Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Composting

Composting is something we can all do. It is simple, cuts down on waste and provides a resource for anyone who has a garden. Composting basically stated is the breakdown of organic material, and even more simply put is decomposition or rotting. When things decompose they "give back" to nature in the form minerals and nutrients which are greatly beneficial to plants. In order to accelerate this break down you want to mix the organic waste with a filler component such as soil, wood chips, vegetable matter (grass clippings), etc.

We have a bin I built that is filled half way with soil. My wife keeps all the organic waste we generate (the stuff that can be composted - not everything can - more in a bit about that) in buckets. When a bucket gets full in two or three days she empties it in to the compost bin and carefully covers it with dirt. She alternates sides in the bin everytime she empties a bucket. You would be amazed at how quickly things break down in this manner, especially in the hot weather. The resulting soil now filled with compost goodness (gets very black in appearance) is fantastic for adding to your vegetable garden or flower beds. Compost is a natural fertilizer and you may be able to forgo any commercial fertilizer if you compost. I never use commercial, with one exception, when we first moved in the house and I built the garden area...I did use commercial manure, only that one time. Since that time I use our compost exclusively and my garden seems to get more productive every year.

There are things that make perfect compost material. Below is a list from the EPA's website of things it recommends to compost:

Animal manure (livestock)
Cardboard rolls
Clean paper
Coffee grounds and filters
Cotton rags
Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
Eggshells
Fireplace ashes
Fruits and vegetables
Grass clippings
Hair and fur
Hay and straw
Houseplants
Leaves
Nut shells
Sawdust
Shredded newspaper
Tea bags
Wood chips
Wool rags
Yard trimmings

There are several things you should NOT compost and once again from the EPA here is a list:

Black walnut tree leaves or twigs - Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
Coal or charcoal ash - Might contain substances harmful to plants
Dairy products (e.g., butter, egg yolks, milk, sour cream, yogurt) - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Diseased or insect-ridden plants - Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
Fats, grease, lard, or oils - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Meat or fish bones and scraps - Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter) - Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides - Might kill beneficial composting organisms

One really unexpected benefit is a substantial reduction in the amount of garbage we generate. My wife and I save aluminum cans to sell at the scrap yard. We recycle glass and plastic. Now with all of our organic waste going to compost we generate 1 maybe 2 bags of garbage at the most. We have garbage pickup once a week and 9 times out of 10 the huge trash can the city gave us has one lowly bag in it. I am far from a tree hugging, hippy environmentalist but it doesn't take a whole lot of effort to reduce your footprint on the planet by taking these simple steps and including composting in your regimen.

...that is all.

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