Two parts carbon, one part nitrogen and two chickens roaming about.
That was the equation for backyard composting at Project Compost’s educational workshop on Saturday in the Tri Co-ops.
“Compost is what I like to call black gold,” said Liz Fitzgerald, a junior American studies major and education and outreach coordinator for PC. “It’s just this nutrient rich soil that you can make with waste that would otherwise just sit in a landfill.“
The workshop covered the basics of creating a 3-foot by 3-foot outdoor area. Instructors went over various different types of composting, such as bin composting and heap composting.
All types of outdoor composting consist of the same fundamental ratio of two parts carbon, or what they call “dry stuff,” and one part nitrogen, or “juicy stuff.” They classify carbon as anything that crinkles, like straw, leaves, or shredded paper, and nitrogen as anything fresh, like coffee grounds, manure or food matter.
The nitrogen products should be placed between the carbon products to allow adequate oxygen to infiltrate the material. Add a conservative portion of water to keep the nitrogen products moist, and time – about one to six months – and instructors say the resulting substance will be a “party for microorganisms.“
“When you finally sprinkle your finished compost around your garden, or at the roots of your plants, it will increase the pores of the soil, which brings in more oxygen,” said Gwen Miller, vermicomposting director and junior environmental science and policy major.
Fitzgerald also suggested selling finished compost on sites like craigslist.org or giving it to a friend.
“You wouldn’t believe how excited people get when they receive compost,” Fitzgerald said.
Aside from the benefits of an organic and oxygen rich garden, composting also enables people to actually see the amount of waste they produce, Fitzgerald said. Of the average household’s waste, about 30 percent of that waste can be composted. For those living sustainably, such as residents of the co-ops, the percentage can be much higher, reaching up to 75 percent.
The workshop also went over problems one might encounter with their own backyard composting heaps, such as a foul smell or stagnant decomposing.
During a question and answer portion, one attendant asked where one would find additional carbon, such as hay. Instructors advised asking the UC Davis Equestrian Center, or businesses that shred paper, such as banks. Shredded newspapers also provide sufficient carbon.
“There are lots of cool things you wouldn’t expect to be compostable, like hair or tea bags,” said Fitzgerald, holding up a container of hair from a recent haircut.
Fitzgerald advised against composting meats, as they often contain chemicals, and staples from tea bags.
“Basically, if you can envision something breaking down in nature, you can compost it,” said Alexa Sommers-Miller, unit director and junior environmental science and planning major.
Approximately 15 people attended the workshop from throughout the community. What they found most helpful was the emphasis on the basics of composting. Some had never composted before and were interested in starting their own pile. However, some, like Davis resident Maia Kazaks, already compost, but attended the workshop for tips from the professionals.
“Composting is about that fundamental rule of having two parts carbon to one part nitrogen,” Kazaks said. “The workshop was really good about making that connection that whatever comes from the earth can return back to the earth.“
One downfall to backyard composting is the amount of time it takes to compost. Fitzgerald estimated that maintaining an adequate compost pile could take up to three hours a week. Setting up a compost bin alone could take about a day.
“In this way, it’s more of a social issue,” Fitzgerald said. “Three hours a week is a lot of time if you need to be supporting yourself. So composting really is a privilege.“
A more time-efficient method of composting is worm composting. Since the worms do most of the work, one only has to spend 15 to 30 minutes per week with their compost pile.
An additional worm-composting workshop will be held on May 2 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in front of the Tri Co-ops on Reagan Circle Drive. The workshop will cover the basics of worm-composting maintenance and will also give supplies for attendees‘ own worm-composting bin.
Supplies often run out fairly quickly, Fitzgerald said, so those interested should expect a large crowd.
For more information on composting, contact Project Compost at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 754-8227.