimy.
Composting Is Worth It If You Care About The Environment
Not everyone obsesses over their impact on the planet. I’m not one to overthink this either. At the same time, common sense tells me that if everyone takes and no one gives back, sooner or later the cookie jar is empty. Putting organic material back into the soil is a responsibly-minded approach to reducing landfill waste. At the same time, it’s enriching the soil with organic nutrients that synthetic fertilizers just can’t compare to.
Composting is worth it for those who want to create their own nutrient-rich soil amendments for a yard, garden, or flower bed. Turning yard debris and kitchen waste into compost is an excellent way to save money, make use of otherwise discarded material, and prevent unneeded landfill waste. With an increasing amount of food waste among consumers (source), it just makes sense that we make good use of what waste we can. And let’s face it, there is no fertilizer on the market that can compare to the benefits of compost.
Composting can be as active or as passive as you want. It just depends on how fast you want the process to go.
To really understand the science behind the magic, I recommend reading our in-depth article, How Compost Is Made: The Definitive Guide