Food Waste and Our Soil: Why everyone should compost for a healthier future

It’s called “black gold” – no, it’s not oil, it’s compost and it is valuable. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize just how precious this commodity really is for our earth.  I’ve written about how-to compost in the past. It’s not a very glamorous topic, talking about how people should throw away their trash but it’s a very important one. Compost can help revitalize infertile soils which is major problem not only in the U.S but throughout the world.

Soil Erosion is a Global Issue

The U.S. and most of the world’s inventory of arable topsoil has been lost to erosion, overuse of inorganic nitrogen fertilizers, and other farming practices that have left the soil depleted. Topsoil is the most fertile arable land on earth and some experts fear, we could even run out of it to grow food in within the next 60 years[1]! Soil erosion is 2nd to population growth as the environments biggest problem[2]. But soil isn’t sexy.

How Does Compost Help the soil?

The majority of people who compost are gardeners who know all the benefits composting can produce for their gardens, lawns and lives. Compost helps build soil structure which enables soil to retain nutrients, water and air – all key ingredients to growing healthy plants. It also helps protect land against drought and plants from disease. Compost is filled with life – microorganisms, earthworms and insects – a synergistic force of nature. It acts as a PH buffer, neutralizing various soil toxins and metals (lead and cadmium) by bonding with them so plants will not. Now think about places like California that have had a tremendous amount of soil erosion and degradation due to wildfires and mudslides and how they could benefit a build up compost.

It’s Not just for Country Folk – Urban Dwellers benefit too

However, composting is a practice of sustainable living which should be practiced by everyone.  There is little in this world that we have control over, and composting is one of the things that can do that is within our control to make our planet a healthier place.  It doesn’t require government intervention or corporate governance; it simply takes a little effort by individuals.  A new habit of how we throw away our trash needs to be formed.

Today, there are more and more compost services which take the hassle out of what traditionally was something only avid gardeners and farmers practiced. We have friends who live in Portland, Maine who use a compost pick-up service which provides them with beautiful compost. A quick search on the internet was able to provide me with a number of businesses throughout the United States that provide either curbside or drop-off composting. That’s great for citizens to be able to have those options available to them and I believe that more people would compost if they knew more about how it would help our environment.

Urban dwellers who would like to be environmentally conscientious in the past have not been able to compost or have had to struggle with composting. Composting can be messy and smelly; it can bring about rats, and other unwanted and hazardous pests if not done properly. Fortunately, more and more businesses have turned their energy and efforts towards this problem and are making it easy for communities including city-dwellers to compost. But why should they want to compost? They don’t have gardens or lawns they could use the compost on.

How Does Composting Help the Environment?

When food waste ends up in landfills, it produces methane gas, the greenhouse gas which traps heat within our atmosphere which is 23x more potent than carbon dioxide.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), food waste is responsible for 34% of all the methane emissions in the U.S.[3] Landfills are so densely packed that much of the degradation happens during a slow, anaerobic process. Anaerobic processes create a tremendous amount of methane gas. One way to ease the amount of food waste that ends up in the landfills is for the food waste to be converted into compost.  We need to be more consciences about how we throw away food.  Americans throw away food more than any other single material, more than paper, even more than plastic![4]

Set up a system

We moved to New Hampshire a few years ago and live in a very rural area that does not have curb-side or community drop-off yet in our area, although it does exist in the state. Our town however, has very strict recycling rules and our garbage has to be well sorted before going to the dump.  Our kitchen has seven (7) 13-gallon trash containers which take up three of my under cabinets. We primarily sort out: burnables, cardboard, metal, aluminum foil, plastic, glass, magazines. You may think seven sounds like a lot but we actually could use a few more for a few other categories like batteries and light bulbs. There are at least two trash containers at my desk, as well as two in every bedroom and bathroom. So, you can imagine with all the different trash we deal with being able to sort out our food waste from the other “burnables” would be desirable. The dump isn’t far away but sometimes the weather can make things difficult to get down the mountain on the days the dump is open – which is only Friday-Sunday; Mondays included during the summer months. However, composting up here on the mountain the traditional way would require an electric fence to keep bears, coyotes and the rest of the surrounding wildlife away.  It was hard enough running out to the side yard in Connecticut sometimes, so the thought of having to breach an electric fence made the idea impossible. That all changed when I found the FoodCycler™ FC-30, a in-home composting unit which has been a complete game-changer in our household. Check out our Product Review on this wonderful little unit.

