How to Compost Your Food Scraps — and Make Lush Veganic Compost for Your Garden

Explore the most popular compost systems for composting food scraps, yard waste, and organic matter into nutrient-rich soil. From backyard compost piles to in-bed compost bins, to indoor electric kitchen composters, there are many methods of creating a sustainable closed-loop system.
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Three bin composting system from Gardener's Supply Company for making veganic compost.
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In an era marked by environmental consciousness, composting stands as a beacon of sustainability, offering a tangible solution to reducing waste and nourishing the earth. For those embracing a vegan lifestyle, composting takes on added significance, aligning with principles of compassion and eco-consciousness.

At its core, composting is nature’s way of recycling organic matter into nutrient-rich soil, creating a closed-loop system of sustainability. Microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and worms play pivotal roles in breaking down organic materials such as kitchen scraps, yard waste, and plant-based materials, transforming them into humus-rich compost.

In this expansive guide, we’ll delve deep into the world of composting for beginners, exploring various methods, considerations for veganic composting, and addressing common queries.

From traditional backyard composting to innovative electric kitchen composters and community-driven compost sharing initiatives, let’s embark on a journey to transform waste into fertile soil.

Jenn MacLeod of Sunflower & Sage Gardens installing an in-bed worm compost bin from Vego Garden.
Jenn MacLeod from Sunflower and Sage Gardens setting up an in-bed compost bin.

Understanding Composting

Composting is not merely a method of waste disposal; it’s a dynamic biological process that mirrors nature’s intricate cycles. At its essence, composting involves the decomposition of organic matter by a diverse community of microorganisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and insects. These tiny organisms work synergistically to break down complex organic compounds into simpler substances, ultimately transforming them into nutrient-rich humusthe hallmark of compost.

Microbial Activity

Microorganisms are the unsung heroes of composting, driving the biochemical transformations that convert organic matter into compost. Bacteria kickstart the process by breaking down easily digestible materials like sugars and starches. As the compost matures, fungi step in to decompose tougher materials such as cellulose and lignin, contributing to the breakdown of plant fibers. Protozoa and nematodes feed on bacteria and fungi, further accelerating decomposition. Invertebrates like earthworms and insects play crucial roles in aerating the compost pile and breaking down larger organic matter into smaller particles.

Carbon-Nitrogen Ratio

A fundamental concept in composting is the carbon-to-nitrogen (C:N) ratio, which governs the rate of decomposition and the quality of the resulting compost.

  • Green materials, such as kitchen scraps and fresh plant trimmings, are rich in nitrogen and provide essential proteins for microbial growth.
  • Brown materials, including dried leaves, straw, and cardboard, are carbon-rich and provide energy for microbial activity.

Achieving the ideal balance of green and brown materials—typically a C ratio of 25-30:1—promotes efficient decomposition and prevents odor and nutrient imbalances in the compost pile.

Temperature and Moisture

Temperature and moisture levels play pivotal roles in composting, influencing microbial activity and decomposition rates.

Microorganisms thrive within a narrow temperature range of 110°F to 160°F (43°C to 71°C), with optimal decomposition occurring around 140°F (60°C). Thermophilic bacteria dominate the composting process during the “hot” phase, breaking down organic matter rapidly and generating heat as a byproduct.

Adequate moisture—typically 50-60% of the compost’s weight—is essential for microbial activity and nutrient cycling. Too much moisture can lead to anaerobic conditions and foul odors, while insufficient moisture slows decomposition and inhibits microbial growth.

Phases of Composting

Composting progresses through distinct phases, each characterized by specific microbial activities and environmental conditions:

  1. Mesophilic Phase: The initial phase of composting, characterized by the activity of mesophilic bacteria at ambient temperatures (68°F to 113°F or 20°C to 45°C). Organic matter begins to decompose, and the compost pile gradually heats up as microbial activity increases.
  2. Thermophilic Phase: As temperatures rise above 113°F (45°C), thermophilic bacteria become dominant, accelerating decomposition and sterilizing the compost through high temperatures. This phase is crucial for pathogen reduction and weed seed destruction.
  3. Cooling Phase: Once thermophilic activity subsides and temperatures decline, the compost enters a cooling phase. Mesophilic bacteria and fungi continue to break down organic matter, albeit at a slower rate, and the compost matures into a stable, nutrient-rich humus.
  4. Curing Phase: The final stage of composting, during which the compost undergoes further maturation and stabilization. Curing allows remaining organic materials to break down fully and ensures that the compost is fully mature and ready for use in gardens or landscaping.
A green metal three bin compost system in the backyard with plant matter and compost at varying levels of decomposition.

