Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Ever wonder what I do with the ginormous amounts of cores, peels, and scraps which are generated with all the cooking I do? Well, compost of course! Here is something everyone can do to keep our Mother Earth beautiful - and of course our own gardens! Composting aids a great deal by relieving our overcrowded landfills in addition to providing all the free and rich mulch or soil-enrichment for our gardens.

If anyone is motivated to start composting, it is really very simple. You can purchase compost bins (check your local county or city organizations for composting classes as well as for a nominally priced bins) or make your own.

Follow these 5 easy steps to successful composting:
  • Location - Easy access to the bin is important. Also choose a spot that gets an equal amount of sun and shade so the compost does not dry out too quickly; keep it moist but not wet.
  • Keep - a covered container lined with a paper towel (for easy clean up) in the kitchen to collect waste materials; when full, empty into the compost bin. I keep a container for the garden too to collect all the clippings, dry leaves, etc as I work.
  • Chop - larger items such as watermelon rinds, corn cobs, melon shells, etc into small pieces before adding them to your container - I do this right along as I am preparing them and don't keep it for later. Garden trimmings should be cut into small pieces as well.
  • Stir - the new material well into the existing pile using a stick, special compost turner or other garden tool. Stirring adds oxygen, another component for successful composting.
  • Cover - food wastes with old leaves, other garden clippings, or some garden soil as this adds carbon as well as helps reduce fruit flies and odor. Cover the compost bin with a lid so it can do its job.
Once you have set up your bin, just add shredded plain brown bags, cardboard and newspaper, daily scraps of fruits and veggies, garden clippings, leaves, etc. Sprinkle a few spadefuls of garden soil to add some microbes (bacteria, fungi) that will speed up the decomposition and perhaps a little water now and then to keep everything moist but not wet. NO meat/bones, greasy foods, dairy, or any dog/cat feces please if you want to avoid horrible smells and, more importantly, attracting vermin. Also do not add poison oak/ivy (the irritants in poison ivy/oak do not break down), weeds with seeds, or diseased plant materials.

The ratio for good composting is 50/50 for greens and browns which creates a friendly environment for nature's compost helpers (microbes, worms, etc); the greens provide nitrogen and the browns add carbon.

Greens: kitchen scraps of veggies and fruits, rice/pasta, used tea leaves and coffee grounds, eggshells, garden clippings, livestock manure, etc.
Browns: coffee filters, tea bags, stale bread, unbleached paper towels and napkins, drier lint, hair, dry leaves, sawdust, small twigs (no bigger than your little finger), wood chips, straw/hay, cardboard, etc. Lawn clippings should be dried out a bit before being added; fresh clippings become matted easily and create a slimy barrier deterring aeration.

Once the compost bin is full, stir once a week to keep things aerated, moistening as necessary, and your compost will be ready in 4 to 6 weeks - this is called fast & hot composting. Or, you can choose slow & cold composting, which requires little or no mixing and takes about 4 to 6 months.

When the compost is ready, it can be used in many ways.
  1. As a mulch, spread up to 3" thick around plants and on bare soil to conserve water, prevent erosion and control weeds.
  2. As soil conditioner, mix into the soil every time you plant new trees, shrubs, flowers, or vegetables.
  3. As potting mix, sift to remove large pieces. Mix together 2 parts compost with 1 part each of sand and vermiculite.
Composting is a great activity for even young children. We made our own compost bin simply by using an old plastic container - about 8 to 10 gallon size - and drilled a few holes for air circulation and drainage. Fall was a good time for starting as it provided an abundance of leaves. We added any and all fruit and vegetable scraps including one of the favorites, edamame skins! The children learned about decomposition and were amazed to see their old and gooey Jack-O-Lantern disintegrate completely without a trace! The wondrous moment came when some of the seeds from the pumpkin added to the pile actually sprouted. The pumpkin plants grew right in the compost bin! The cycle was complete!!

As my mother used to say, "If they have not learned the basics by 5, they are not going to learn at 50" - so good to start young :-)! Ever since we started the compost bin at school, children are enthusiastically bringing fruits and veggies for their lunch because they want to add their contribution of peels and cores to the bin. It was truly thrilling when some of the children who never brought so much as an apple started bringing more fruits and veggies! I am not exaggerating when I say that one child's daily lunch consisted of - 1 slice of white bread, a bag of potato chips, a few colorful cookies, and a fruit flavored drink. Now this child is bringing an apple in addition to her usual lunch and proceeds to eat it first until just the core is left for our compost bin. After a few days she proudly announced that she is going to bring an orange next time so she could put the peels in the compost bin :). Composting has been one successful project - learning about nature and healthy lunches! We not only got good compost for our garden, but also had the children eating a healthier meal - what a bonus!!

I hope you enjoy composting. Have fun! Comments anyone?

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