As individuals, we can make a difference in the health of our planet by making smart choices of how we discard our household food waste in the future. We must learn to strike a balance between our lifestyles and our impact on nature.

Facts to consider

The average US citizen creates 4 lbs of trash per day [EPA]

The average US citizen throws away about 1200 lbs of organic garbage annually that could be repurposed as compost. Americans as a whole throw away 43,000 tons of food every day. [EPA]

The EPA estimates that 75% of American waste is recyclable yet only 30% is actually recycled. [EPA]

Americans generate 21.5 million tons of food waste annually – composting it would reduce greenhouse emissions equivalent to removing 2 million cars from the road [Carnegie Mellon CEE Green Team . -April 15, 2015]

Footnotes:

[1]What If the World’s Soil Runs Out?” Time, 14 Dec 12

[2] D. Pimentel, “Soil Erosion: A Food and Environmental Threat,” Environ. Devel. Sustain. 8, 119 (2006)

[3] Waste Land: Does the Large Amount of Food Discarded in the U.S. Take a Toll on the Environment? Scientific America March 10, 2010

[4] Upper Valley Business Finding ‘Pay Dirt’ in Food Scraps nhpr.org February 13, 2018

Further Recommended Reading:

CompostNow.org

SAVE FOOD: Global Initiative on Food Loss and Waste Reduction – fao.org

11 Facts About Recycling – dosomething.org

Soil Erosion and Degradation – World Wildlife Federation

Product Review: FoodCycler™ FC-30

[Note: We do not make any money from our Product Reviews. We purchase the products we review, unless otherwise noted.]

I’m always on the lookout to make a difficult job easier and late last year I discovered a wonderful home composting system called the FoodCycler™ which can be done inside, doesn’t smell and isn’t messy!  Since moving up here 2-1/2 years ago we did a complete garden overhaul but haven’t been able to compost. Bears and coyotes make that difficult for us without an electric fence up here where we live in rural New Hampshire. But that has all changed thanks to us finding out about the FoodCycler™ FC-30. Food Cycle Science, the company which distributes the machines, is a Canadian company that focuses on bringing green technology to homes and businesses across North America to combat the increasing problem of methane emissions caused by the influx of food waste in landfills.

This in-home composting system is so incredibly easy to use– I just feel the need to tell everyone about it!  A quick look at some our Instagram posts will show you how much we love this composter. First off, let me say that for the most part it is just the two of us here, but we do get the occasional visit from our kids or friends who contribute to our trash on occasion.

How Does it Work?

FoodCycler™ FC-30

The FoodCycler™ FC-30 is a multiphase organic food waste recycling machine that dehydrates and converts food waste into compost. It’s very stylish and fits in nicely with other kitchen items like your coffee maker. I don’t have a lot of counter space up here, so our composter is sitting on the floor in a space that’s out of the way and easy to access.  The interior of the unit holds a removable cast iron bucket which holds a 2-3lbs of food scraps. I fill it up right away, other days it takes us a few days to fill it up.  During the process which takes somewhere between 3-6 hours, the food waste is agitated and heated up to 179.6ºF (82ºC); thus helping to reduce the food waste in volume.  The system is able to sustain the proper heat levels needed to kill harmful bacteria, so you can also throw in food scraps you wouldn’t normally throw in your old compost pile such as meats, fish and chicken bones – even cheese!  Last night was the first time we used it with chicken scraps from a whole chicken and some leftover veggies. We had been to the dump earlier but picked up the chicken at the grocery store right afterwards. The thought of the leftover carcass and scraps sitting in the garage over the next week was very unappealing, so I finally decided to give it a try and compost the chicken and so glad I did! We were extremely pleased with the resulting compost and I feel a whole new world of composting has opened up to us. Another great thing about this system is since it is so well made, the cast-iron bucket cleans up quickly. Most of the time all I have had to do is rinse and wipe with a paper towel, but it easily slips into the dishwasher as well.

