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May 20, 2010

By Jennifer Chaky

I used to think only gardeners composted, and I never was much of a gardener. But the benefits of composting go beyond just the end result of creating nutrient-rich soil, so I started doing it a few years ago. The most beautiful thing about composting, to me, is that the trash we put on the curb every week is so much less than before (in fact, I put trash on the curb about every three weeks, since almost everything is composted or recycled). That means less energy to haul and transport heavy, wet garbage (which foodstuff usually is), less money spent on disposal costs, and less pollution put into the air from incinerators burning the trash, that again, is usually wet and therefore takes more energy to burn.

And after all that, you still get the prize of bountiful, nutrient-rich soil for your garden, which will save you from buying fertilizer or harmful lawn chemicals to control weeds and bugs because the compost will make your soil healthy and resistant to such intrusions.

Composting is simple. It can be as rudimentary as a pile in your backyard where you layer green waste (kitchen scraps) and brown waste (yard scraps), or as fancy as an expensive tumbler system. There is plenty of information on composting, online or in books, but don’t get overwhelmed–composting is not as hard as you may think. You can read up on mesophillic and thermophillic bacteria, and of nitrogen and oxygen ratios if you are so inclined, but if you don’t want to get a PhD in compost science, you can still successfully bring composting into your life.

Here are the basics:

  • Do a search on the various types of bins. They range in price and complexity, but all will do the job–it just depends on your budget, space, and physical needs.  Or you can just make a space in the yard with chicken wire. How fancy a system you have is entirely up to you.
  • Green waste is fruits and veggie scraps, tea bags, coffee grinds, egg shells, and the like (I’m reckless; I throw in old pasta and rice too.) Don’t compost foods with fats or oils (like meat or dairy) or else it will attract animals.
  • Brown waste is leaves, grass clippings, weeds, fireplace ash, dryer lint, and sawdust (no dog poo and nothing pesticide treated). Also, let weeds dry out so they don’t take root in the pile.
  • Get a handy kitchen collector to keep near your sink for rounding up scraps. You can get a stainless steel one with charcoal filters to control odor, or just use an empty oj container and take your scraps out more frequently.
  • Turn your pile once in a while. Like I said, I am a reckless composter. I hardly turn my pile, but when I need it, I invariably always have some soil on hand, thanks to rot-inducing bacteria that knows what to do. But see what works for you.
  • Take pride and pleasure in the smaller size trash bag you put on the curb!
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