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Thursday, March 31, 2011

God Made Dirt & Dirt Don't Hurt: Composting Kitchen Waste

I've often said that to my kids. My little man made an addendum at the wise old age of four. The whole thing goes: "God made dirt and dirt don't hurt. God made sand, but it hurts when it gets in your eyes."

I've been composting a few years now. I have a common countertop composting pail, but oh, I wish I had known about this one! I love that when spring rolls around, I don't have to run to the big box home improvement store for expensive soil. One hint for avoiding fruit flies is to line the lid with newspaper and replace once damp.
Frosty Green Compost Jar
This beautiful compost bin is handmade in NC
and available on Etsy,
I use a tumble-style compost bin, similar to the one pictured here for $90 (although I was lucky, mine came with the house.)  
Suncast Tumbling Composter

Or, if you're handy, here's an instructable to make your own. (Click the pic):
Yet Another Compost Tumbler

But why compost? Plow & Hearth magazine explains: 

But what's the big deal about compost? Organic gardeners rave about it, but why can't you just feed plants some 10-10-10 and be done with it? Well, it's like the difference between eating a well-balanced meal made from fresh, natural ingredients and eating a multivitamin and a bag of chips. In the short term, you'd be fine with either, but you wouldn't want to subsist on the latter diet for long. The same is true in your garden. Your plants will respond vigorously to chemical fertilizers initially, but they won't attain the naturally robust good health they would if you provided them with compost.
Not only does compost contain all of the major plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) in forms readily available to plants, but it also contains a wealth of minor and trace elements as well as billions (yes, literally billions) of bacteria, yeast, fungi, and other soil creatures that will continue to break down organic and inorganic matter in the compost and in your soil, providing a long-term, steady feeding of nutrients to plants.
Finally, because of its loose, fluffy, cake-flourlike texture, compost improves the tilth, or structure, of all garden soils, both increasing the drainage of clay soils and binding together sandy soils, enhancing their moisture retention. Regardless of where you garden or what you grow, compost will make your plants healthier and more vigorous and increase their flowering and fruiting like no other substance you can give them. Simply put, composting is the best possible thing you can do for your garden.

A typical household throws away an estimated 474 pounds of food waste each year. Put another way, that is about 1.5 lbs per person a day in the U.S. Landfills are brimming. Composting is a simple way to cut back on our waste.

If you need to store your kitchen scraps on a countertop, the aesthetics of your container are important. Compost crocks may be the perfect solution for you. They are generally made of stainless steel or ceramic, and are unobtrusive on a countertop or island. More importantly, crocks usually come equipped with charcoal filters to prevent the crock's contents from smelling up your kitchen. Crocks are not necessarily cheap; most models cost between twenty and sixty dollars.

A cheap compost "crock" is a plastic coffee "can" or tub. Just wash it out and store under the cabinet. 

You can also store food scraps in the fridge in plastic bags until you're ready to dump them in the compost bin/pile. The advantage to this method is no worry of fruit flies or smell.

  • All your vegetable and fruit wastes, (including rinds and cores) even if they are moldy and ugly
  • Old bread, donuts, cookies, crackers, pizza crust, noodles: anything made out of flour!
  • Grains (cooked or uncooked): rice, barley, you name it
  • Coffee grounds, tea bags, filters
  • Fruit or vegetable pulp from juicing
  • Old spices
  • Outdated boxed foods from the pantry
  • Egg shells (crush well)
  • Corn cobs and husks (cobs breakdown very slowly)
  • Meat or meat waste, such as bones, fat, gristle, skin, etc.
  • Fish or fish waste
  • Dairy products, such as cheese, butter, cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, sour cream, etc.
  • Grease and oils of any kind
Why can't you compost
these food wastes?
  • They inbalance the otherwise nutrient-rich structure of other food and vegetation waste and breakdown slowly
  • They attract rodents and other scavenging animals
  • Meat attracts maggots
  • Your compost bin will smell horrible!

Some surprising compostable items include egg shells (crushed well), cardboard egg cartons, coffee grounds with filter, dryer lint (natural fibers like cotton are best) and even hair clippings (human, not pet).  

-With each dump into your compost bin or pile, add a layer of brown (leaves, grass clippings, sticks) on top of your "greens" (kitchen scraps). This helps prevent the attraction of fruit flies, flies and rodents and makes for a better mix.

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