Compost happens

For the inaugural week of Food Waste Awareness here in California, I wanted to talk about composting. This is one of the biggest win-wins nature offers to deal with some of the unavoidable waste we end up with in our cooking endeavors.

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Composting turns food scraps into rich and nutritious soil. It’s kind of like printing money, or turning trash into treasure. It only takes 4 ingredients all of which you have readily available around your home – carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and water.

There are different methods and techniques and some people are very specific about compost rules, but I follow the same philosophy as every thing else I teach – what works for one person may not work for another so start off simple and try different methods until you find the method that works best for you and your family. As you gain experience, your composting skill level will get better and better. Don’t worry if you find yourself overwhelmed at any point.Just remember to let Mother Nature be the guide – she’s been doing it since the beginning of time without any special tools or magical plastic bins.

A few things to consider before getting started:

  • Where do you want to keep your indoor scraps?
  • Where will you be transferring them to? (You will need a dedicated space for a pile or a compost bin that has access to water and can easily be turned)
  • Many cities offer reduced cost compost bins that make this process super easy if you don’t want to build something yourself or use the “throw-it-in-a-heap” method

Additional considerations when composting:

Make sure you know what CAN and CANNOT go into your compost pile.

  • Good: Raw fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells (cleaned of eggy residue) garden debris such as grass clippings and fallen leaves from trees, clippings from plants you are pruning back for winter
  • Bad: Animal products such as meat scraps, diseased plant material, weeds or plants that will reseed in your compost or garden that you would not like to grow, ashes, cooked food including cooked fruit and vegetables, manure from meat eating animals

As I mentioned before, there are four main ingredients required for composting organisms to do their job of breaking down your waste into richly nutritious humus/soil.

  • Carbon — when supplied into the pile at the correct ratio, will provide energy
    • Look for materials that tend to be brown and dry like leaves and paper
  • Nitrogen — facilitates growth and reproduction of more organisms to oxidize the carbon materials
    • This is where your kitchen scraps come in and tend to be green or colorful such as peels and other veggie and fruit trimmings. Grass clippings also work.
  • Oxygen — your compost pile will be a living breathing organism and as such it will need oxygen to assist with oxidizing the carbon and helping decompose
  • Water — keeps everything at the optimal temperature for processes to work without overheating and drying out

According to the Master Gardener Handbook, “The general rule of thumb is that the pile must be warm, aerated, and moist and it should comprise nearly equal proportions of chopped, fresh green material (grass clippings, kitchen scraps) and dry brown materials (straw, paper, dry leaves.)”

Finally, if you decide that composting is for you and you want to commit a little time and effort, you can try the Rapid Backyard Composting Method which is highly efficient and can create fresh compost on average between 4-6 weeks as opposed to up to a year with the throw -it -in -a -pile -and -forget -about -it method. If you are interested in learning more, contact me for a list of resources. Again, I am always happy to answer any questions you have.

Composting is a great way to turn food scraps into healthy soil instead of releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Ask any experienced organic gardener what their secret is and you will find that using fresh, backyard compost is a major part of their gardening success.  So what are you waiting for? Keep calm and compost!

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