Keep your nutrients to yourself

| by Lois Vitt Sale
Keep your nutrients to yourself

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 14 percent of the waste material that goes to a landfill every year is food waste! While paper is the number one material discarded in our country, enough of it is recycled so that it comes in third behind food and plastic in terms of volume in landfills or incinerated. In 2009, the volume of food waste disposed was 33 million tons. If you do the math, that equals 220 pounds of food disposed per person! The EPA website includes all of the statistics.

In terms of climate change, we talk about carbon dioxide, but methane, the greenhouse gas generated as waste materials break down in landfills, is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And food waste breaks down the fastest. Of course the first best solution to avoid waste is not to produce it in the first place. Buy smaller quantities of perishables more frequently. Dare I say restaurants could offer smaller portions and work with local charities to distribute surplus food? Inevitably, some food is going to be wasted, whether it is that orange or banana you peeled, or the core of your apple or the end of the head of lettuce. Don't grind it in the disposal and send the treatment burden downstream to your sanitary districts. Instead, I suggest you compost.

Compost is the local means to closing the cycle on the food you buy or grow. There are four ways I know of to compost. If you live in San Francisco you may be lucky to have curbside collection of your food waste. I don't live in San Francisco, and I am jealous! If you like a high tech solution to basic biology or you are an apartment dweller, an appliance may be the answer for you. And one of these days, I may try one. A little research turns up a unit by Nature Mill.

In my home, we have two forms of composting underway currently, vermiculture (worm composting) and yard container where we compost a mix of yard and food waste. I have a longer track record with worm composting - probably seven years. Worms are a bit like pets. They don't like meat, dairy, oils or too much bread. So basically worms will eat fruit and veggie scraps. And they do so nicely creating a wonderful, clean smelling soil. It's made me wonder what percentage of our soil is really worm poop! A worm bin has to be kept in a dark place that is temperate. The ideal is not colder than 50 degrees or warmer than 80. But if you meet their needs, they will grow their numbers to eat (meet) your demands and reproduce to replace themselves. Trouble only arises if you have more waste than they can process.

The second form of composting is a rotating pickle bin (tumbler). This combines yard and food waste and breaks down through aeration and heat. We are just coming to the second full year of using this unit. I got it as a Mother's Day present (and yes, I was very pleased). According to the manufacturer, I should be able to turn over the content every three weeks. We have not found this to be true - mostly because we have a very shady garden and the unit needs to bake in the sun to biodegrade its contents. On the plus side, it will take more materials than the worm composter. And the compost produced is rich material to spread in the yard.

If you have composting tips to share, please pass them along. I will continue to compost because I want to keep the nutrients in my yard and out of the landfills. How about you?


Topics: Landscaping


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