Friday, September 26, 2008

Composting 101: Part I of V

For today's Food Friday post I am beginning a series on composting, which is all about what we do with our leftover or spoiled food. We all know that organic foods are a bit more expensive than their conventional counterparts, so waste is a bigger crime when committed with organics. The extra cost alone probably prohibits us from allowing as much waste, but we still have some. In supporting a sustainable Earth, composting is our best choice for discarding these leftovers.

Composting: What is It and Why Do It?

According to, "composting is the transformation of organic material (plant matter) through decomposition into a soil-like material...Insects, earthworms, and microorganisms help in transforming the material into compost. Composting is a natural form of recycling, which continually occurs in nature."

Why would anyone want to collect their kitchen garbage, discarded paper products and yard trash into one big smelly pile? That was my first question. Vicki, my composting mentor at Jolly Green Planet , corrected my misconception that the pile would be smelly. "Actually", she said, "It will smell like a rain forest when you balance the contents."

"Rain forest?", I asked, with a skeptical tone.

"Yes!", she replied, most confidently. Vicki went on to explain that the microorganisms that turn the garbage into compost, do a very fresh-smelling job of it, if given the right balance of "food". You can probably guess that my next question was how to balance their food supply. I'm not exactly up on the food pyramid of an earthworm. When Vicki started talking about nitrogen-carbon ratios she lost me, having never taken a chemistry course in my life. I was surprised and pleased to learn, though, that it is relatively simple, as long as I'm not in a hurry to get compost. If I want compost fast, I can buy all the gadgets to measure soil moisture, temperature, etc. I can stir the contents with a pitch fork daily, and even check the pH. OR I can go all out, buying an indoor composter which has all the bells and whistles; it does everything for you, except empty the compost when done.

Wow! So much information. My first and foremost reason for wanting to compost is to contribute less to the landfill. I know that we have a shortage of landfill sites, and trouble locating new ones is always in the news. I'm in no hurry. I'll wait for the compost to do its thing on its own time. So I asked Vicki for the lazy composter's version of the instructions, and she cheerfully replied that this is the method her associate, Becca, also employs. Now I feel less intimidated--more motivated. I have an ally.

Of course, the other reason for wanting to compost your wastes is to use the compost for fertilizer. It is the most natural and healthy fertilizer available, and totally free. From what I've learned from reading and asking questions, there are surprisingly large numbers of families who compost their household stuff and fertilize their yards and family gardens with it, but apparently they don't live in my neighborhood. My suburban neighborhood yards do not have sufficient space for a sunny garden, and most families seem so absorbed in soccer mom syndrome, that they would likely not have time. I honestly don't know how I would have done it when my kids were all home and I was carpooling from 2-7 daily. Most of us in suburbia pay someone to fertilize our yards, and those who don't use whatever is available at Home Depot or Lowe's. That's life in the suburbs. Maybe I was destined to be a country girl in my retirement, making compost and walking the spreader around the yard each time I get a fresh batch. This could be the beginning of a whole new lifestyle. We'll see.

It truly does make me feel good to see what small amount of garbage goes to the curb on trash day now. A year ago I had, on average, 2 full recycle bins each week. My trash contribution was about the equivalent of 10 kitchen-sized garbage bags a week. I shudder to think of that now. Oh, and I shouldn't forget that my yard garbage pickup, once each week, averaged one can full of trimming, weeds and dead plants. Now? Yesterday's trash contribution was 1/2 can of recycles and 1/2 of a kitchen-sized garbage bag. I'm pleased to say I found BioBags, pictured above, which are 100% biodegradable and 100% compostable, quickly biodegrading when exposed to nature's elements and microorganisms, leaving no residues behind. Even the package is made of natural fibers and recycled materials, and is 100% biodegradable and compostable. Finally, it is printed with soy ink, a much greener addition to your compost pile. Cool, huh?!

One interesting thing I learned in my recent research is that food that goes to the dump, doesn't biodegrade into healthy compost the way a compost pile does. Why? Apparently, it has something to do with the balance of junk in the dump. All the plastics, metals, meats, fats, artificial stuff like Rayon, etc. aren't natural and impede the process, just like disposable diapers taking a hundred years to biodegrade in the dump. The plastic exterior on the diapers slows down the process because it does not biodegrade. I suppose if I were an earthworm, I would seek out more food and less plastic for dinner.

If you'd like to be sure to catch all the posts in this series on Composting, the schedule is noted below. Of course, you can always find them by date, if you happen to miss reading one on the day it is published, or you can click on the composting label in the right sidebar. Remember, too, that you can subscribe by e-mail or RSS at the top right of the blog, and the headlines will come right to your e-mail. Just click to open and read. This is the easiest method. First class delivery of your Organic Journey Online articles; no stamp required. Thanks for your support.

One final note: COMMENTS, please! Click the purple COMMENT link following the post and leave me your questions or ideas. If you are already a composter, I would love to hear from you. I have a lot to learn.

Composting 101: Part II--Friday, October 3 Selecting a Spot & Setting Up a Compost Pile

Composting 101: Part III--Monday, October 6 Healthy Choices for Your Compost Pile

Composting 101: Part IV--Friday, October 10 More Composting Options and Information

Composting 101: Part V-- Monday, October 13 Composting Doggie Duty and Other Solutions

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