For thousands of central Ohio sustainability enthusiasts, spring is a magical time.
At 50 degrees, compost really gets cooking. It's the natural process that biodegrades everything from yard trimmings to coffee grounds.
As is the case with most things, there's a right way and wrong way to go about it.
Most people starting off might want to consider a plastic compost unit that requires little work, said Mary Ann Brouillette, communications specialist for the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District.
It accomplishes two things: keeping waste out of the landfill and producing a nutrient-rich soil additive.
The concept is fairly simple: Load the units with appropriate material while maintaining a proper balance of nitrogen (green) and carbon (brown). It depends largely on the volume of wet versus dry compost, but for beginners, more carbon than nitrogen is recommended.
Things to consider: rinsed and crushed eggshells, non-glossy paper, leaves, and coffee filters and grounds. Things to avoid: weeds with seeds, branches and charcoal briquettes.
Composting can get a little tricky at times. Fruit rinds, cornhusks and banana peels are perfectly acceptable, but other table scraps -- meat, grease, bones and dairy -- are not.
They can develop odors and attract animals. Cat, dog and human waste are forbidden because they carry pathogens that can be transferred to the soil.
Newer stuff goes on top and the nutrient-rich compost settles at the bottom. It can be used in a variety of applications, from top dressing to enrichment to garden soil.
"If you want to grow your own food, the best thing to do is not to keep throwing fertilizer into it," Brouillette said.
"The best thing is to add compost," she said. "It improves soil health. When there are more microorganisms in the soil, harmful things are kept in check."
There are more sophisticated composting methods, she said -- for example, using homemade bins made from wood and screens. Loading is similar but it's recommended to consistently cover with leaves, and always to turn the mixture to aerate it and speed up the composting process.
It's the preferred technique for Joanne Dole of Worthington. She loads her 3-foot-by-3-foot bin, which is also 3 feet tall, with layers of compost and then disassembles the unit, moves it a foot or two away, and begins to load it back up with the new stuff on the bottom.
She said she gets 15 25-gallon containers of compost from the piles each year and uses it for various plants in her organic gardens.
As she peels back layers, she reveals discarded pumpkin rinds, potato skins and other material. Yet, there is no odor.
"You know, this thing doesn't smell at all," she said. "Good compost shouldn't smell."
Rotating-drum units are situated off the ground and turned with a handle or spun by hand. They often cost between $50 and $100.
For the super composting geek, there's always worm, or vermi, composting. It requires a ventilated wood or plastic container, shredded newspaper for bedding, a handful of red wigglers and, of course, composting material.
They require temperatures of between 59 and 77 degrees, so they're usually kept indoors. The containers also must have a lid because worms prefer the dark and it helps keep in the moisture.
"You put the food on top and the worms come up and eat it and excrete their castings, which are marvelous to use in the garden," Brouillette said.