Monday, August 28, 2006


The hubby and I were at a family dinner function yesterday and while making a salad, my sister in law asked if my other sister in law had a composter. She said 'No', then she said. 'Don't judge me'. Well, we all kind of snickered but it got me to thinking about composting. How important is a composter for your garden and more importantly, the environment?

In the large city where I live, the powers that be have come out with 'green boxes'. Similar to 'blue boxes' which are used for recycling bottles, cans and papers; these 'green boxes' are used to recycle household waste. You are allowed to put food scraps, pizza boxes, Kleenexes - just about anything that will break down over a period of time into these carts. Most stores in my area sell these paper bags with a plastic like lining to keep the mushy stuff in and the contents are picked up once a week along with the garbage. This program is a test program for a few years to see how it will work out and to see if they want to continue with the program. The refuse is basically taken from households and sold back to the city's citizens as compost for their soil. On the other hand, you can purchase a composting unit from the city for $33 and go from there, but no matter what you do, like the Nike Commercial says, 'Just Do It'.

What is composting? Composting is the breaking down of organic material by bacteria and fungi. Why should you compost? Composting assists your soil in retaining nutrients and moisture. By composting, you will require fewer chemicals for your garden. Composted materials help the soil in your garden to become full of nutrients for your plants. Almost 45 percent of your garbage on a weekly basis can be turned into compost material; the key is just to get started. Green material such as lawn clippings and kitchen wastes contribute nitrogen and brown materials such as sawdust from untreated wood, vacuum cleaner, dry leaves and shredded newspapers (no colored advertisements put them in the recycle bin!) Keep in mind, however, that too much green can lead to overheating. The centre of your composter can reach temperatures up to sixty degrees (you can purchase compost thermometers).

You can make your own composter out of wood or metal. You can check at the library or on the Internet for plans. You can also go to the large hardware stores to purchase one or if you live in a large urban centre, the local government may sell them as well.

If you are a 'first time composter' like me, here is how to get started:
First, you will want to place you composter directly in the sunlight and on your soil, next you need to put a thick layer of organic material (such as hay, straw, leaves or branch cuttings) on the bottom of your container. Next you will want to alternate wet and dry scraps (kitchen with garden), shred the items that are going into the composter because the smaller they are, the faster it will decompose. If your kitchen scraps aren't that moist, you might want to consider wetting them down as this assists in the decomposition of the ingredients in your composter and helps with dust control to slow, but too much liquid will make it a soggy and stinky mess and causes the decomposition to slow down. Also, you will want to mix it up every couple of weeks or so, kind of like stirring. You will want to make sure that air can reach the contents of your composter. There are some things that should not be composted due to the nature of their makeup These include meat and fish bones, fats, oils, dairy products or pet waste. Also you will not want to add grass clippings or leaves that have been introduced to any sort of pesticide or the 'weed n feed' type of treatments.

Where I live, it gets pretty cold in the winter and the composting may stop during the coldest months as the stuff in the composter will most likely freeze (make sure the sides of your composter is well insulated and this will lesson its freezing time). If it does stop or slow, it will begin again during the spring months. Seasonal composting works quite well as well. In the fall, you can add fall leaves and bits from cleaning out your garden and kitchen scraps; during the winter, you can still add kitchen scraps and pine needles from your Christmas tree (as long as you chop them up) and during the spring, if you haven't already started, this is the time to start. Also in the spring you can continue to add kitchen scraps as well as cuttings and weeds from your garden.

After composting for awhile and adding the nutrients to your soil, think how great your garden will look and as an added bonus you will be able to feel good about doing your part both for your garden and for the environment!

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