Our neighbors’ pigs compost food scraps for us. They eat all the food scraps from our kitchen and turn them into higher-quality compost than we ever could. This keeps our food waste out of the landfill and helps grow their bacon.
I’ve been intrigued by the zero-waste movement for a long time. Aiming to live a more sustainable life is something I believe we all should be doing. It may not solve the climate crisis, but it certainly will reduce the volume of landfills.
My second zero-waste swap for the year is composting food scraps. At our old house, I built a compost bin out of pallets. I diligently added all of our kitchen scraps, grass clippings, and fall leaves. After two years I received back beautiful, crumbly compost. This time around we don’t have a lawn from which to collect clippings. All of our fall leaves get blown back over the hillside. You should never try to compost food scraps by themselves. They will stink, rot, and attract all manner of pests.
What is Compost?
Compost is organic matter that is created through the decomposition of plant material such as grass clippings, leaves, and food scraps. Compost is rich in essential nutrients and can be used as fertilizer for plants and gardens. Composting is a process that speeds up the natural decomposition process by providing the right environment for microorganisms to break down organic material.
The microorganisms that decompose the organic material in compost need a balance of carbon (brown material) and nitrogen (green material) to thrive. Brown materials include things like dry leaves, straw, sawdust, and wood chips. Green materials include things like grass clippings, vegetable scraps, and coffee grounds. A good balance of brown and green materials will ensure that the composting process proceeds efficiently.
Composting not only helps improve soil fertility, it also reduces the amount of organic waste sent to landfills, reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, and improves water retention in soil.
How do pigs compost food scraps?
Pigs can create compost by breaking down organic material in their manure. By feeding pigs food scraps, the scraps are broken down in the intestines of the pig and turned into urine and manure. Pig manure is rich in nitrogen and other essential nutrients that are beneficial for plants and gardens.
Pig manure can’t go directly into your garden. It can contain pathogens that can be harmful to humans and animals. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that the compost has been properly decomposed before using it on food crops or in gardens where people and animals will be in contact with it. Pig manure should “rest”, or decompose with no new manure added to the pile for at least four months, but ideally longer to ensure all pathogens present are killed.
How to Compost Food Scraps
If you are interested in actual composting, and not just diverting your food scraps from the landfill into the nearest pig’s belly, there are two general methods: hot composting and cold composting. There are many, many books written on composting if you want to get into specific details about the methods. I read many of them, and they all seemed too complicated to me. I call the method I used to compost food scraps and yard waste “lazy composting”. It requires no thermometer, dog food, and no measuring what I throw in there.
As I said before, compost is made up of organic material that is either high in nitrogen or carbon. To get fine, crumbly compost you need some of both. Luckily, nature provides most areas with an abundance of nitrogen over the warm months in the form of grass and an abundance of carbon in the fall in the form of leaves.
To lazy compost, plan on making one pile per year, and allowing your pile to rest two additional seasons before putting it in your garden. This means after a few years you will have three total piles: one you are actively building, and two that you are occasionally mixing with a pitchfork or shovel.
In the pile that you are actively building add grass clipping, shredded leaves (I use a lawn mower with a bag attachment for both of these), and any kitchen scraps that don’t contain meat or dairy. When adding kitchen scraps, try to bury them in the pile to avoid attracting pests. Start your pile for the year in the spring, and add to it for one full year.
At the end of that first year (the next spring), move over five feet and start the process again. This second year you will be only adding to your new pile. Don’t put anything on your old pile. Its job now is to just rest and decompose. If left long enough, that first pile will break down into soil with no help from you. I find it beneficial to take a pitchfork to the pile every few weeks and try to get the whole thing turned inside-out. What was on top should be on the bottom and vice versa. This will make everything break down much faster.
At the end of the second year (beginning of the third spring), move over another five feet and start the whole process a third time. Now you will be adding to a new pile, and turning both of your old piles. Continue building and turning for another year.
Adding Compost to the Garden
In the fall of that third year, your very first compost pile should be significantly smaller and denser than when you started. You shouldn’t be able to identify specific food pieces or what tree the leaves came from. Fall is the best time to add compost to the garden.
