BE GREEN - COMPOST

According to a 2008 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we Americans throw away more than 25 percent of the food we prepare.  That amounts to over 60 million tons of food sent to landfills each year; the third largest waste stream after paper and yard waste.

Not only are landfills everywhere running out of room, but as the mountain of food waste decomposes in landfills, it produces methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Landfills are the largest human-related source of methane in the United States, accounting for 34 percent of all methane emissions. Yet an easy solution that we all can use to reduce and recycle organic material is to compost. Studies have shown that home composting can divert an average of 700 lbs. of material per household per year from the waste stream.

WHAT IS COMPOST?

Compost is a nutrient-rich, sweet, dark, woodsy, crumbly organic matter that is the heart of organic gardening. Most gardeners know that a garden is only as good as the soil in it-- good plentiful gardens begin with good soil. Soils and potting mixes that include compost produce healthier plants regardless of the type of gardening you are doing.

WHY SHOULD I MAKE COMPOST?

If you have a garden, a lawn, trees, shrubs, or even container boxes on a small patio or balcony, you have a use for compost. Here are seven more reasons why composting is right for everyone:

  • The most practical and convenient way to handle yard and food wastes
  • It can be easier and cheaper than bagging these wastes or taking them to the transfer station
  • Compost improves the soil and the plants growing in it
  • Composting returns organic matter to the soil in a usable form
  • Organic matter helps to break up heavy clay soils and improve soil by adding water and nutrient-holding capacity to sandy soils and essential nutrients to any soil
  • Improving the soil is the first step toward improving the health of your plants
  • Healthy plants help clean our air and conserve our soil, making our communities healthier places in which to live

WHAT CAN I COMPOST?

Anything that was once alive (except meat and meat by-products) can be composted.  Basically anything that had once been a living plant, or part of, can be added to the compost pile. The essential ingredients for compost are carbon and nitrogen sources - referred to as browns and greens respectively.  Both yard wastes and kitchen scraps contain browns and greens. Below is a full list of items you can safely compost.

YARD WASTES  - Browns

  • Dry leaves
  • Dry grass clippings
  • Bush and shrub trimmings
  • Old garden plants, their roots, etc.
  • Straw
  • Hay
  • Newsprint
  • Copier paper
  • Wood chips

KITCHEN SCRAPS - Greens

  • Vegetable peelings, seeds, core, stems, tops
  • Fresh grass clippings
  • Fruit peelings including core, tops, bruised and damaged parts
  • Tea and tea bags (a must for rich composts) yes, the entire tea bag. It will decompose!
  • Coffee grounds, coffee filters
  • Egg shells in small amounts (worms do not like egg shells)
  • Corn cobs and all husks

OTHER GREENS

  • Fresh hay
  • Manure from farm animals (NOT house pets)
  • Dryer lint
  • Fireplace ashes

DO NOT COMPOST

  • Milk products
  • Grease of any kind
  • Meat products of any kind and meat scraps (will attract pests)
  • Fatty foods
  • Processed foods
  • Diseased vines from tomatoes and squash (They can survive the heat and contaminate the compost)
  • Pet wastes or used cat litter

You can add bone meal, dried blood, and even hair if you wish; these provide beneficial minerals and may help discourage garden pests

HOW DO I MAKE GOOD COMPOST?

Composting involves mixing yard and household organic waste in a pile or bin and providing conditions that encourage decomposition. Decomposition is the process whereby millions of microscopic organisms (bacteria, fungi) take up residence inside the compost pile and continuously devour it to produce a rich organic fertilizer and valuable soil amendment.

This process naturally occurs in nature and is what produces rich organic soil found naturally in forests and woodlands. But man can produce the same wonderful organic matter - often referred to as 'gardeners gold' - much quicker.

The ideal mix for a compost pile should be 50 percent carbon and 50 percent nitrogen by volume. The carbon can come in the form of straw, wood chips, or dried leaves. The nitrogen in a compost pile should come from grass and weeds (don't worry, the heat produced in the pile kills weed spores) added when freshly cut or pulled for greatest benefit. Be patient and consistent in caring for your compost; most compost will take six months to break down.

HOW DO I CREATE A GOOD COMPOST PILE?

There are 3 essential ingredients in order to achieve good compost: a balance of 'greens' and 'browns', plenty of aerating and fluffing, and moisture

  1. GREEN AND BROWN - Good compost is a mix of both 'greens' and 'browns' in a 2:1 ratio of green to brown. Green items provide nitrogen and brown items provide the carbon; both are essential for proper compost.
  2. AERATION - Simply put, the more you fluff, turn, and aerate the compost the faster it will break down (cure). Aeration will also ensure an evenly distributed decomposition. Turn and fluff up the compost once a week.
  3. MOISTURE - Moisten materials as you add them and leave a concave depression at the top of the pile to capture rain. The composting pile should be kept about as damp as a wrung out sponge. It is also a good idea to cover the composting pile during periods of very high moisture, as the compost will rot if too much moisture is present. The correct amount of moisture will be about like a damp wrung out sponge.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

As they eat, the organisms responsible for composting generate large amounts of heat, which in turn raises the temperature of the pile or compost bin and speeds up decomposition. A compost pile that is working well will produce temperatures of 140-160 degrees. At these temperatures almost all weed seeds and plant diseases are killed. A "very hot" compost pile will generate temperatures of up to 170 degrees for up to a week or more. Use a compost thermometer to measure the exact temperature at different locations inside the pile. As the organic material heats up it breaks down and takes up less space. A compost pile can shrink up to 70% as it "cooks."

HOW DO I START?

Choose your site and choose your container - if you wish. Choose a composting container that is appropriate to your living situation. Those living in apartments or condos can compost on a smaller level and have enough lovely rich compost for potted plants. If you live in an apartment or condo, a worm bin or a small home compost container will do just fine.  In an urban or suburban area, a plastic backyard bin or sturdy wooden bin will suffice.

A small compost bin can be made from either a plastic or metal trash can  drilled with holes for air circulation. A compost bin, while not essential, is helpful. Having a compost bin will keep everything contained and make it easier for you to maintain, aerate and fluff.

With the "green" movement in full swing, and all of us becoming more conscientious of our own carbon footprint, it is satisfying to know there is something easy and substantial that we can each do to contribute to the greening of our environment. When we compost we keep large amounts of waste out of our landfills, and at the same time we green-up our lawns, grow bountiful fruits and vegetables and produce gorgeous gardens. And an added benefit is the entire family - even children - can get involved and help compost.