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How Your Old Carrot Peels and Apple Cores Can Help You Be Healthier and Kind to the Planet Too

You may think that throwing carrot peels and apple cores in the trash has no effect, as they will spoil anyway. But even natural plant matter will last for years when sealed in a plastic bag and thrown into a landfill.

As a great example of community responsibility, the city of Seattle, WA offers free composting bins to all residents. This prevents over 800 million pounds of trash from reaching landfills! Not only can it help divert your own kitchen waste from the landfill, but it can also create rich, nutritious humus for your own garden, whether it’s an acre or an old wine barrel in your yard.


o Each year, more than 21 million tons of food waste is generated in the United States. If this were composted, the greenhouse gases saved would be equivalent to taking over 2 million cars off the roads.

o You will add valuable nutrients back to the soil and your garden will be healthier and your vegetables more nutritious for you and your family.

o You’ll save money by not having to buy garden soil or mulch materials, and that will save energy to transport those products to your store and your garden.


When organic materials like leaves, plant food scraps, manure, and yard waste are broken down in a controlled environment (your compost bin), a rich, fertile humus is created that will improve and fertilize your garden soil.

Your plants are much healthier because:

or nutrients are added

o drainage improves a lot, if your soil has a lot of clay

or if your soil is sandy, compost helps it retain water

If your compost pile is cold, worms and bugs will find their way in and help turn your waste into food for your garden. But it helps to have the right conditions. Give these friendly critters plenty of air, water, and food, and they’ll be the best friends in your garden.


Home compost is better for microbes and nutrient diversity, but bagged compost provides organic matter and some microbes. Keep in mind that composted manure may be mostly water by weight.

If you have a large garden where the soil needs extra nutrients, you may want to buy cheap bags of composted manure or bulk compost from a local commercial composter, then add your own compost as needed.

If you are purchasing compost, please note that there are no regulatory labeling requirements for bagged compost. Grade A composted sewage sludge is probably the safest, because it is the only type of compost that requires testing for heavy metals and pathogens before it is approved for sale to the public. Manure from feedlots is much more dangerous from a pathogen standpoint, as no testing is required.


Even if you only have a small apartment balcony or back porch, you can compost in a plastic container (about 18 gallons or larger). Drill or punch holes an inch or two apart on all sides, bottom, and lid. Place it inside another slightly larger and shallower container (those under bed containers work well for this). Put some rocks or bricks between the two so there is room for air flow. Add your waste and shake the container every two days. If you have room for two, you can add one for several months, then stop adding it and start on the second. Continue to stir occasionally until browned, crumbly, and smells earthy. You can use this compost for small balcony pots, or even for your indoor plants, if you don’t have space for a large garden.


For a high-quality compost, mix materials that are high in nitrogen (such as clover, fresh grass clippings) and those that are high in carbon (such as dry leaves and straw). Rain and fresh kitchen debris provide moisture, but you may need to add water to keep it moist. Turning or mixing the pile frequently provides oxygen.

Your compost needs to breathe:

Without enough air, your compost pile will break down, but more slowly…and it will smell a lot more! So make sure you have plenty of air space in your stack. The straw works great to keep the pile from caking. If you don’t have access to straw, be sure to break up the clumps and try turning it over with a shovel or garden fork regularly to fluff it up.

Your compost needs to drink:

You want enough moisture to lightly cover each particle in your pile, providing the ideal environment for thirsty microbes. It should be as damp as a wrung out towel. Wetter than this and it will start to smell bad. Kitchen scraps will usually be moist enough, but if you’re adding dry leaves from your garden, you may want to moisten them a bit. If your pile is exposed to the elements, cover it with a tarp when it rains. Too much moisture can cause the temperature inside the pile to drop and make it smell bad. The lack of moisture prevents the pile from heating up and slows down the decomposition process. Check the moisture level of your compost pile weekly and adjust if necessary. Add water to increase humidity or add dry material to help dry it out.

Your compost needs to eat:

Your friendly composting bugs have two food groups…and it’s always best to mix the two if you can:

o Brown (Dry) – These materials have a high carbon content and include straw, dry leaves, wood chips or ashes, peanut shells, pine needles, vegetable stems, and shredded cardboard or newspaper (avoid colored paper and the inks). You may want to moisten them a bit as you add them to your compost pile.

o Vegetables (moist): These are high in nitrogen and include fruit and vegetable scraps from the kitchen, green leaves and grass clippings, tea bags, coffee grounds and even seaweed. Horse manure is great, but it’s better if it’s well aged. Check at a local stable.

Your compost needs to stay warm:

If you live in a cold climate, chances are your compost pile will sit dormant during the winter. You’ll be in great shape as soon as the spring heat starts to warm you up again. The compost does not need to be hot; 50% Fahrenheit is fine.

You may be considering hot composting (110 to 160 degrees F), because heat composts quickly (in weeks instead of months) and kills most seeds and plant diseases. However, studies have shown that compost produced at high temperatures is less able to suppress soil diseases. High temperatures can kill the beneficial bacteria needed to suppress disease.


o Balance of fresh and dry: Compost piles with a balance of one part fresh and two parts dry materials break down faster. Add a garden fork of fresh material to the pile and top it with two forks of dry material. Then mix them.

o Size: Compost piles that are at least 3 cubic feet (3 feet x 3 feet x 3 feet) heat up faster and break down faster.

o Jump-start your compost pile: If you are just starting your compost pile, add a shovelful of high-quality garden soil to help jump-start microbial activity in your pile.

o Mixing: If possible, mix the compost once a week to move the material from the outside of the pile to the inside. This prevents the stack from compacting. (compaction reduces airflow and slows decomposition)

o Smelly?: Healthy compost smells like earth; if yours smells bad, it’s too wet. Turn it more often and add more dry matter to help dry it out. When your compost is too wet, it removes the oxygen in your pile, which slows down the decomposition process and encourages the growth of anaerobic microorganisms…increasing the stench! It can also smell bad if the mix has too much yard or kitchen waste. Bury it deep within the compost and add more dry matter.

o When finished: The compost should be dark brown in color, smell of earth, and moist to the touch. The compost at the bottom of the pile usually “finishes” first. You’ll know your compost is finished and ready to use when it no longer heats up and when the original ingredients are unrecognizable. This usually takes 6 to 12 months.

o Nothing happens!: If you notice that nothing happens, you may need to add more nitrogen, water or air. Cold compost can take a year or more to break down depending on the materials in the pile and conditions.

o Compost pile is too hot: If your compost pile is too hot, you may have too much nitrogen. Add some more carbon materials to reduce heating. A bad smell can also indicate too much nitrogen.

o Attracts flies and insects: Adding kitchen scraps can attract insects. To avoid this problem, make a hole in the center of the pile and bury the waste. Don’t forget… don’t add leftover meat or animal matter, pet manure, diseased plant material, weeds, fats or oils, or dairy products.

o Can I use fresh manure?: No. This could burn your plants. Make sure the manure (NOT dog or cat feces) is well aged before placing it in your garden.