Our compost made with
the FoodCycler™FC-30

We have been using the FoodCycler™ for the last 6 weeks and are really quite happy with quality of the compost it produces.  I keep a small trug next to the unit and dump the finished compost into it. It doesn’t smell at all and right now my garden is under 3 feet of snow, so it’s just as easy to leave it inside next to the unit until it fills up.  When it’s on it’s quiet and doesn’t use any more energy than a small microwave oven. The FoodCycler™ reduces methane gas emission since the aerobic digestion process doesn’t create any methane and any CO2 emissions created in the process are captured by the carbon filters built into the unit. All in all, we are cutting down on our carbon footprint in so many ways, making less trips to the dump and not contributing as much food waste into landfills.

5 Green Thumbs Up Rating
5 Green Thumps Up

It’s for all these reasons we give the FoodCycler™ a 5 green thumbs up. In fact, I liked the machine so much I reached out to the company to see if there was a way we could work together. Homegrown Harvest is a small company and we work with suppliers who directly ship to our customers since we don’t take on inventory. We don’t have the space or means to deal with that, so Food Cycle Science was kind enough to extended to us a $30 off coupon code: HomegrownHarvest2019 that we can share on social media.

[Please note – we don’t make any money off of the sale the FoodCyclers™; we are just happy to be able to offer our followers a discount on a product that we think is a well-made and will make a difference in helping us all live a more sustainable lifestyle.]

Healthy Soil and It’s Importance in the Garden


What Makes Food Nutritious?

Did you ever stop and wonder what exactly makes our food nutritious?  Not delicious, but nutrient-rich.  Some people may believe that what makes food nutritious comes from the seed when in fact it comes from the soil.

There are 17 elements that all plants need in order to go through to have a successful life cycle. Hydrogen (H), carbon (C) and oxygen (O), plants get through the air and water; leaving 14 elements that are critical for plants to obtain through soil1. However, soil alone may not be enough and there is usually a need for added fertilizers, manures and other amendments to make sure plants receive the right nutritional elements.


Since soil is a key element when growing plants and particularly vegetables, building a raised garden bed can help gardeners start off right by beginning with a pristine soil mixture. Starting a raised garden bed allows gardeners the ability to establish a foundation with a well-balanced, nutrient-rich, weed-seed free growing medium without having to go through the backbreaking work involved with starting and maintained an in-ground garden.  In-ground gardening requires plenty of soil testing, tilling and hoeing – all very laborious and time-consuming work.  Versus starting a raised bed garden where you are able to control the growing environment from the very beginning by creating a blend of composts, fertilizers, manures and amendments.

For many years, when Mark and I first began Homegrown Harvest, we started many raised

garden beds for our clients with a mixture of composts, peat moss and vermiculite. The composts are the key ingredient, delivering the nutrients to your plants. Some composts can be nitrogen rich having come solely from dried grass clippings and leaves from the yard. Compost ideally should be a well-balanced.  Some local towns and municipalities offer their residents free compost, or there are services in certain areas where they will come pick up your compostables and in exchange will give you bags of compost for your garden or to donate to others.  Compost pick up services make it so easy for people to compost by taking all the messy and time-consuming work out of the equation. All the client needs to do is sort their garbage properly.  A quick Google search should help you locate one in your area. Consider yourself lucky if you do live in an area that has pick up compost service; thankfully there is more and more demand out with more people understanding we need to live more sustainable lifestyles.  What I love about compost pick up services is that it makes it possible for many people who may not have the space to compost to be able to cut down their carbon footprint and live more sustainable lifestyles.

Ingredients needed to Compost

If you don’t have a source for local compost there are plenty of options at either the big retail stores like Home Depot or Lowe, as well as your local garden center. One of our favorites products to use along with bagged composts or our homemade compost is Master’s Choice Bumper Crop:

“Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment is a soil building blend of manure and high organic nutrient content of shellfish compost, dark, rich earthworm castings (adds minerals and biology), kelp, peat, aged bark, and lobster – inoculated with endo and ecto michorrizal fungi to improve root function. The lobster body provides a lot of Nitrogen, and the shells breakdown to release a lot of Calcium, the #1 ingredients that plants need. Bumper Crop Organic Soil Amendment is an all-purpose, pre-fertilized planting and garden soil amendment. This product excels as a nutrient rich top dressing and mulch.”

