The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Concise Composting

When I was young, my family would often throw our organic waste in the fields. On a large farm, all you had to do was take a milk carton full of peels, cores and leaves, walk a hundred yard in any direction, and then launch the contents into the grass and brush in a circular arc motion. If rats or other animals got into it, we could hardly care.

I was a bit hesitant to compost in the city, though. It seemed complicated--getting a compost bin, and I had heard you had to do it just right to make sure the contents heated up to a certain temperature, etc. Wouldn't rodents be a problem with vegetables rotting in a concentrated area?

I have to thank Erin for introducing me to composting. Its astonishingly easy: You just dump the stuff into a pile in the backyard. Its that simple. Then throw some dirt, grass clippings and leaves on it to keep it relatively covered. You just don't want vegetables rotting in plain daylight, but they don't need much to cover them at all. Once a pile is formed, I'll just open a little hole in the top with a hoe, dump my kitchen waste in there, then close it back up. Its good to stir the pile up regularly to facilitate quicker composting. In just a couple months (or even less with more focused management), your yard clippings and kitchen waste turn into a wonderful, rich compost.

I haven't noticed much of a rodent problem at all. We had a couple piles at Erin's house and one at my apartment. Occasionally, I'd see some corn cobs lying in the backyard, so someone had been rooting through the pile and pulled some stuff out. But no infestation of rats or anything to that degree. By contrast, the compost piles are significantly cleaner than the rows of garbage cans in the alleyways of Columbus. Its clear that animals root through them and scatter their contents far and wide.

Its amazingly fun to compost. I just keep a pail in the kitchen with a tight-fitting lid, and every few days its full and I take it outside. I feel like I'm doing something for the environment and participating in the full life cycle. It is said that at least
30% of all household waste could be composted. No sense sending that to a landfill when it could be used to augment the nutrition in your soil for gardening. [Due to the compact nature of landfills, much of the biodegradable materials in them do not beak down, they just add to the volume of the waste out there.] Sometimes I even enjoy it when vegetables go bad or I have a lot of cores and peels to throw out, because that just means there's more to compost!

You can compost the following:
  • All raw vegetables--peels, cores, leaves, anything that goes moldy
  • Egg shells (not the contents, although most of the eggs shells obviously have a little egg residue, but I don't think that's a problem)
  • Tea bags and coffee, filters and all!
  • Grass clippings and leaves
  • Some even recommend composting certain paper and cardboard products
It is not recommended to compost meats, eggs, bread or oils, or treated woods. In theory they can be composted, but you could have a bigger problem with pests, and treated wood contains toxins.

There are plenty of web sites with details about how to compost. If you want to use the compost you've created in a garden, you may want to be more mindful of what you put in--for example, if you treat your grass with pesticides, that could be a problem for your vegetables next year (or you when you eat those vegetables). Others say that's not an issue since the herbicides break down quickly. Others discourage composting leaves of black walnut trees or rhubarb or other plants with potential toxins to humans or which could inhibit growth in your garden, some say its not a problem. There are a variety of opinions out there, so do a little research. But the bottom line is that its real easy, and nature handles most of the issues for you.

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