You may have heard that we’ve lost half of our topsoil in the past 150 years and that topsoil is necessary for 95% of food production. I used to hear stats like this and feel alarmed but also not understand why this was happening. Once I started composting and reconnecting with the cycles of nature, it all made sense.
Top soil is turned into plants, and plants are then composted and become soil again for the next round of plants. If however, organic material is then loaded into a plastic trashbag and brought to the dump, it doesn’t turn back into soil. You can’t create something out of nothing, you can only transform it from other matter. Food waste is the second most plentiful thing in landfills. Paper waste is the most plentiful. Both of these are compostable. If what comes out of the soil doesn’t return to the soil, eventually the soil runs out.
Most composters are not composting nearly as much as they could be. There’s a lot of weird advice and myths about composting. My goal is to reduce as much waste as possible while producing as much compost as possible. I don’t want to have to buy any plastic bags of soil from the garden center, but I also want to produce abundant and nutritious plants for my homestead. Composting as much as I can is like my cost-saving secret weapon.
So, are you ready to up your composting game? Here’s 10 things you need to start composting NOW:
- All citrus: There was this weird rumor going around that citrus couldn’t be composted. But again, if citrus comes out of the ground, then it can certainly go back into the ground. The rumor started when somebody noticed that organic pesticides sometimes used citrus ingredients. This then made them think that citrus would kill the bugs and fungi necessary to cause the composting process. Ah, if only garden pests were so easy to kill! This rumor has been thoroughly debunked. Feel free to put as much citrus in your compost as you produce.
- Weeds: Weeds probably make up the bulk of my compost, so it’s crazy to me that so many people don’t compost these. People worry that composting weeds will cause a bunch of weed seeds to get into their compost. Oddly enough this has never been an issue for me. I seem to be the only gardener that doesn’t have a weed problem. I compost and I mulch, that’s it. Compost generates heat during the decomposing process, and that heat will make all seeds found within unviable. Otherwise you would have apple trees sprouting all over the place. Turn your compost every now and then and you will be totally fine. Weeds offer a lot of nutrients to the compost.
- Food Leftovers: I put all food leftovers that have gone bad into my compost. A lot of people advise against this, but I’ve been doing it for years with 0 issues. I think the idea is that leftover food has some amount of salt and cooking oil in it, but unless you are doing something extreme, this will be negligible. I used to live in Boston and every winter the streets would be repeatedly coated in salt, and yet every spring the plants would all grow along the side of the road. Obviously salt is bad for soil, but the threat has been clearly overblown. I’m vegan so I don’t have to worry about wildlife being attracted to my food leftovers in the compost, but if you eat meat or dairy you should do some research about this. I’m told there is a Japanese methods for composting meat and dairy.
- Paper shreds: Any glossy and colorful paper waste like magazine should be recycled, but pretty much everything else can be composted. We have a shredder for things like bank statements and those shreds get emptied right into the compost. We also use cardboard as a layer under our mulch to prevent weeds from growing through. So much better and more effective than using black plastic!
- Leaves: When I lived in Boston, we would bag up our leaves and then the leaf man would come and take it and do God knows what with it. It seems crazy to me now, but I really never thought about it. Now that I live in the country, there is no leaf pick-up option. Now we use leaves as free mulch, just as it was intended to be used. We run the leaves through a chipper and include any sticks we find and we end up with something that looks pretty similar to bagged mulch. It’s important to me that my landscaping looks nice, so I wouldn’t use it if it looked crappy. I also add a layer of shredded leaves to my garden beds in late Fall and then top them with compost in the Spring and create a very fertile planting bed. I’m also told that you can just run over the leaves with your lawnmower and “much-in your lawn” to add nutrients back to your lawn.
- Ear swabs: If you’re using plastic ear swabs, you can’t compost plastic, but luckily the all-paper ones are readily available. But truth be told, yes, start composting all of these paper hygiene products. This includes cotton balls, paper towels, and used tissues. So long as you are using other natural and compostable products and cleaners with them, they can all be composted. Once you’ve used them all up, please consider switching to reusable products like hankies and cleaning cloths.
- Pet fur and hair from your brush: When I clean out my pet brush I put that ball of fur right into my composting pail that sits on my kitchen counter. I do the same thing with finger nail clippings and my hair brush. Do you ever scoop up cat throw-up with a paper towel? Yep, compost that too. It actually makes me happy to know that my cats played a part in creating my beautiful garden soil.
- Pet waste: This one’s a little more advanced, so please do some additional research, but something new I started this year is composting my cats’ poop. We used to buy regular non-compostable litter and then scoop it up into little plastic bags. Looking back, I absolutely cringe at this. Now we use compostable cat litter we buy at our local Kroger and keep a separate composting pail next to the litter box. This then gets emptied into a separate composter outside. You need to use a separate composting bin for cat poop and you wont be able to use any resulting compost for a good 18 months to make sure any bacteria or parasites or what-have-you have been broken down. In the end though what you end up with is a fertilizer more nitrogen rich than even cow manure.
- Dust pan sweepings: What we sweep off the floor tends to be dirt, food crumbs, hair, and other organic material. That can all be composted back into the Earth.
- Dryer lint: If you use clothing made from natural fibers, all of that, including the dryer lint can be composted. Cotton T-shirts can be cut up and added back to the compost. In a matter of months that shirt will be soil again. If you have clothing made out of polyester or rayon, you can’t do this because it will add micro-plastics to your soil. I’m trying to not buy any new clothes that are made out of polyester, but in the mean time I’m still wearing and using up my old clothes.