Each time a plant grows, blossoms and fruits, the nutrients from the compost is delivered to the plant and the subsequent fruit.  Plenty of times we will do succession planting where we will plant something else into a space that had been used previously. For instance, once early crops of lettuces, broccoli and the like have been harvested an empty space will be left.  Usually we will plant in that same space something else to follow it up but before we do so we always add back in some fresh compost. Remember the used area has been depleted of its nutrients from the harvest plants, so it must be replaced in order to deliver the needed elements for the next plants to complete their life cycle.

Step by step guide to Gardening

Understanding soil is important not only for being able to grow your own fresh, nutrient rich fruits and vegetables but also vital to understanding more about the fruits and vegetables we buy in our grocery stores from mass-produced farms. I have written about soil before many years ago on this blog in a post called The Importance of soil – our lives depend on it! where I go into more in depth detail about soil. Our country has been in a crisis of ongoing soil degradation for decades.  Perhaps the words “dust bowl” conjures up images from a John Steinbeck novel; however, in present day America, our farmlands have taken a beating from mono-cropping and the addition of synthetic fertilizers in efforts to replace the depleted nutrients.  Unfortunately, these synthetic additives have made more of a problem for farmers. Fortunately, there are things that farmers can and have started to do to help rebuild our soil. Check out the PSA from Astronomer Laura Danly

Source:

A Bittersweet Time in the Garden

I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth, and so I got strength like Antaeus.~ Henry David Thoreau

Just as the Farmer’s Almanac called it, this autumn has been on the milder side. It’s not to say we haven’t experienced our first light frost – that happened the weekend of October 17th and 18thand again the other night. Having Mother Nature remind you of the impending change of the season during a warm autumn can shock crops – depending upon what’s still in the garden and what you have done to prepare for extending the season and fighting a little frost.

Peppers ripening on the counter

The beautiful autumnal colors of reds, oranges and yellows sprinkled through the beds in the form of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and marigolds up until mid-October. At that point we decided to harvest the tomatoes and let them ripen indoors. We always choose to do this at the end of the season for 2 reasons: 1. Tomatoes will continue to ripen off the vine and 2. Too many people, including us have left them out too long and Jack Frost has nipped them and that’s that.  This year due to the cool temperatures throughout the summer we still had tons of hot peppers fully developed but had not yet changed from their green color.  It’s not as well known, as there is some debate depending on what you read, as to whether you can finish ripening green peppers to their colorful counterparts once it has been picked. I had always thought that you could not do this; however, I have discovered that peppers that have started to change colors can be picked and they will continue to ripen of  But I have also read that as long as they are mature in size, given time, green peppers will finish ripening off the plant, according to Big Stone Bounty.
f the plant.

tomatoes ripening in bins


We’ve known this about tomatoes but not peppers – this good info. Of course, pulling any fruit off the plant before fully ripened results in lower nutritional content and they aren’t as sweet as their fully ripened counterparts, but I think anything from your own garden is way better than from anywhere else. Plus I usually only do this at the end of the season when I am worried about impending frost.

Peppers ripening in a bag with tomatoes

I’ve also read a lot of conflicting data about whether or not peppers react to ethylene gas or not. Ethylene gas helps stimulate the ripening process in many fruits including tomatoes. I’m currently conducting my own experiment to see if the peppers I put in the paper bag with the ripe tomato and ripening tomatoes accelerates the process of ripening the green peppers vs the ones one the counter on a dish. We have so many green tomatoes that I have been using unused earthworm bins that have holes on the bottom to layer the green tomatoes so they can ripen. The aeration helps the process. All the cherry tomatoes are in three bins and then I have a platter full of standard-sized heirloom tomatoes stacked up.


