Backyard composting and vermicomposting (with worms) both allow you to reduce the amount of waste you create while producing the perfect soil. Check out our handy fact sheets for more info on each process. You can also take our Master Mountain Composter program during the spring to learn it all. Need more info on composting or have a specific composting question? Please contact Jessie Burley.
Most landfills are designed NOT to breakdown organic waste. Many people mistakenly believe that the landfill is a giant composting system. In reality, all of your leftovers and yard clippings that go into the garbage do not turn into high-nutrient soil in the landfill. Organic substances need adequate oxygen, sunlight, and beneficial microorganisms to recycle naturally into compost. Landfill conditions foster an anaerobic (oxygen-depleted) environment where decomposition of food and other waste produces methane, a greenhouse gas up to 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This hazardous output makes landfills the largest human-related source of methane emissions (34%) in the United States. From a climate-change perspective, composting (backyard and commercial collection) is beneficial because it stops methane production. How? In a compost pile, oxygen-dependent bacteria break down the organic material, leaving water and carbon – not methane.
Beyond its ability to stimulate plant growth and improve soil structure, compost has the remarkable power to absorb carbon emissions, too. Currently, around a quarter of the world’s carbon emissions are absorbed by the earth’s soil. However, climate change is damaging the soil’s ability to absorb carbon emissions. It seems to be a Catch 22! Compost is the answer. Compost provides an ideal environment for methanotrophic bacteria (bacteria that uses methane as carbon and energy). The EPA found that a blanket of compost on a landfill can help reduce methane emissions by as much as 100 percent! Compost can also be used to enhance the nutrients in existing soil and therefore, improve soil damaged by climate change.
Composting in the arid cold climate of the central Rocky Mountains can be a little tricky. Never fear! If you are composting correctly (and we are happy to advise on that) you will end up with nutrient enriched compost that is great for your garden and indoor plants. Backyard composting is like farming microorganism. You give the bugs water, food, and oxygen, and in return, they give you compost. Microbes need two basic ingredients to jump start the composting process: nitrogen (your “greens” – food scraps, manure, plant waste…) and carbon (your “browns” – straw, leaves, paper towels…). A good rule of thumb is to mix these ingredients in a 50/50 fashion. Once you get a good sized heap, your microorganism population will explode and you are well on your way to making your very own compost.
No Compost Bin, No Problem!
Click the image below to learn how to compost at home without a bin.
Vermicomposting or composting with worms is an easy way to make compost in the mountains. They do all the work for you. Worm composting is faster than backyard composting because worms produce compost every day. You can also compost year-round with worms so no more frozen compost bins. Some even consider worm castings (another name for the compost they create) to be more fertile than typical backyard compost. Worm bins can be kept in very small spaces indoors, so people without yards can do it… it is great for apartment/condo dwellers and classrooms! All you need is a Tupperware bin, a drill for oxygen holes, a small amount of starter compost or castings, worm bedding (shredded newspaper, straw, coir…), and the worms.
Not just any worm can do the job! Although most species of worms will break down organics to some degree, red wigglers (a.k.a. red worms or Eisenia fetida) are the best for processing large amounts of organics in a short amount of time. They also reproduce quickly and are tough enough to survive minor temperature fluctuations. Your average garden worm or nightcrawler work deep underground and aren’t too interested in eating your organics. To order your composting worms online, click here.
High Country Conservation Center has been offering backyard composting workshops to the Summit County community for several years. The popular workshops are well suited to citizens interested in learning (or reviewing) the basics of composting. However, if you are among those that are interested in a more in-depth program then the Master Mountain Composter program is for you!
Every spring, HC3 and Colorado Mountain College co-host the Master Mountain Composter Program. The program typically consists of four classes with 1.5 hour sessions:
- MMC Class #1: Compost Fundamentals, Compost Pile Building, Methods, and Compost Use
- MMC Class #2: Composting at High Altitude, in Cold Weather, & in Bear Country; and the Science of Composting
- MMC Class #3: How to be a Worm Farmer – Basic & Advanced Vermicomposting (Composting with Worms)
- MMC Class #4: Landfill Dynamics, Large-Scale Compost Operations, and Tour of Community Compost Program
Not only does the Master Mountain Composter program help reduce waste at our local landfill, Master Mountain Composters promote composting at the community level. MMC “alumni” have conducted workshops in schools, inspired neighbors to compost, and have established composting systems at the workplace. They do a variety of community outreach activities.
In order to receive certification as a Master Mountain Composter, each participant will be required to perform 20 hours of community outreach by the end of the program year. Some potential activities that will fulfill this requirement include: conducting a composting workshop in the community; teaching a composting program at a local school; writing resource materials for a newspaper or magazine; assisting a business with compost collection; facilitating zero waste events; and coordinating a community garden project.
There is the option to become a Trained Mountain Composter as well, which allows individuals to attend the training sessions without taking part in the community service component. The fee for this option is $75 and priority is given to those choosing to participate in the community outreach portion of the program.
Drop-Ins are welcome to attend each class for a fee of $20 with no commitment to the MMC requirements. For more info, contact Jessie Burley.