You can compost in northern VA!

October 8, 2021
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It’s the renter’s life for you in northern Virginia; home is a small apartment or a townhouse with strict covenant guidelines. You don’t have the space, or the rules say, “No garden!” But that doesn’t mean you can’t do your part to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

You can compost!

But why? Compost augments the structure and texture of the soil — acting as a sort of soil conditioner — and is a better alternative to pollutant-laded chemical fertilizers. Composting reduces the amount of organic material in landfills; and soil treated with compost has been shown to produce plants with fewer pest problems. Less waste; healthy, happy soil; and fewer pests: That’s reason enough for us! Not to mention you can help get rid of smelly food scraps in your trashcans while you wait for trash day. Also, if you like fishing, it’s a nice way to attract worms. 

Tiny space dwellers and black thumb bearers unite here. With a few simple materials, and a little dedication, you, too, can cut down on food waste and give back to your community. Learn how!

What You’ll Need to Compost:

  • Some kind of container, as big or small as you would like. It can be metal, plastic, etc. Whatever you prefer or have on hand. You might want to make sure it has a lid that fits on it well.
  • A tray to place under the container to catch spillage. You can use a big metal one, or a plastic one, whichever you prefer. We like metal better, since it’s easier to clean.
  • Soil. You don’t have to pick a specific one, but we recommend one that is high in carbon or nitrogen, which is the secret to a good compost pile.
  • Dry bedding. We personally prefer newspaper or cardboard, but you can use leaves, straw, or sawdust. If using sawdust, make sure it’s not chemically treated. If it is, just water your compost pile a few extra times over the course of your composting run. But better to be on the safe side, we don’t want to ruin any plants you might use this on with chemicals that might still be in the sawdust.
  • Tools for punching holes in your container. We like hammer and nails or a drill, but that’s honestly decided by the material of your container.

Composting Instructions

  1. Decide where your indoor compost bin will live. In your home, this might be under the sink, in a pantry cabinet, or on a patio/balcony.
  2. Punch holes in the base and sides of your bin.  Be careful not to make them too big or too small. Half an inch to one inch is about the right size. Space the holes about six to eight inches apart. Be careful not to put any holes in the bottom of your bin! That’ll ruin it.
  3. Line your tray with newspaper or a tarp, and place the compost bin onto the tray.
  4. Add a three-inch layer of soil, and then a layer of dry bedding (newspaper, leaves, straw, or cardboard).
  5. Do your research, and determine what can be composted, and what cannot. Paper towels, potato peels, coffee grounds, eggshells, and cooked rice are all great for composting! You can also do tea leaves, old flowers, or leaves and yard waste. Never put ashes, lime, meat, bones, animal waste, dairy products, fats, greases, or oils into your compost bin. As temping as it might be, make sure you follow the guidelines for what you can and cannot compost, or you will ruin your compost that you worked so hard on. For paper materials, try to avoid using colored ink, as it has more chemicals then normal black ink.
  6. Cut or shred your compostables to speed the process along. You can use cardboard as an example. It’s much easier to compost when it’s in small strips, about an inch wide. You can also use a shredder for your papers, which are also compostable. The same thing goes for eggshells – they’ll be easier to compost if you crush them into a million pieces before adding them to your compost pile.
  7. Add your compostables to the bin with an equal amount of dry bedding. Never add more compostables then bedding, it upsets the balance. Also, try to aim for a green-brown balance. That is, the carbon to nitrogen ratio. EarthEasy has a good chart if you are unsure of some good nitrogen or carbon compostables. You can find it here: https://learn.eartheasy.com/guides/composting/.  Try to keep it to one third nitrogen and two thirds carbon. And ALWAYS put the lid of the container back on.
  8. Stir the heap, and add half a cup of fresh soil once a week. You can use a shovel to turn the heap if you don’t want to get your hands dirty. There are ways to set it up to be easier to turn from the outside, but those can take some work, and we’re going for simple. Spread the half cup of soil out thinly, and make sure it doesn’t clump up.
  9. Don’t forget the water! Make sure your compost pile stays moist. If it gets too dry, add some water – not enough to flood your pile but enough to moisten the dry materials.

Your compost will be ready to use when it is dark-colored, crumbles easily, and smells of Mother Earth. Your original, organic materials should no longer be recognizable.

Okay, Now What? 

Compost can be used as topsoil in your very own houseplants and container gardens, but maybe you don’t have those: It’s okay. Offer the compost to your neighbors, or donate it to a school or local farm garden; the potential uses are nearly endless. And many people will pay good money for good compost, after all, it’s very useful. And if you so choose, you can even use it to grow worms, and sell them to fishermen or markets, who will likely be happy to buy them from you.

Contact JK Enterprise with any questions as you get started, and happy composting!