10 August 2009

from garbage to garden

Household waste makes up a huge percentage of wastes that end up in the landfill. Most of this can be composted - even if you do not garden, you can give or sell this compost to local nurseries and farms. Composting upcycles kitchen and yard waste and manures into an extremely useful humus-like end product, permitting the return of vital organic matter and particularly bacteria that are essential to plant nutrition and the soil.

Managed aerobic composting arranges environmental conditions so they are optimal for the natural processes to take place. You can make your own compost box or
purchase one as this is the first step on the great journey of rotting.

Composting organisms require four equally important things to work effectively:

  • Carbon ("C" or carbohydrates), for energy - the microbial oxidation of carbon produces the heat. High carbon materials tend tobe brown and dry.
  • Nitrogen ("N" or protein), to grow and reproduce more organisms to oxidize the carbon. High nitrogen materials tend to be green (or colorful, like fruits and vegetables) and wet.
  • Oxygen, for oxidizing the carbon, the decomposition process.
  • Water, in the right amounts to maintain activity without causing anaerobic conditions.
Anyone with a few extra square feet (even inside your kitchen or out on a deck or balcony) can produce compost. Properly aerated compost does not smell like rotten food so it is possible for apartments and other small home-dwellers to create their own without making a big mess or raising a stink.

Composting microbes cannot do their work well unless they are provided with air. Without air, slow decomposition occurs but the pile tends to smell like rotting garbage. It is important to regularly stir your pile. Also a balanced mix of green grass clippings, wet fruits and vegetables, and ingredients such as straw, shredded paper or dried leaves is very helpful in allowing air into the center of a pile. To make sure that you have adequate aeration for your pile thoroughly break up or mix in any ingredients that might mat down and exclude air.

Ideally, the pile should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to fit the needs of compost microbes. Fruit and vegetable wastes generally have plenty of moisture, as do fresh green grass clippings and garden trimmings. In hot, dry climates it may be necessary to water your pile occasionally to maintain proper moisture. If you are using dry ingredients, such as dried leaves or straw, you'll need to moisten them as you add them to the pile. For more information, look
here.

Composting reduces the amount of methane emitted from landfills which is a big cause of global warming. As it is an excellent source of nutrients, it makes a great base for an organic vegetable garden as there is no need to add additional fertilizers. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil's water-holding capacity. Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few, if any, other soil additives will be needed.

Be part of the ethical kitchen brigade and start composting!

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