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Written by Chloe Green

A Beginner’s Guide to Composting in Bend, Central Oregon


Being conscientious about what happens to the food that we eat and don’t eat is an excellent way to begin living a more sustainable lifestyle. With food waste accounting for twenty-four percent of all material found in landfills and eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, reevaluating what happens to our leftovers can help lessen our environmental impact. That’s where composting comes in. Carys Wilkins, owner of Sister’s Mahonia Gardens and farmstand said, “Even before I became a farmer ten years ago, composting felt like one of the most accessible ways to reduce my energy footprint. Not only does it help to reduce trash in landfills, but it creates rich soil which can be used to grow food.”

Photo courtesy Lomi

Composting is the naturally occurring process where organic matter, such as food scraps from the kitchen or leaves from the backyard, is recycled into a dark, rich soil called compost. These materials will naturally decompose, but composting speeds up the process by creating an ideal environment for decomposition. Learning to make the perfect compost pile can feel intimidating, but it’s not as hard as you think. This simple guide is all you need to get a compost pile up and running. 

Location, Location, Location

No matter where you live, there’s a composting method that will accommodate your lifestyle. If you have a backyard, create an open-air pile or an enclosed compost bin out of an old trash can or metal box. Ensure the location of the pile is in a shady and dry area away from animals, and with good drainage. If you live in a smaller space, purchase one of the various small compost bins designed for apartment living or simply use a large plastic bag to mix compost material. 

Don’t plan to garden but still want to practice sustainable living? Simply collect food scraps in a countertop collection bin that will then be dumped into a yard waste receptacle for someone else to make compost with. For those of us in Bend and Redmond, yard debris and food waste are collected every other week by Cascade Disposal or Republic Services.

Building the Pile 

Four essential elements—nitrogen, carbon, water and
air—are needed to cultivate a successful compost pile. The first two elements are commonly referred to as the “greens and browns.” Nitrogen is found in “greens,” which include fruit and vegetable scraps, grass clippings, flowers, egg shells and animal manure. Carbon will come from “browns,” found in yard materials such as dead leaves, twigs, wood chips, hay, soil, and items such as egg cartons and old newspapers. The browns should act as the base when building the pile. From there, add alternating layers of greens and browns on top of one another. Keep the pile consistently moist by watering every three to seven days, and add air by turning the pile every two weeks or so. Layering greens and browns and ensuring these materials are cut up into small pieces will also help with aeration. Remember to keep dairy products, meat, oil, coal, pet waste and diseased plants out of the pile.

Determine the success of a compost pile by the smell. You’re on the right track if the pile gives off an earthy and neutral scent. But if it starts to smell rotten, you’ll want to add in more brown material and give it a turn. 

After collecting scraps and building a successful compost pile, reap the rewards with nutrient-rich soil for the garden.

How to Use Compost 

Compost can be ready to use after anywhere from one month to one year. You’ll be able to tell that your pile is ready to be used when you can no longer recognize the original organic materials, it appears dark and crumbly like soil, and it has a fresh and earthy smell. 

From there, it’s time to put the hard work to use. “If you have any outdoor space you can use your compost on trees, bushes, or dig into a section of your grass and replace it with compost and veggies.” Wilkins said. Compost introduces a lot of nourishing nutrients into the soil that are great for your crops. “If you’re in an apartment, replace your houseplant’s soil with your homemade compost every six months instead of using chemically enhanced bagged soil,” she said. 

If you like the idea of composting, but don’t have a use for it at home, there are a lot of options still available to you. Wilkins recommends checking out community gardens, as most will accept kitchen scraps. Or start a compost bin in your community. “Our farm stand in Sisters, The Stand, has a community compost bin,” Wilkins said. “Come check it out for an example of how to start your own.”

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