Cold frame is up

There can be so much to do to get ready for winter, particularly if we get a winter as snowy as last year. Once again the Farmer’s Almanac Winter Forecast confirms our fears that we could be in for a doozy. To finish readying the garden beds for winter, we need to be sure any remaining tender crops have all been weeded out and pull any weeds that may have crept in over the summer.  By doing so we remove any possibility of leaving behind vegetation which may add to the promotion of disease. We put a cold frame over part of one bed where we are currently growing some broccoli – our broccoli in the past has been attached so I tend to cover it up to provide a little added TLC to give it more of a chance. We put another cold frame upon a bed of lettuce, carrots and arugula.  The hay/straw mulch still needs to be put down and I need to gather some pine needles for the asparagus bed.  


Yesterday during a break from the computer, I went out and pulled the entire bed of remaining bean, cucumber and morning glory vines.  All of which will be dumped in the woods since I worry about the morning glory seeds taking over.  In a few days I’ll harvest some more herbs – the mint, rosemary, sage and thyme should be trimmed back – as should the oregano.  I will leave some long and wild for the birds and bees to continue to enjoy. There won’t be too many days left where the weather will allow me to be outside and to me there is nothing better than working out in the garden.

3.5 inches of much needed rain
Asparagus ferns

It rained 3.5 inches yesterday and last night – we desperately need it. It’s why I ran outside the day before to deal with the vines since I knew I’d be stuck inside to deal with computer work and filing if the weather reports were right.  There is nothing I rather do less than file, which is apparent since I am finding statements from 2011 in the pile.  The spare garlic, shallots and onions I managed to plant in some containers and the remainder of the two beds I had planted some in last week. We use a ton of all three when we cook and buying them – particularly shallots – can be expensive; so there is nothing better than growing your own.  At this point the garden is ready for it hay/straw mulch in some beds.  I’m still waiting a little while longer before cutting the asparagus shoots down to 2- 3″ and mulching; their ferns are just turning a yellowish brown but most remain green still.  Once we cut them down we’ll mulch with as many pine needles as we can rake up from under our own trees and top off with the hay/straw mulch we use to protect the freshly cut tops from the wind and frost.


Our Brussels sprouts are still coming along – its our first year growing them so there is a learning curve. We had some pests eat away at the leaves at one point during the summer but we planted enough that we only really only lost one to the pests – the rest now have started to sprout their little sprouts which it fun to see. The end of the season list continues with dumping the new compost into the the 12 foot bed we had to empty thanks to the morning glory infestation.  We need to throw down some new compost in a few containers as well before putting the straw/hay mulch down. 

It’s a bittersweet time of year for us. We have worked in our garden as well as in our clients’ gardens all season. Preparing soil, seeding, planting, staking and supporting, watering, feeding, weeding, waiting, watching nature do what she does so well – grow, thrive, produce, feed.  It’s the most satisfying feeling in the world, helping people grow their own food.  But alas, all seasons must come to an end and our business, Homegrown Harvest is coming to the end of our third growing season.  We were thrilled the other day to receive photos from one of client’s boasting about their garden.  It’s the best feeling in the world when you have one of your clients send you pictures of her garden thriving or her standing there with a Cheshire cat grin holding a huge platter of homegrown vegetables. We are truly blessed!

As the season winds down we can take solace knowing that the garden may be still but underneath the soil, wonderful things are taking shape to fill our palates next season. 

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just the body, but the soul. ~Alfred Austin


If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal – that is your success. All nature is your congratulations, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Spring – ah how we welcome thee

IMG_4663How does Connecticut greet the spring of 2015 but with 6 1/2 inches of fresh powder!  The vernal equinox ushers in promises of warmer, more colorful days ahead: a difficult thought when literally everything is freshly recovered in a blanket of 6+ inches of snow.

Yesterday parts of the world were treated to a total eclipse of the sun – a site to experience for sure. I believe it was around 1994,when I was living in Michigan when I witnessed this incredibly humbling experience.  A true reminder to us all that we are not the ones in control of our planet and space, there are much greater forces at work here. We may have a better understanding of what’s occurring but in no means are we the ones in the driver’s seat.

Since coming home from a much needed vacation the snows which had been piling up even 24 hours before our departure had melted quite a bit in a weeks time.  The snows around the patio were continuing to recede slowly but surely which each passing day this last week. I was even able to open the door to the Maine Kitchen Garden and walk in and look at the progress of what’s going on in the beds.  A few greens could be see underneath the  garden cloches.  The straw mulch remains down protecting the soil , although the stems from onions and garlic also could be seen poking through.  Yesterdays signs of spring today are again wrapped in winter’s thick blanket of freshly fallingIMG_4282 snow.

