Composting: Itís not just for tree huggers

Nicole Orr
Frederick County Master Gardener

(11/7) I went to a friendís house last week and saw her throw a beautiful watermelon rind in a plastic garbage bag. I knew that rind would stay in its new home, in our maxed out landfill. Being a tree hugger, I panicked. "Um, have you ever thought of composting?"

She laughed at me with her busy mom face and said, "Yeah, but who has the time?" I hopped onto my soapbox and off I went.

The word "composting" scares a lot of people. Concerns include: lack of time, unwanted animals, flies, smell, finding a location, itís hard, and where to start. Let me lay those concerns to rest. Composting is one of the easiest and most rewarding things you can do for the earth and your landfill. Compost is basically nutrient rich matter that you create by decomposing things you would normally throw away. Itís free fertilizer, people!

There are two main kinds of composting. Simply put, the hot and cold method. Hot composting is faster but much more of a science. I prefer the cold method because it doesnít require anything fancy and you can neglect it a bit, like I do. Itís perfect for a busy family. A bin from a garden center or a pile in the corner of your yard is all you need. For those who donít have a yard, tumbler composters can be used on patios and decks.

I bought my bin on a gardening website. Itís directly next to a seating area where we relax. And nope, there is no smell. The bottom of the bin is open to the earth to let the worms come up and the lid has slits to let water come in and drain down. Earthly microbial magic happens in that bin. I fill it to the top with kitchen scraps and yard stuff and every time I come back to put more in, it is only half full. The compost is created slowly from the bottom up.

The secret to a healthy compost pile is having the right carbon to nitrogen ratio. In other words, add a lot more brown than green stuff. Browns include dry yard waste, dead house plants, straw, hay, wood chips, shredded paper bags, newspaper that isnít waxy, and paper towel rolls. Greens are your kitchen scraps like fruit, raw veggie leftovers, coffee grounds, and grass clippings. Ideally a 30:1 ratio is perfect, but I seriously canít do math. If my pile is soppy, I add more dry leaves or paper on top. If it looks dry, I add more watermelon rind. Donít freak out about the ratio, lots of websites are out there to help with problems.

The most important rule is: Never throw anything in your bin that had a mother like meat, cheese, oils, butter, cream or things cooked in fat. Pet poop and weeds are a no-no. I keep a small metal pale with a lid next to the sink to hold the kitchen scraps and bring it to the bin every few days. My boys know that banana peels automatically go into the compost or they will be dumpster diving to retrieve it! Their friends are even catching on.

Your compost is ready when it looks like the bags of expensive gardening soil you buy. It can take up to a year to get cold compost. Itís even longer for me because I never have my ratio right, but I like to think of all the trash and plastic bags I keep out of the landfill. We have a family of four. Between composting and recycling, we have one or two bags of garbage a week, and yup, Iím oddly proud of that. Trust me, itís easy and more rewarding than beating that next level of candy crushÖ.well, almost.

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