If you live on a property with the space for a compost pile, you can simply begin to pile your organic materials in a spot that you select. You don’t really need a container to make compost, but, if you don’t have the space, or if you prefer a more tidy appearance, you can use a container. A wide range of containers are available to purchase or you might choose to construct your own bin or container. A container can be as simple as a modified trash can. (Remove the bottom, drill a few small holes, and place it on the soil).
After choosing a place and method, start collecting organic materials to put on your pile or into your container. From outside of your home, you can use leaves, grass clippings, weeds and garden debris. From inside of your home, you can include kitchen waste from vegetables or fruits, egg shells, bread, coffee or tea grounds, and paper towels that have not been exposed to chemicals or toxic substances. You should avoid meat, bones and dairy products as these materials will attract unwanted rodents. You should also avoid anything that is toxic and pet feces in order to maintain the healthy quality of the finished compost.
The next step is to simply wait. You can keep adding materials to your pile or container and the finished compost will first appear on the bottom. If you want to accelerate the process, you can periodically turn or mix the contents.
The final step is to use it. Use it at your convenience - Compost won’t spoil. You can spread it lightly on your lawn to make it greener. You can apply it to your garden to make the plants stronger, healthier and more disease-resistant. You can sprinkle it around your houseplants or container plants. You can package it and give it to friends and neighbors. And even if you never use it, you’ve already done great work by keeping organic waste out of the waste stream.
There are rarely problems encountered in small-scale composting, but the two most common issues are easily addressed. In the ordinary process of anaerobic decomposition, microbes and other decomposers need both oxygen and moisture. If you find that the contents become slimy, wet or smelly (too much moisture and not enough oxygen), add more dry materials like dried leaves, shredded paper, paper towels or sawdust, and then mix the contents. If the materials are too dry, decomposition will be slow. The remedy for this condition is to add more green materials like fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, or a small amount of water, and then mix the contents.
I urge you to respond to Pope Francis’ call for action by composting. In a small but important way, you can do something about the “immense pile of filth” that Pope Francis describes in Laudato Si.
Written by Michael Lefebvre, OCSJM Laudato Sí Team member