Springtime is a time for new beginnings, a fresh slate to start a new. In the garden, despite the looks of the lunar scape which continues above ground; beneath the surface – life continues to happen.  The ground is alive with microbial activity – the recent thaws have begun below the surface and once winter wraps up its finale – life will spring forth.

As I mentioned we recently were away in the lush tropical paradise of Barbados. It’s sunny and warm and gorgeous every day. If it rains, it does so overnight or early in the morning. Beautiful and sunny all IMG_0359the time…hmmm…. it makes me wonder if one could truly appreciate the beauty of those conditions day in and day out, particularly if that’s all you ever experienced.  The contrasts of colors these last few weeks for us going from brown, black, white and evergreen to an explosion of greens, blues, yellows, reds – the sea alone was at least 5 different shades of turquoise! However, even paradise has it’s gardening challenges.  The place we stayed had this great area for a garden but it wasn’t being used! We couldn’t understand how that could be that is until we met the monkeys!  Monkeys are to Barbados as deer, raccoon and squirrels are to Connecticut.

It’s been snowing for two hours this morning – not a single forecast called for snow at all today. Funny how all the weather apps and services finally changed the forecast to reflect what’s actually going on now.  I find it best to take this time and take refuge in my garden and those of our clients, albeit on paper but with planning each vegetable, herb and flower a landscape of colors appears in my head.

I always take photos along the way each year of each garden. The early pictures of promise are generally stark since capturing a planted seed is fairly boring. It’s a lot to ask the viewer to look beyond the soil and imagine the seed nestled into the earth waiting for the right combination of events to occur in order for the miracle of life to happen. Unless you are a gardener, then of course, you get it, you see the potential.

IMG_0044Knowing what has been planted in the past and where allows us to successfully plan for the future. Succession planting is the practice of rotating plants from season to season. For instance, one year you would plant members of the solanaceae family (tomatoes, peppers…) in one part of the garden or in a particular garden bed and then the next year you would move it to another part of the garden or different garden bed.  Plotting the garden out, we use an intensive planting method setting up a polyculture,  similar to square foot gardening but without the grid and a bit more free form.

Submersing myself into the symphony of delicious color, I paint the gardens with the green peas that emerge from purple and white flowers. Smatterings of Red Sail lettuce mixed with purple petunias lay beneath a canopy of emeralds touched with Sun Gold Cherry, Cherokee Purple and Lemon Boy tomatoes.  Monet’s garden couldn’t be more beautiful or colorful.  Since everything doesn’t all come up at once – the garden colors in spring differ than what emerges in the middle of summer which eventually gives way to an entirely new palette in fall.

The changes in the seasons is like watching Mother Nature flipping channels and I’m not sure I’d like to be stuck on any one given channel. Would you?

Bein’ Green – Living Green

Kermit used to struggle with “Bein’ Green” and many Americans, as well as others around the world today struggle with ‘living green’.  Our society has been accustomed to throwing things away – after all it sometimes feels like takes more effort to recycle.

Three years ago I bought a Toyota Highlander Hybrid in an effort to try to be more ‘green’ and not use so much gas etc… Gas prices were rising and I felt I had to do something. What I didn’t know was that I have to make sure the car is started at least every 3-4 days, otherwise the battery will die. WHAT????!!! Unfortunately I learned this the hard way, after buying the car and upon returning home from a 7 day vacation to discover that my car which was only 10 days old was dead.  It was later explained to me by the guys in the parts department that if I leave on vacation I need to hook the car up to a trickle charger. WHAT???!!!! Back up the truck – I have to do what?? My car is a 2009 and back then – three long years ago which in technology terms might as well be decades – they didn’t just plug right in like a golf cart does and some cars now like the Chevy Volt. I have to lift the hood and attached jumper cables directly to the battery and then plug into an outlet.  I hate having to deal with my car, especially the battery.  I accidentally touched the two cables together once and received quite a jolt. Thus my very warranted fear.