By understanding the intricacies of composting—from microbial dynamics and carbon-nitrogen ratios to temperature and moisture management—beginners can cultivate compost piles that thrive and yield nutrient-rich soil amendments. Composting becomes not just a sustainable practice, but a journey of discovery, connecting individuals with the profound wisdom of nature’s recycling systems.

How to Invite Worms to Your Garden Ethically

Instead of buying worms from a garden supply store—which is not vegan—ask a friend to bring over a few worms from their garden. Or better yet—just add some food scraps under the soil and worms will naturally come and find it!

Methods of Composting

Backyard Composting

Backyard composting remains one of the most accessible methods for beginners. Whether through a compost pile or a bin, this method involves layering green (nitrogen-rich) and brown (carbon-rich) materials, periodically turning the pile to aerate and accelerate decomposition. It’s a hands-on approach that connects individuals directly with the composting process.

In-Bed (or In-Ground) Composting

In-bed composting integrates vermicomposting directly into garden beds, eliminating the need for separate compost piles or bins. A plastic bin with large holes around the sides is installed in the ground or in a vegetable bed, with the body of the bin below the dirt, and the lid kept above ground. Kitchen scraps and yard waste are layered directly into the bin, where they decompose gradually with the assistance of worms, who will come and find the food, enriching the soil and providing essential nutrients to plants as they leave a trail of worm casting throughout the bed and aerate the soil. This method promotes soil health and reduces the need for external inputs.

An in-bed worm composting bin from Vego Garden in a lush flower filled vegetable bed.

Vermicomposting

Also known as worm composting, this style of composting harnesses the power of red wriggler worms to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich castings. Most people buy worms to add to their worm compost—but some styles of vermicomposting are possible for vegans as well! Simply create or buy an in-bed or in-ground compost bucket with holes that allow works to travel in and out freely, there’s no need to buy worms—the worms will come. Ideal for urban dwellers or those with limited outdoor space, vermicomposting can be done indoors using a specialized worm bin. Kitchen scraps serve as the primary feed for the worms, yielding nutrient-dense vermicompost.

Bokashi Composting

Originating from Japan, bokashi composting offers a unique anaerobic fermentation method for composting kitchen scraps. A special mix of microorganisms is applied to food waste in an airtight bin, accelerating decomposition. This method can handle a wide range of materials, including meat, dairy, and oily foods, making it suitable for urban composting.

Trench Composting

Trench composting involves burying organic waste directly into the soil, mimicking natural decomposition processes. Simply dig a trench in your garden, deposit kitchen scraps, cover with soil, and let nature work its magic. This method enriches the soil, enhances microbial activity, and minimizes surface-level waste.

Pro Gardener’s Tip:

After you add your scraps and backfill the hole with dirt, cover the area with a large slab of stone to discourage wildlife from digging it up.

City Compost Bins

Many cities offer municipal composting programs, providing residents with designated bins for organic waste collection. These city compost bins accept a wide range of materials, including food scraps, yard waste, and compostable packaging. Participating in city composting initiatives not only diverts waste from landfills but also supports community-wide sustainability efforts.

Compost Sharing

If you don’t have a compost yourself—consider finding someone else who does, and would love your food scraps! Compost sharing initiatives foster community collaboration by allowing individuals to contribute their organic waste to shared compost piles—either in someone’s backyard or through organized facilities. Whether through organized composting hubs, local natural food stores, or community gardens, compost sharing encourages resource sharing, waste reduction, and community engagement.

Electric Kitchen Composting

Electric kitchen composters like the Lomi offer a convenient solution for composting food scraps directly in your kitchen. These compact devices utilize heat and mechanical agitation to accelerate decomposition, producing a condensed dried soil supplement in a matter of hours or days. Ideal for urban dwellers or those with limited outdoor space, electric composters reduce food waste while producing nutrient-rich soil amendments.

Vegan food blogger Michelle Cehn holding dirt that was made from food scraps by the Lomi kitchen composter.

