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From what I've read online, it looks like I'm not composting correctly.

I don't have much space in my backyard so there's no space for a compost bin/pile. Instead, I've been putting scraps of food at the base of my trees/plants to "compost" and hoping to help my plants grow. Someone told me that I'm doing this wrong and I'm just throwing trash in my yard.

I do have to say, sometimes I see the food scraps a short distance from the base of the plant, which makes it look like something was eating it.

My question is should I continue putting food scraps at the base of plants to help them or figure another way to get rid of the food scraps?

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What "someone" told you is correct. Basically, you are giving unwanted visitors like slugs, snails, and rodents a free lunch with no benefit to your plants. The only benefit to the plants, in the long term, would be if earthworms are burying the material you put on the surface and it eventually decays (with a timescale of years, not days or weeks).

To make compost in the traditional way, you need a mixture of "green" plant material containing nitrogen, and "brown" plant material that is mostly cellulose (i.e. the main chemical component of wood). You then need to contain the mixture so that bacteria can break it down into chemicals that plants can use, and you need a large enough quantity of it so that it can reach high temperatures both the speed up the decomposition and to kill pathogens. The temperature can reach 50C or 120F in a fast-working compost pile.

The decomposition process takes several months to complete, or even years is the mix of "green" and "brown" plant material is not optimum. The mix of "green" and "brown" is important to provide the correct carbon-to-nitrogen ratio for the bacteria to process. Too much "brown" will not produce any composting activity, and too much "green" will create a wet anaerobic mess, which will rot down slowly, and probably smell terrible, instead of forming compost which is relatively dry and odour-free.

Animal food waste or waste dairy products is not necessary for traditional compost, and can be harmful if it attracts predators.

You can make "traditional" compost in a container (e.g. a plastic bin) rather than an outdoor heap of material, but you need a minimum volume of about 4 cubic feet (100 liters) for the process to work efficiently.

If you don't have the space, or a big enough supply of waste, for the traditional method to work properly, two alternatives (which you can do indoors) are a wormery, or the Japanese Bokashi system. Google for companies that supply the equipment to set up these systems.

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  • I have a wormery in my garden (as well as compost bins). If you do use one indoors you have to manage it much more carefully to avoid smells. On the other hand my two 80 litre bins seem to use a mixture of slow composting and worms (that look like they've spread from the wormery, rather than normal earthworms) – Chris H Dec 27 '20 at 17:36
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There is an alternative, but it depends how much space you have between plants in your garden. It's called the Dig and Drop method (or burying, as my father used to call it), which involves digging a hole as wide or as narrow as you like but at least 10 inches, or preferably 12 inches, deep. Put your kitchen scraps in the hole (but no animal origin products such as meat or dairy), push the soil back over the top, tamp it down lightly and leave it.

What you have to be careful of is not causing root disturbance to nearby plants, that's all - see here for more detail: Easy Composting: The Dig and Drop Method.

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  • 5gal buckets with holes drilled in them don't really work; that's just where you keep it for a while before you actually bury it (+1) every couple of weeks. – Mazura Dec 27 '20 at 6:34
  • This also works if you have a sudden glut that won't fit in a small compost bin, and the soil acts as a buffer so it's less important to have a good mix of ingredients – Chris H Dec 27 '20 at 17:38

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