Anyway what does this have to do with gardening? Nothing accept to demonstrate that in order to be green – I had to do things differently and start thinking differently. Some consider this extra work and are so accustomed to instant gratification that the change needed isn’t worth their added time.  Gardening teaches patience, there is no rushing Mother Nature – after all, my generation was taught not to fool with Mother Nature.

I am a child of the ’70’s and I remember when the country renewed it’s efforts during the tough economic times of oil crisis to “reduce, reuse & recycle”. That’s initially when my mother introduced me to vegetable gardening.  Recycling wasn’t a new concept however in our country’s short history, as there were many efforts to reuse and recycle things throughout time particularly during war time.  Mankind for centuries has been collecting and melting down scrap metals for re-purposing. Yet in 2013 we still seem to struggle with “reducing, reusing & recycling” in our daily lives.  Sure more cities and municipalities have made great efforts providing recycling bins in subways and on city streets. But the laws regarding recycling vary from state to state and make things complicated for households.

I have and continue to try to recycle over the years but it can be very challenging to keep up with at times. I have a wonderful area for our household trash – it’s in a corner cabinet – which helps out at least in setting up an organizational system. Growing up my mother had a similar cabinet but her cabinet has a two-tiered lazy-Susan where she would store canned goods. However, when I was picking out my kitchen accessories I opted for a three trash bin system which hides nicely in the corner cabinet.  I see from the my cabinet’s manufacturer website their newer system has four- bins.

It’s neat and tidy and also keeps the dogs out the trash for the most part and worked wonderfully as long as I was the only one throwing out the garbage.  But as the children grew older and started to throw things away for themselves, although they knew the system didn’t always adhere by it and their friends, well, let’s just say no one seems to bother to look before they throw something away.  This would lead to everything being tossed with the non-recyclable trash that and impossible to sort out at times.  Then I even purchased a fourth bin which sits out in the kitchen which was marked 5¢ Refund Only on the lid hoping that everyone would get a clue if at least the cans were no where near the other trash.  This has been more effective recently with about a 10% error ratio when my son’s friends are over.

Recently we have been composting and I found that again – in order to be successful – I needed to figure out a system.  We had already set up our composter outside which I discuss in my November 10, 2012 post Homegrown Harvest: Composting: The Making of Black Gold: Mix, Mash, Moisture, Move: The Four M’s of Composting but I found initially I had to think first before I threw things away, also how or where was I going to collect the scraps for the composter while in the kitchen.  What was I going to do – run clear across the house and out the side door to our composter every time I had a contribution? I don’t think so. I knew I needed a containment system for the kitchen and took to reading a number of people’s recommendations on blogs and websites etc…I  was at the pet store when I stumbled upon the perfect bin. It’s not too big, but not too little measuring 15″ tall and holds 16 quarts and has a secure lid. This is important in my house with four dogs roaming around plus it helps contain the smell and start the composting process.

After a few weeks I added a small cup by the coffee maker so we can easily dump out coffee grounds and tea leaves and simply dump it into the mini composter bin when it’s full. That reduces the number of times we have to open the lid because once you have a few wonderful compost-able scraps like orange peels, egg shells, some dryer lint, edamame shells and more you have quite the odoriferous brew going in there.  I like the size of this bin since it’s not too big, it doesn’t get to heavy and makes shaking the contents around easy and can be walked to the compost just as easily without breaking your back.  The kids are adapting to the idea of composting and although my daughter doesn’t want to smell what’s in there she will leave her clementine peels in a bowl on the counter near-by for me to throw it out. Baby-steps – it beats her simply throwing them out and having me fish them out of the trash.

Everyday, I work on new ways to continue to make recycling an easier part of our lives. As long as it takes to break a habit – it takes just as long to form a new one, at least the good ones.  I look forward to the seeing our compost supply build and will be equally excited to use the beautiful Black Gold in our garden this summer!

If you have had any experiences with recycling or composting, please leave a comment. I love to collect new and different ideas on how to “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle”.

