Last week my 6-year-old told me that we really needed to have two garbage cans in the kitchen ... one for the regular trash, and one for all our food scraps. What a budding environmentalist!

I hate to admit that kitchen waste is the area I am the least green in, and have been a little, if not very, lazy about composting our mountain of food scraps. My son's reminder was exactly what I needed to get my greenchic butt into composting gear. And it couldn't have come at a better time since we are gearing up to start planning our garden.

The basics behind composting involve the decomposition of organic waste, fueled by millions of microorganisms which ingest the waste and break it down. Essentially, they are producing microorganism manure. The kids should get a kick out of that. And the plants just love it. Composting provides a number of benefits to any garden, whether it be vegetable, herb, flower or ornamental. Not only does it supplement the soil, but it provides a nutrient dense food for the plants (no need for MiracleGrow), helps to suppress plant disease and pests, promotes higher yields and more bountiful plant growth.

But composting is a bit of a science. You can't just go tossing any old junk into a heap in your backyard and expect to produce "gardener's gold." For instance, there are some clear-cut dos and don'ts on the "What you can add to your compost" list.

According to the EPA, items that can be included are: animal manure (as in non-pet animals), cardboard rolls, clean paper, coffee grounds and filters, dryer lint, eggshells (cleaned), wood ashes, fruit and veggie scraps, grass clippings, hair and fur, hay and straw, leaves, nut shells, sawdust, shredded newspaper, tea bags, wood chips and yard trimmings. Make sure you chop or shred larger items to help speed up the decomposition process. The smaller the better. The items you should not add to your compost pile include: black walnut tree leaves or twigs, coal or charcoal ash, dairy products, diseased or insect-ridden plants, fats, grease or oils, meat or fish bones and scraps, pet waste (no tossing in the doggie doo, or emptying in the cat liter), and yard trimmings that were treated with chemicals.

Wondering what to collect all your indoor scraps in? You can really use just about anything that has a tight fitting lid, like an empty coffee can or paint bucket. If those options aren't chic enough for you, you can purchase a kitchen countertop compost crock (available online) which sits cutely on your countertop. A larger, and fancier (also much more expensive), option is the NatureMill composter (www.naturmill.com) which is like a compost garbage pail that you keep in your kitchen for all your scraps.

Now let's talk location, location, location. You can purchase an outdoor compost bin if you want. They come in all shapes and sizes. But they are unnecessary, and frankly I prefer the no fuss no frills, good ol' compost heap. A simple 3-foot-by-3-foot area will do. Someplace convenient to your gardens, but not too close to the house, that gets good air circulation, good drainage, and partial shade. Remember to turn your compost pile often, to mix in the new with the old, circulate air, and redistribute microorganisms. Also, it's good practice to top off the pile with leaves or grass clippings whenever you add fresh food scraps. It keeps the smell down and animals away.

So start saving those scraps, feeding the microorganisms, and fertilizing your plants with your homemade brew of gardener's gold. Your plants will thank you, and so will the environment.

For more information on composting, check out these sites: www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/composting/basic.htm; www.composting101.com.

Jennifer Spaide received her master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University. She is a personal chef and freelance writer residing in New Canaan. As founder of GreenChic, Jennifer is dedicated to inspiring individuals to get fresh in the kitchen and eat their way to a healthy life. You can contact her at 203-247-2002 or jennifer@thegreenchiclife.com.Visit www.thegreenchiclife.com to learn more.