Common Composting Questions
What items are compostable?
What is the benefit of composting?
Composting is the natural aerobic decomposition of organic matter into a nutrient rich soil amendment. It is composed of “greens”, such as grass clippings or fruit and vegetable scraps, that provide nitrogen, and “browns”, like dead leaves or paper products, that provide carbon. An ideal ratio for good compost is 3 parts brown to 1 part green. This results in a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 25-30:1 for an ideal compost blend.
Lots of reasons!
- Food takes up space and processing it is expensive. Diverting food waste out of the landfill frees up space and makes it so we don’t have to build new landfills as frequently.
- Food needs to breathe to break down properly. When food waste goes to the landfill, it gets covered up by other waste and doesn’t get the air flow it needs to break down properly. When this happens, it rots and releases methane gas and carbon dioxide, which contribute to our warming atmosphere. When food decomposes in a compost pile, it undergoes aerobic decomposition, meaning that the microbes in it consume oxygen to turn the material into something resembling soil, rather than just rotten food.
- The addition of compost to agriculture fields has proven to increase water retention capacity, productivity, and resiliency. It also naturally provides essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, meaning less chemical fertilizers need to be applied. It also provides nutrients that are easy for plants to use, so less ends up in our water systems.
- Compost conserves water. The use of compost in gardens and farm fields adds more organic matter to soil, which helps hold water. Increasing the water holding capacity of a soil means that you can give plants less water and can water less frequently.
There are a few ways to go about this. The two main methods are by using a compost tumbler or building an enclosure for your compost pile. Compost tumblers are nice for keeping your food waste out of sight, away from critters, and cuts down on odors. They are good for people that live in close proximity to their neighbors, that are looking to compost on a small scale, and won’t be adding a ton of yard waste. We sell compost tumblers here at Hsu Growing Supply, so stop by if you’re looking to get started! The other option, an open compost pile, is good for people that are creating a larger amount of food and yard waste. It can be done by building a three sided enclosure out of wood or metal fencing that allows for good airflow. You can add your browns and greens right into it and the compost will do its thing. It requires you to turn it occasionally so that everything gets a chance to be in the middle of the pile to decompose evenly, but this can be done easily with a pitchfork or shovel. Depending on what you’re putting into it, how much moisture the mixture has, and the amount of direct sunlight it gets, you can have garden-ready compost in two to ten weeks, depending on how closely resembling soil you want your compost to be. Both of these options are great for anyone looking to reduce the amount of food waste they send to the landfill or wanting to add more organic matter to their lawn or garden.
Our composting business began through our Ginseng Company. Paul Hsu, our founder, found that ginseng grows best in the presence of leaf mold, which is created when the leaves of hardwood trees fall to the ground and decompose. He wanted to add this fertile amendment to his field grown ginseng, and began collecting leaves in the Wausau area and composting them in windrows. He found that other growers, gardeners, and farmers also appreciated the fertility that the compost provided and began selling it commercially. Now we accept yard waste from the area, as well as leaves that are collected off of city streets to create our leaf compost. We also accept food scraps from residents and have a pickup service for local restaurants and coffee shops. Now, in addition to creating a fertile soil amendment, our goal is to divert food waste out of the landfills and help community members contribute to a circular economy rather than a disposable one.