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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Quest to Save the Planet: Backyard Composting

So here I am in my little corner of the world, trying to make it a better place, and I have started composting. Here are reasons I think that the average person should compost.
  1. Composting reduces waste.  It's good for the planet. Food waste and yard trimmings currently make up 23% of waste in the US. Wouldn't that be great if we could easily reduced the number of landfills by 1/4?
  2. Composting returns micro-nutrients from food waste to the soil to help plants grow.
  3. Composting can reduce diseases and pests.
  4. Composting reduces the needs for chemical fertilizers.
  5. Composting saves money when it comes to gardening. It can eliminate the need to purchase soil and fertilizer.
Here are a few more reasons why I compost.
  1. I live in St George, where I like most of my neighbors have mostly red clay in my yard instead of your typical garden-variety dirt. It's not exactly conducive to growing a garden. And I have been advised by life-long St. Geezy residents that this is the most effective way to make your garden grow.
  2. Between composting and recycling, we actually make very little garbage. This means that I don't have to drag our outside garbage can to the street very often (and when I say I, I mean ask my husband to do it), or when I do, it's not as heavy and awkward to drag through gravel to the street. If it weren't for the fact that diapers get really smelly in the sun, I could go a couple months between taking my cans to the street. One good chore saves another. (When you actually start recycling, you'll be amazed at how much is reusable in some way or another.)
  3. Composting justifies my deep seeded personality flaw of being a hoarder. I try to get rid of things, but I can always think of a reason why it could be useful someday. If I bury it in my backyard, even my garbage can be of use to me.
Now that you're motivated to compost, here are a list of things that you can and can't compost:
  • Animal manure
  • Cardboard rolls
  • Clean paper
  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Cotton rags
  • Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
  • Eggshells
  • Fireplace ashes
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Grass clippings
  • Hair and fur
  • Hay and straw
  • Houseplants
  • Leaves
  • Nut shells
  • Sawdust
  • Shredded newspaper
  • Tea bags
  • Wood chips
  • Wool rags
  • Yard trimmings
 CAN'T and why:
  • Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
    • Releases substances that might be harmful to plants
  • Coal or charcoal ash
    • Might contain substances harmful to plants
  • Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Diseased or insect-ridden plants
    • Diseases or insects might survive and be transferred back to other plants
  • Fats, grease, lard, or oils
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Meat or fish bones and scraps
    • Create odor problems and attract pests such as rodents and flies
  • Pet wastes (e.g., dog or cat feces, soiled cat litter)
    • Might contain parasites, bacteria, germs, pathogens, and viruses harmful to humans
  • Yard trimmings treated with chemical pesticides
    • Might kill beneficial composting organisms
There are many products and methods out there for composting (most of them overpriced.)  Good compost should be a mix of three elements  1. brown matter (shredded newspaper, cardboard, hay, leaves, saw dust, some kitchen scrap, etc.) and 2. green matter (weeds, lawn clippings and some kitchen scraps) and 3. water. Here's what I do:
  1. I have an old laundry detergent bucket in my garage where I throw my kitchen scraps. When it gets more than half full I throw in a bunch of sawdust and some crab grass. (There's always some to be found.)
  2. Then I dig a hole big enough to hide the mix and cover it with dirt (clay in my case) and then pour water over it.
This morning I got up early to dig a hole before the day got too hot. My son decided to come out and watch me. As I was digging a hole and pulling crab grass my son wanted to help and I realized this is something that I should be involving my kids in. This is simple enough that they can help me do and I can teach them responsibility for the world around them and how we can help plants grow. Apparently even my two-year-old can effectively pull weeds. As I was digging, I dug up a previously buried compost pile. It was  nice to see some proof that my methods are working. What was previously a bunch of garbage was now some rich dirt when a few decaying orange peels mixed in.
Here's the area that hopefully next year will provide me with fresh veggies (and my husband in his pj's.)
For more ways to save money and help the environment at the same time look here, here and here.

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