Follow these four steps to add compost to your garden:
- Prepare your garden bed: Loosen the soil in your garden bed with a fork or trowel and remove any debris, such as rocks or weeds.
- Spread the compost: Spread a 2-3 inch layer of compost over the top of the soil in your garden bed.
- Incorporate the compost: Use a rake or hoe to work the compost into the soil, mixing it well.
- Water the soil: Water the soil well after adding the compost to help it settle and begin to break down.
Year Four and Beyond
Now that you are at the start of your fourth year, you are in maintenance mode for composting. Again, start a new pile in the spring. But instead of devoting another five feet of space, the pile for year four can be built in the same place as the first pile that you spread in the garden in the fall.
Each fall you will spread one pile on your garden and mix it in. The next spring, begin building a new pile in the spot you cleared out. Enjoy all your hard work and the routines that giving back to the earth brings.
Even Lazier Composting: Feeding my Neighbors’ Pig
When we moved to our new house, I obviously couldn’t bring my compost piles with me. We have no lawn here to provide grass clippings, and the leaves that fall are left where they land or are blown back over the hillside into the woods. The lazy composting method I developed worked for my urban garden, but it is the wrong model for rural living.
In the next couple of years, we hope to have a pig of our own to give kitchen scraps to. Thankfully, we live just up the hill from a wonderful homesteading family whose pig is happy to take our food waste. We have a 5-gallon bucket with a lid under the kitchen sink. We scrape our plates into it at the end of meals, and any scraps from meal prep go in there as well. I bring it to them one to two times a week: before it starts smelling.
Collecting Food Scraps for a Pig
Collecting food scraps for a pig can be a simple process, but it’s important to ensure that the food is safe for the pig to eat, and to handle it properly to prevent contamination. Here are a few steps to follow:
- Gather clean and safe scraps: Collect only clean, fresh scraps that are safe for pigs to eat. The only things that don’t go in the bucket are pig products, coffee grounds, and tea leaves. The latter two are safe for pigs, but my neighbor feels like a caffeinated pig isn’t the best idea. Any food that has spoiled or gone moldy should not be added. Fruits and vegetables, bread, pasta, and grains are generally safe for pigs to eat.
- Keep scraps in a clean container: Use a clean container such as a plastic bin or a metal trash can with a tight-fitting lid to store the food scraps. This will prevent the food from attracting pests or becoming contaminated.
- Keep the container in a cool place: Store the container in a cool place, such as a garage or shed, to prevent the food from spoiling.
- Rinse off any dirt or debris: Rinse off any dirt or debris from the food scraps before adding them to the container.
- Wash your hands: Always wash your hands before and after handling the food scraps to prevent contamination.
How to Find Your Neighbor’s Pig
If you are looking to find a neighbor to give food scraps to, here are a few suggestions. Remember, large-scale farmers with confinement houses aren’t going to be interested in your scraps. You are looking for someone who homesteads; someone who keeps no more than a handful of pigs at any given time.
- Ask around in your community. Talk to your friends, family, and acquaintances and see if they know anyone who raises pigs.
- Check with local farming organizations. Many areas have organizations for small-scale farmers, hobby farmers, and backyard farmers. They may be able to point you in the direction of local small-scale pig farmers.
- Look online. There are many websites and forums dedicated to small-scale farming, backyard farming, and homesteading. You may be able to find information about local homesteaders to reach out to.
- Check with your local government. Many municipalities have agricultural extension services that can provide information about local farmers and agricultural producers, you can also check with the zoning or agricultural department. They may know of small-scale farmers to contact
- Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter can be great places to find local pig farmers who have one or two pigs. You can also search for hashtags such as #backyardpigs, #homesteadpigs, or #smallscalefarming
Sustainability is one of our homestead’s core values. If you’re interested in seeing other zero-waste swaps and projects I’ve done check out these posts:
Do you compost – either with a pile or through a pig? I would love to hear about your methods or other zero-waste projects down in the comments.
Thanks for coming along on the journey!