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Composting is a great way to reduce the amount of waste you send to the landfill each day, and can help your or your friends’ plants as well! There are several different techniques you can use at home depending on your particular situation: what type of material you’d like to compost, whether or not you have yard space, or how much time you’d like to invest.
There 3 main types of composting: aerobic (hot or cold), anaerobic, and vermicomposting.
Aerobic composting is probably the type of composting most people are familiar with, where microorganisms break down piles of material through aerobic (oxygen-using) processes. If enough material is available and if piles are adequately maintained, the decomposition processes can be quite rapid and generate a great deal of heat (hot compost). If piles are left alone or if only a small amount of material is available, the process will be much slower and no heat will be generated (cold composting).
Anaerobic composting is composting through fermentation, which is a metabolic process that is much slower than aerobic decomposition but does not require oxygen. Often, anaerobic processes take over in a pile that began as aerobic but does not get enough air circulation. This may be because the pile is not being turned, or because the pile is inside a bin that does not have adequate ventilation. Some people prefer to bury their compostable waste and compost it anaerobically. Anaerobic composting is much slower than aerobic composting and fermentation can cause very unpleasant odors, so this is not a common method for home composting and will not be covered extensively here.
Vermicomposting is composting using a combination of microbes and composting worms. As with aerobic composting, oxygen is a critical component of the process, but the use of worms allows composting at a wider variety of scales and conditions than may be possible with standard aerobic composting.
The Department of Public Worms focuses on aerobic and vermicomposting, and we have developed some useful guides to help you get started or improve your own at-home composting systems. If you have any additional questions, don’t hesitate to contact us!
Which system should I use?
Aerobic composting is ideal for large or highly variable amount of yard waste and all food scraps other than meat or dairy. It requires a small amount (3 foot x 3 foot) of outdoor space, and unless you plan to purchase or build an enclosed compost tumbler, that space should be open to the dirt below (no cement patios). It works best with larger volumes of waste (when the 3 foot by 3 foot space can be filled with a 3 foot high pile) and regular (2-3x weekly) maintenance, but can be done with less. It will produce good quality compost that can be used in the garden.
Vermicomposting is a better fit for small-scale kitchen scrap composting and can be done either outdoors or indoors if maintained properly, so no yard space is required. Only fruit and vegetables should be composted (no meat, dairy, oils or grains), and the bin should generally be checked weekly, though it can be left alone for up to a month. It will produce extremely high-quality (better than from aerobic) compost for the garden.