Considerations for Veganic Composting

For those embracing veganic principles, composting offers an opportunity to align gardening practices with ethical values. Here are key considerations for veganic composting:

  • Avoid Animal Products: Refrain from composting animal-based materials such as meat, bones, dairy, and eggshells. Instead, focus on plant-based kitchen scraps, yard waste, and vegan-friendly inputs like seaweed, vegetable peels, and coffee grounds.
  • Opt for Vegan Amendments: Choose vegan soil amendments such as kelp meal, alfalfa meal, soybean meal, and fruit and vegetable trimmings to enrich your compost pile. These organic inputs provide essential nutrients without relying on animal byproducts. For additional nutrient support, consider using a plant-based fertilizer to boost your compost’s effectiveness.
  • Source Ethical Inputs: Ensure that any supplemental materials added to your compost, such as straw or leaves, are obtained ethically and sustainably. Look for local sources or suppliers committed to eco-friendly practices to minimize environmental impact.

Where Can I Buy Veganic Compost?

While traditional compost is readily available at garden centers and home improvement stores, finding veganic compost may require a bit more effort. Veganic compost, which adheres strictly to vegan principles by excluding animal-derived ingredients, is less commonly available in commercial markets. However, there are several options for procuring or creating veganic compost:

Specialty Suppliers: Some specialty nurseries, organic farms, or sustainable gardening supply stores may offer veganic compost for sale. These suppliers often cater to environmentally conscious consumers seeking organic and vegan-friendly gardening products. Check online directories, local farmer’s markets, or community bulletin boards to locate suppliers specializing in veganic compost.

DIY Veganic Composting: For those unable to find veganic compost for purchase, DIY composting offers a viable alternative. Utilizing the techniques outlined above, at-home composting allows gardeners to maintain control over the composting process and ensure adherence to vegan principles.

Community Composting: Community composting initiatives may provide access to veganic compost through shared composting facilities or cooperative arrangements. Some urban areas offer community composting programs where residents can contribute organic waste to centralized composting sites. These initiatives promote waste reduction, foster community engagement, and may prioritize veganic practices to accommodate diverse participant preferences.

Compost Sharing Networks: Compost sharing networks facilitate the exchange of organic waste among individuals or groups interested in composting but lacking the necessary resources or space. Participants can contribute their kitchen scraps to shared composting bins located at community gardens, natural food stores, or designated drop-off sites. In return, they may receive access to finished compost or other benefits, fostering a culture of collaboration and resource conservation.

Online Platforms: Online platforms and forums dedicated to sustainable living, gardening, and veganism may serve as valuable resources for connecting with like-minded individuals and accessing veganic compost. Websites, social media groups, or local community boards may facilitate compost exchanges, composting workshops, or discussions on veganic gardening practices. Engaging with these online communities can provide valuable insights, support, and opportunities for sourcing veganic compost.

While purchasing veganic compost may present challenges due to its limited availability, exploring alternative avenues such as DIY composting, community initiatives, and online networks empowers individuals to embrace veganic principles and cultivate sustainable gardening practices. By harnessing the power of composting, gardeners can nourish their plants, protect the environment, and promote compassion for all living beings.

Vegan kid Graham Taylor Miller gardening and planting flowers in his Vego Garden Kid's vegetable bed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I compost citrus peels and onion scraps?

Yes, citrus peels and onion scraps can be composted, but in moderation. Chop them into smaller pieces to speed up decomposition and avoid adding them in excessive amounts.

How do I prevent odors and pests in my compost pile?

Maintain a proper balance of green and brown materials, avoid adding oily or greasy foods, and cover kitchen scraps with a layer of browns to prevent odors and discourage pests. Regular turning or aerating the compost pile also helps maintain optimal conditions for decomposition.

How long does it take to make compost?

The time required to make compost varies depending on factors such as temperature, moisture levels, and the size of the compost pile. In optimal conditions, compost can be ready in as little as a few months, while larger piles or colder climates may take up to a year to fully decompose.

Composting embodies the ethos of sustainability, offering a pathway to reduce waste, enrich soil, and cultivate a greener future. By exploring diverse composting methods, embracing veganic principles, and participating in community-driven initiatives, beginners can embark on a composting journey that aligns with their values and contributes to a healthier planet. So let’s roll up our sleeves, harness the power of nature, and compost our way to a brighter, more sustainable tomorrow.

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