Welcome to the second of our three part mini blog series on Compost Composition!
We're going to dive right in with an important term to this conversation. This magical thing that will make your compost into compost.
raw material to supply or fuel a machine or industrial process
That machine or "industrial process" is your compost!
There is a balance in the process of making compost. It is more than the decaying of your vegetable and food waste scraps.
Compost much like nature is a creative blend of art and science!
Carbon to Nitrogen Ratio (C:N)
This is the most important thing to watch in your compost.
To make it less of a mouthful, we're going to simplify terminology.
Carbon = Brown
Dry, generally brown in color
Nitrogen = Green
Wet, can be any color but generally has more color, most of the time has a smell when it starts breaking down
It would be ideal if all organic waste was color coded based on that cheat sheet.
Unfortunately it is not.
Here are some easy ways that you can tell them apart!
1. Is it dry or wet?
Dry = Brown
Wet = Green
2. Does it have a strong smell?
No Smell = Brown
Smell = Smelly
Brown or Green?
Poop (any animal)
Color = Brown
Texture = Wet
Smell = Smelly
Brown or Green?
For a cheat sheet list of more things that you can compost check out our "Compost This, Not That" cheat sheet.
3 brown + 1 green = compost
We're going to run through a few ways to troubleshoot that ratio in your compost pile later in this blog.
Size of Feedstock
With any creative project, the size of the materials you use determines the finished product.
For my creative art friends, I admire you!
Unfortunately I am not creative in that way... so I'm going to stick with an analogy of something I am more average at.
Back to compost.
The larger the vegetables or pieces of brown feedstock added to the compost pile...
the more time it needs for the pile to breakdown.
If you are making compost at home, it is best to chop up your scraps and/or rip up your cardboard before putting it into the pile or bucket.
The larger and more whole the items are as they go into the pile, the longer it takes the micro-organisms to break it down.
Since our operation is larger, we have a wood chipper and are in the process of acquiring food grinder to break down material that we get from collections.
The smaller the input, the faster the output!
Troubleshooting and Frequently Asked Feedstock Questions
Why are meat and dairy listed on the "Not That"?
Technically.... meat and dairy are compostable. I know, I've been telling you all this time that it is on the "Not That" list.
Animal products come with an added workload managing pathogens.
As an animal product breaks down, elements are released from the feedstock. These additional elements are pathogens and must be maintained at extremely HOT temperatures in order to fully eliminate them from the compost.
This is the same reason the FDA requires disclaimers about consuming raw or undercooked meat on menu items.
If the pile does not reach a temperature of 140 degrees for at least 4 weeks, the pathogens could linger and contaminate the pile.
If this happens, rodents are then attracted to the pile and smell which brings along additional pathogens and concerns.
Unless you have a facility or process that manages to get to those standards, it is best to keep meat and dairy out of your compost pile.
**A way to get around this is to do a buried pile.
We'll discuss in our next blog Compost Techniques.**
Why are some items compostable only at industrial facilities?
Similar to the meat and dairy, industrial rated compostable products are dependent on the heat of the pile.
Compostable fibers such as sugar cane and potato starch are created via an intense process.
The pressure and compounding techniques used to fabricate those materials into a utensil creates a more dense material.
To fully breakdown the compostable materials, your pile must get to hot temperatures for a prolonged amount of time.
Home composting units rarely get that hot.
Why do some articles say not to compost citrus (lemons, oranges, etc.)?
Something we don't think about regularly are the pH levels of what we eat.
Ideal pH for soil is between 6.5-7.5
Citrus fruits are extremely acidic:
Lemon = 2.5
Orange = 3
Grapefruit = 3.5
In order to combat the lower pH from citrus, manage your compost pile with your 3:1 brown to green ratio and turn frequently.
At larger operations like Ground Down, we test the pH of our product to ensure that we are within the correct ranges.
Why is my compost really smelly?
Lack of Air
Lack of Browns
When greens break down they get extremely wet.
If there is not enough brown material to absorb the wetness, the pile needs to be turned frequently.
The first thing to do when your compost pile gets smelly is to turn it and let it set for a day.
After that if the compost pile still smells, think back to your feedstock inputs.
If you think your ratio of brown to green might not have been 3:1, add in some browns like leaves or wood chips!
Wisdom isn't something you can read from a book. It is experience that we accumulate over time!
Try out some of these ingredients tips in your compost pile.
If you run into a problem, pause and think back to the ratio, size and air.
You can rehabilitate your pile and still use it in the future!
This wraps up our second blog of three!
We are excited to share information with you and appreciate your passion to learn, desire to be open minded and curious nature.
Coming up next, learn with us about Compost Techniques!
If you have any comments, feedback or questions please leave them below or send me an email.