How to Compost Safely in Critter Country – And Why Bother?

To keep your compost healthy and prevent odours, put “browns” on top of each layer of vegetable-fruit-plant materials.
Submitted by Jacqui Wakefield, MNBP Waste Diversion Group

Despite steady improvements in our rates of recycling, the amount of waste entering our landfill sites continues to exceed 1 million kilograms each year. Our landfills are “filling up”. Indeed, it is estimated that the St. Edmunds site will be at full within the next 6-7 years!
Why Bother with Composting?
Backyard composting is an excellent way to reduce our garbage. Food wastes are estimated to contribute at least 25-35% of all the garbage going to landfill sites. If we can reduce our trash by that amount, not only do we save landfill capacity, we minimize the release of climate change gases – especially of potent methane.
In addition, the compost we produce can provide a supply of free fertilizer/nutrients and humus to the garden – or to trees and shrubs around our yards. Compost works for decades by promoting plant growth and experts say that by increasing composted organic matter in tilled agricultural soils by 1-2%, we could return our atmosphere to the pre-1850 level. Pretty important climate change strategy! So, we have two compelling reasons for composting!
But…. Despite the benefits, many residents are hesitant because of the fear of attracting bears or other critters. The good news is that the key to composting in bear country can be summed up in two words: odour free. If your compost smells, it will attract bears – and they have excellent noses!
So, HOW do we do it?
Experienced gardeners have made many helpful suggestions in previous articles in this paper:

build or buy a compost bin (many options available, including black composters from the Municipality) with a proper base,

layer the compost ingredients with a variety of materials, and

stir/turn frequently

To keep your compost healthy and prevent odours, Go Big on Browns! The bacteria that will do the major work in your compost bin require nitrogen-rich “greens” (eg, kitchen vegetable scraps) and an equal or greater amount of carbon-rich “browns” (see photo) in order to create healthy, odourless compost.
Browns include: fallen leaves, straw, newspaper (shredded or torn into 1” strips), paper towels or napkins, cardboard (toilet paper rolls, egg cartons, corrugated cardboard torn into small pieces), coffee filters.
Specific tips:
• Cut up kitchen scraps and plant material, so the compost will break down more quickly.
• Put the “browns” on top of each layer of vegetable-fruit-plant materials. If you can get them, fallen dry leaves are excellent! From time-to-time, add some soil to introduce bio-organisms that contribute to a faster composting process.
• Stir or turn the layers periodically to be sure oxygen gets to the agents that do the decomposing work – beneficial bacteria, protozoa, fungi, nematodes, and worms. They will survive only with adequate air. Not enough air, and/or too much moisture, results in compaction rather than decomposing – with bad smells!
• Do NOT add food scraps that include meat/fish/bones, dairy, eggs, cereals, rice, pasta or oil/grease to your compost. Also avoid overloading the compost with fruit scraps.
• If your compost is covered, it can absorb a lot of moisture, so add water periodically when it is getting dry.
Tip: If you use the compost only for flowers and shrubs, you can add small amounts of pet waste. However, most experts recommend NOT doing this if the compost is used for vegetables, as the compost needs to get very hot to kill any potentially harmful germs.
Ensure that you have nothing else on your property that might attract a bear. It may not be the compost that encourages a bear to visit. A bird feeder, an unlocked garbage tote or outdoor pet food could be the invitation for a bear, and your compost might be an unwitting victim in the bear’s search for food.
The bottom line is keeping compostable food and plant waste out of our landfills is a high priority, for many good reasons. Let’s take waste reduction to the next level, and benefit our environment at the same time!