 

Composting: The Making of Black Gold

Mix, Mash, Moisture, Move: The Four M’s of Composting

Compost is an important ingredient in every garden. They call it Black Gold because what it can do for your plants is priceless.  People think that composting has to be difficult – but it doesn’t. People have a way of over-complicating things.  First off to make things clear let’s define the word compost. According to Merriam-Webster, the noun compost is a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land. But it’s also a transitive verb meaning to convert (as plant debris) to compost. So composting makes compost and compost is again? Oh yeah, decayed organic matter -well that explains that!
Let’s see what else we can find from the Concise Encyclopedia on compost: 

“Mass of rotted organic matter made from decomposed plant material. It is used in agriculture and gardening generally to improve soil structure rather than as a fertilizer, because it is low in plant nutrients. When properly prepared, it is free of obnoxious odors.”

Well that is concise mouthful so let’s break it down.  

The mass of rotted organic matter

Green matter for composting

In order to make your compost balanced you want to remember not to use just one or two items but many different items so you can have a balanced compost.   The “rotted organic matter” you want to collect are easy to remember if you break it down into two groups: brown matter and green matter.  Brown matter consist of things are hard and dry and provide carbon into the mix. Green matter consists of things are moist and wet and provide nitrogen.  
Brown Materials include: shredded newspaper, cardboard (non-waxed), dried leaves, brown bags, small amounts of sawdust, eggshells, pine needles, tea bags, corn cobs, straw and wood prunings. No single brown item should make up more than 10% of your entire mixture.  You can also use fresh manures from rabbits, horses, goats and chicken unless you want to have a vegan compost.   Green items include: vegetables, fruit, seaweed, kelp, plant cuttings, garden weeds and trimmings, and apple cores, etc.
No single green item should make up more than 20% of your entire mixture.  If you plan on using grass clipping, you have to dry them out first, otherwise you will have a stinky, icky mess on your hands.
No-no items include meat scraps, bakery products, seeds and fruit pits, dairy products, grease, whole eggs, cheese and oily things like peanut butter, mayonnaise and lettuce leaves with salad dressing on them nor can you use table scraps from dinner.  No pet food or pet litter and keep the large branches out as well, unless you can chop it up.
Some other things which you may not realize you can use include things like hair and pet fur, feathers, dryer lint, wood ashes, paper towel, the tubes from toilet paper and paper towels.
Ultimately while collecting these materials and composting them you want to strive for a 3:1 ratio of Brown:Green aka Carbon:Nitrogen ratio.

 
Brown Matter like wood chips and bark

Properly Prepared

An important thing in composting is mashing your ingredients into small bits. The smaller the better as it will help speed up the decomposition process.  Things like dried leaves can be run over with a lawn mower to make them smaller.  Moisture is very important as well. You are striving for a damp mixture not too wet or too dry either. Finally you must keep turning your pile, always towards the center of the pile where its the hottest and moistest part of the mixture. That’s where all the good stuff happens in the decomposition process.

What else?

Composting can take some time , but the more you mix and mash, the quicker the process can be. Also having a certain amount of mass will help to expedite the process as well.  When you add new things to the mix be sure to mix it in well.  Think of it was making a meatloaf or a cake.  You need to be sure all the ingredients get mixed well together each time you add something new.

Composting pit

Where and how you choose to compost is a personal choice.  There are a lot of different methods, like barrels which can be rolled or containers with handles which can be turned. But a simple 3 x 3 or 4 x 4 area is all you need – anything bigger would be ineffective and actually hinder the process.  You can build your own compost pit easily with some wood or brick. You can even use the black garbage bag method, but that can be a rather stinky process and tends to use only one ingredient.  If you do this just be sure to add other composted blends to your compost mixture before you add it to the garden so it is well balanced.

Is there anything else?

One of the most challenging parts about composting can be collecting the materials.  Separating things out doesn’t always come naturally to folks.   Especially if you have teenagers or children running about who find using a garbage can challenging. That may be just my kids.  Anyway, I find that having a can especially designated for the compost heap helpful.  Clearly mark it, maybe select a different color bin altogether.  If you have any ideas in this area, I would love to hear about them. If you’re on Twitter send me a message @HomeharvestCT or simply leave a comment on this blog.  

Composting is a fabulous way of helping to reduce our waste and is such a valuable ingredient for our gardens.  Happy composting everyone!