By Dustin Rhodes

You know when you see an internet meme, and you practically raise your hand and/or stand on your chair exclaiming, “Yes! Preach!” Or is that just me? That’s how I felt when I saw, “Middle age is mostly getting excited about all the flavors of hummus.”

Can you relate? But it just as well could have said humus (as in, dirt), because, well, that excites me too. 

I was very slow to hop on board the composting train. It’s mainly because I am already an Indigo Girls fan, and also because it stinks (so I thought) and, well, how many hobbies does one need? Also, I don’t have a garden, so what on earth would I do with it?

But I am here to tell you: Composting is everything. It is super easy, and you can use it for practically anything. Plus, it’s really good for the earth—because you’re significantly reducing waste while improving your soil quality. It also doesn’t stink, and if it does you’re doing it wrong (basically, if you keep the moisture balance right in the compost pile—not too wet or dry—it will have almost no odor whatsoever). I bought a tumbler composter that turns food to compost in six to eight weeks—but you don’t even need to use a fancy composter (see tips below).

So you might be wondering– what can you do with it?

* You can dump it right on top of your grass, in a 2-3 inch layer. While, of course this won’t look pretty at first, it seeps right into the soil in a week or so and feeds the grass and soil.

* Use compost just as you would mulch—spreading it over flower beds and areas with shrubs and trees in your yard.

* Compost can be added as a “soil amendment,” which means you dig into your soil, just a few inches, and add the compost. This improves the quality of your soil immensely.

* Make a compost tea! (But don’t drink it). Do this by adding a gallon of compost to a bucket of water and allowing this mixture to sit a couple of days, then use it to water plants in your yard. The water is supercharged with nutrients.

Don’t get me wrong: hummus is still exciting, too. But there’s something supremely gratifying about watching your kale stems, cherry pits, coffee grinds and that leftover dinner you ruined forgot to eat turn into something magical. It’s an effortless hobby I highly recommend, middle-aged or not.

FoA’s Easy Guide to Composting

We read through several articles about composting to bring you this shortcut to success—5 easy steps to making your garden plants and landscape healthier and stronger than ever this summer.
By composting raw fruit and vegetable peels and scraps, yard waste and other ingredients, you can create nutrient-rich organic matter that helps plants grow while minimizing the waste sent to landfills. It’s a win-win. First, let’s start with the basics of what to actually compost.

What you will need: Brown and Green compost ingredients
Organic matter high in carbon — what composters commonly call browns— provides energy for decomposer organisms as they break down the contents of your compost pile. These include dry leaves, woody plant trimmings, sawdust, wood chips, pine needles, shredded paper, cardboard or newspaper. Organic matter high in nitrogen — called greens — supplies the decomposers with protein. This group includes fruit and vegetable scraps, tea and coffee grounds and filters, grass clippings and leaves, hair and lint.

What you won’t need
Some materials definitely don’t qualify as compost ingredients because they contain pathogens. So don’t use ashes from charcoal barbecues, fireplaces or wood stoves; disease- or insect-infested plant material; weeds with seed heads; meat, bones, fish grease, fats, oils, or dairy products or any pet waste. (Because these things won’t be in your compost pile you won’t have to worry about attracting wildlife or creating an odor.)

Now, the steps:
1.) Find a dry, shady spot near a water source. You can buy a bin, use chicken wire or just isolate an area of ground for a compost heap. Ideal size is 3-feet wide by 3-feet deep by 3-feet tall.

2.) Add brown and green materials (small pieces are better) in alternate layers. A good ratio is three parts brown to one part green.

3.) Keep the compost moist but not too wet. Moisture helps break down organic matter, but too wet a pile is one of the most common causes of smelly compost.

4.) Occasionally turn compost mixture. Turning adds oxygen to the bin, which will result in faster compost production.

5.) Garden ready! Your pile may get warm as materials breakdown. When it’s ready for use, which could take anywhere from a few months to a year, none of the original ingredients should be recognizable. Mature compost looks and smells like very dark soil.

Development Director Dustin Rhodes is in charge of fundraising for Friends of Animals and is a contributing writer for Action Line. He resides in Asheville, North Carolina — a progressive, animal-loving community in the Blue Ridge mountains