Main content

Rad ways to rot

Put that apple core to work for Mother Earth.

Composting is like a miracle in your backyard or basement, said Mary Wicks, a research associate in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

The natural process harnesses the power of carbon and nitrogen as it transforms food waste, bits of wood and leaves into rich organic matter crucial for healthy soil, which in turn can help gardens thrive.

Composting also keeps food waste out of the landfill or wastewater treatment plant, Wicks said. (Plus, those who commit to composting tend to adopt other earth-friendly habits, Ohio State researchers have found.)

But the idea of composting might be intimidating, even if you flinch about tossing vegetable scraps in the trash.

The good news is: Soil microbes do all the important work. You just have to give them the right conditions to thrive, which you can do on a small scale in your yard or even indoors.

Greens, browns and blues are all you really need to get started with composting.

“Greens” refers to food waste or plant scraps that add nitrogen. Wicks recommends plant products such as fruit or vegetable scraps, yard waste and coffee grounds.

You can also add manure from animals that don’t eat meat, although it’s not necessary. Do not use fats or animal products, including dairy, grease or manure from animals that eat meat. These materials can attract rodents, create bad odors and carry pathogens.

“Browns,” such as twigs, wood chips, leaves, sawdust or even newspaper, add carbon to the process. Watch out for weeds, though; they can add seeds to your compost, Wicks warns.

And “blues” refers to the moisture levels in your compost. As you turn over the mixture, it should feel like a damp sponge. If it’s too dry, add small amounts of water. If it’s too damp or, even worse, dripping and smelly, you need to get more air into it.

Finally, some people recruit worms to work in their compost operations, but you can do without them, Wicks said. It comes down to personal preference.

Ready to start?

Wicks offers the following directions for composting, whether you live in suburbia or are more of a condo dweller.

pdf preview
Composting Outdoors
So you want to compost outdoors? Here's what you'll need.
compost indoors pdf preview
Composting Indoors
So you want to compost indoors? Here's what you'll need.