Some people don’t realize the magic that is embodied in a banana peel or apple core. Others may see these as things to be tossed in the trash. There is a belief that it will decompose and find happiness in the landfill. Who are we kidding? Nothing finds happiness in the landfill. But happiness can be found in the garden and compost returns that happiness to your plants. According to David the Good, author of Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, you can compost anything. I mean anything! He discusses composting bones, goat heads, human waste and other unimaginable things. His book is incredibly informative, and I would recommend if you’re considering composting. However, I had to draw a line at the goat heads.
Composting is a form of recycling and a free and sustainable way to enrich your soil. In my previous post about the importance of soil, composting is one way to amend unhealthy soil. Compost does this by returning nutrients to the soil, balancing acidity, and holding moisture in the soil. Compost also helps save money, time, and water – all especially good if you’re trying for a sustainable garden. All my yard waste just goes right back into my gardens. It’s a beautiful cycle.
You can easily start your own composting bin or obtain free compost from a curbside pickup facility. (Or just bike around and ask your neighbors if you can take their yard waste.)
*Note on curbside compost: Ask if the compost is hot composted. This means that most of the weed seeds and disease-causing organisms will have been killed. The compost may not be pesticide free, so do not spread this around your edibles.
How I compost:
I simply compost fruit and veggie scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, newspaper, and cardboard. The most adventurous I got was introducing vermiculture. In my kitchen I have a special container that collects food scrapes. Once it’s full, which is daily, it goes outside to my two composting bins. I purchased both my bins. One is a simple free standing bin and cost $50. It has a lid that latches, which is important to keep out feasting rascals like racoons. This is the prepping bin and also where my worms are supposed to be living. (Honestly, they could have escaped because I haven’t been brave enough to dig to the bottom to see if they are still doing their thing.) I also have a tumbler, which cost $100. I tumble this daily, and it helps turn all those yummy scrapes to dirt. In nine months I have been able to harvest the compost three times. I then lay the compost on my gardens or where there is no grass and only sand.
How to start your own compost:
- Choose a container – free standing or tumbler. These can be purchased or homemade.
- Use equal amounts of brown materials – high in carbon (i.e., dead leaves, wood chips, pine needles) and green materials – high in nitrogen (i.e., weeds, grass clippings, coffee grounds, kitchen scraps, manure).
- Avoid plant material treated with herbicides.
- Avoid meat, dairy or oil products. This helps to keep critters at bay.
- Keep your compost moist.
- Do not use human or pet feces. This can promote harmful bacteria.
Compost tea can be used as a fertilizer and is good for container gardening, seedlings and epiphytes- air plants, such as: ferns, bromiliads or orchids. The tea helps to provide good soil microbes. Take completed compost and put it in a cloth or burlap bag. Then set it in a rain barrel or bucket of water for a day or two. During this time period, dunk the bag up and down to help ‘brew’ the tea. The tea will be dark. Dilute it with water to lighten the color and sprinkle the goodness on your plants!
*Note: If the tea smells bad, dump it back on your working compost pile and start over. Also, if using city water, allow to sit for a few days to let chlorine evaporate. Do not use water from a water softener.
Vermiculture is composting with a special earthworm. I bought red wrigglers or manure worms. These worms make a higher quality compost. If you want to get a good start, buy a lot of worms – I bought 1000. This may seem like too many, but for under $30 I had a real good start to my set up. The worm’s castings or worm poop are what you use as compost. The worms should be put in an airtight container to avoid their escape. You can feed the worms shredded paper and kitchen scraps. They also need sand to help digest their food. When you’re ready to ‘harvest’ the worm castings, lure the worms to a new food source and then harvest the compost.
Compost is the easiest and cheapest way to spread love around in your garden. Take it at your own pace and watch your compost pile grow just as healthy as your plants. I believe, no garden is complete unless blessed with compost pile, so get out there and start transforming trash into soil magic!
Never plant without a bucket of compost at your side. ~Elsa Bakalar
Stibolt, Ginny. Sustainable Gardening for Florida. Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2009.