Most of us who make compost know that we can make it from vegetable peels, apple cores, clippings and trimmings from the garden. But some aren’t sure about what to do with cooked food waste from the kitchen. Can any of this go in the compost with everything else?
Yes, you can put cooked food in compost and there are a number of ways to do it.
We’ve put together 5 simple ways that you could easily use, in whole or part, that will allow you to turn your cooked food waste into something useful.
1. The wormery
This is a secure way of disposing of any food scraps including cooked food. A specially constructed wormery will have trays which stack in a column. Some people who use this system actually keep them in the kitchen for convenience.To start the process there is one tray that holds a mixture of ready made compost material. In this there will be a strong population of worms that will be looking for a regular supply of food-waste.
Fresh food-waste, cooked or otherwise, can be loaded into another tray that sits on top of the tray with the worms. When the food-waste has become rotten enough the worms will become interested and start to migrate into it. Worms can only eat waste that has decomposed and become soft enough for them to digest.
Can I put cooked food in the compost? Yes, cooked food rots faster than raw food.
When one tray has become full, start filling another tray which will sit on top of the others. The worms will migrate their way from one tray to another, digesting and breaking down the waste. There will come a point when you will run out of trays. Before you reach this point, you need to be able to remove the tray at the bottom of the stack and empty out the contents. The empty tray can then be placed on the top of the stack. You can then start loading the empty tray with food-waste to be ready for the worms to move in. It’s an ongoing process.
The contents in the bottom tray should be fully digested worm compost or vermicompost. This can be used in the garden straight away or stored to be used later. This system has its limitations. It really depends on how much waste you generate. If you produce too much waste for the worms in the stack of trays to cope with you will find that the food-waste in the bottom tray won’t be fully processed and you won’t be able to remove it. You will either have to set up another wormery set or you may have to accept that a wormery may not be for you.
One big advantage of using a wormery is that when worms digest food-waste they have the ability to completely destroy elements of this type of waste which are a potential health hazard, e.g. infectious pathogens .
2.The Bokashi system
This can be managed in the kitchen rather like a wormery. The procedure involves putting the kitchen waste, cooked or otherwise, into a plastic bucket which has a sealable lid. You then ad the ‘magic’ ingredient. This is a cultured preparation which is available in a dry, powdered form often mixed with a fibrous bran for convenience. When mixed with food-waste it will become moist and a fermentation process begins.
This is not a digestion process that in any way compares with making compost. When the fermentation process is complete the product of the system is not suitable for use as seed-growing medium. What you get from this is a fully fermented slurry-type material that’s highly acidic. The acidity will destroy potentially harmful pathogens, removing risks of infection but it’s not so strong that it will take the skin from your hands.
However, the bokashi system doesn’t make compost. It only creates an acidic sludge. This can be turned into compost. All you need to do is add it to a compost heap or bin and it will break down, over time, into compost. The one thing that you must do when attempting to take it through to compost is to neutralize the acidity of this sludge.
The best way to do this will always be to add hydrated white-lime. Smothering the bokashi sludge in white-lime will neutralize the acid. White-lime is calcium carbonate which will react very readily with any acid. The reaction will happen very quickly. With neutralization achieved, the bokashi addition will begin to rot down completely into compost.
3. Standard compost bin
You can put cooked food waste in a compost bin. The only concern here is that it may be exposed to vermin. They will definitely be interested if they know that there is something tasty in your compost bin but there is one thing that you can do that will really upset their ambitions. A liberal sprinkling of hydrated white-lime will do the trick. Not only will it deter rodents but it will accelerate the decomposition of the food-waste so that it won’t remain as food for very long.
4. Compost tumbler
Another good way of disposing of cooked food waste is to put it in a compost tumbler. Compost, ideally, needs to be turned over to get air into the mass. It will also mix the food waste into the mass. If hydrated white-lime is added to the mix then decomposition will happen quickly and efficiently.
5. Feed the Rolypig composter
The Rolypig composter will take food-waste in at one end and generate finished compost at the other. This provides an endless supply of compost while having the ever-open-door of the Rolypig’s mouth that will keep taking food-waste from the kitchen. The process is vastly improved by the regular addition of hydrated white-lime. The Rolypig can be occasionally rolled to agitate the composting material, drawing air into the mass. Put this together with the fact that, because it sits on the ground, worms can gain entry and multiply to huge numbers making the Rolypig a wormery and highly efficient compost tumbler.
Can leftover food be composted? Yes you can. The compost bin is the best place for leftover food, mainly, because when you throw it in with the rest of the composting waste, it’s out of sight and out of mind. The one thing that you need to be aware of is cooked meat. This is unlikely to be a big problem as the quantities are likely to be very small. However, it will be wise to add a sprinkle of hydrated white-lime. This will help to accelerate the composting process, deter rodents and flies.
How do you store compost scraps? You need a small convenient container, that you can live with, in the kitchen. There are plenty of ideas available out there for storing small amounts of waste. When the vessel is full you can then make a trip to the compost bin. One such container is the Rolypig kitchen bucket. It even looks like a piglet. When this is full enough, you take out the inner container, then go out and feed the contents to the Rolypig.
Why do we compost food?
There is a list of reasons why we compost food. Depending on the context of the question, we compost food because food can, actually, be turn into compost as opposed to other materials e.g. plastics, which can’t.
Anything that’s food to us, will be food to the microorganisms that are constantly ready and waiting for any food materials that we may throw out.
Composting of waste-food is a much better option compared to sending it off to landfill. With a bit of effort you can turn this waste into useful compost rather than allowing it to be someone else’s problem, which, has to be paid for by someone, and that someone will be you.
There will be a calculation done by someone somewhere that will detail how much money can be saved by everybody if everyone made compost from waste food. Not to mention the general resources that the whole operation uses. I’ve no idea how much we would save if we all made compost but we can all be sure that the numbers would be big. Big enough for all of us to be tempted to make compost from food waste. So, let’s all do it.