Recycle: Composting tips to get you started

The aftermath of prep in the kitchen or cleaning out your refrigerator: Potato peels, apple cores and celery tops. Rubbery carrots with a black tip. Fuzzy oranges. Tea bags, matchsticks and coffee grounds. Even lightly used paper napkins, brown paper bags, and coffee filters.

Garbage? No way! In fact, if you compost, that stuff isn’t even waste at all. It just goes from your kitchen back into the ground in the form of nutrient-rich, mineral laden,  luscious (to worms and other beneficial garden creatures) black fertilizer. Composting makes the soil much healthier, reduces the amount of garbage you toss into your own garbage can and therefore the landfills. It also reduces the load on your city’s sewer system by keeping vegetable waste out of your garbage disposer.

You can compost, even if you live in an apartment. (Keep reading, apartment dwellers!)  It’s easy. And it doesn’t smell bad.

Check out this machine from Naturemill! It fits under your sink or in a closet. You plug it in, toss in your kitchen trimmings (even meat and dairy!), and eventually pull out quality compost you can use for potted plants, a rooftop garden or give away.

I’d still have the bowl on the counter, and empty it into this compost machine and I’m all done. Or, this machine in combination with my traditional composting system would pull more kitchen waste out of my garbage.

Since my composter is a backyard one, I can’t add bones, meat, fats, dairy or grains.

I also don’t add food after it’s been served, such as salad. Leftover carrot sticks, fine, but salad or side dish vegetables usually have dressing or butter. No grains, legumes or breads go into a backyard composter, this will attract rodents. No pet waste, either.

Here’s what I do: I have a small wide stainless steel bowl that sits on the counter. Instead of peeling potatoes into the sink, the peels shoot right off the peeler into the bowl. I had to try a couple different bowls before I found a shape that works for me. Onion ends, strawberry stems, squash seeds, etc. get scooped into the bowl instead of the sink or garbage. So my process is the same as before, I just aim in a different place.

I also keep that countertop bowl small, so I have to empty it frequently — at least once per day. It can also go into the dishwasher. Sometimes if I have a lot of veggie-intensive cooking to do, I may use a bigger bowl or empty my small one several times. If you have a too-large jar or bin, vegetable material may start to decompose before you transfer it into your composter. And that will start to stink.

The actual composter sits outside in a far corner of my back yard, which is too much of a hike to do daily. So I have an intermediate bin much more conveniently located just outside my kitchen door. It’s a 5 gallon bucket with a tight fitting lid, it was a salvaged laundry or kitty litter tub or something. I empty it once a week or so, as it gets full. I can wait for a break in the rain and it is not too much of a hassle to make the trek out back.

The weekly excursion is the perfect interval to check on the composter anyway. I stir it up a bit with a shovel or aerate it, or add some leaves or dirt in addition to the kitchen green stuff. I add some garden debris, such as leaves and small branches but never weeds or diseased branches.

In Portland we have yard debris collection that I throw weeds and larger branches. The city’s composters are much hotter than my puny backyard one, so weed seeds will be killed. I’m OK with seeds in my compost, since they’re from foods I like, If they end up sprouting someplace in my garden, I get free food.

There is a huge variety of composter bin products out there. Find the simplest and most convenient one for you. Learn the process and you’ll have success. The city of Portland, Oregon sells composters inexpensively, perhaps your city does too.

I’m honored to say my composter is full of earthworms, which means I must be doing a good job. It doesn’t smell bad, there are no flies or mice or other pests. Sometimes slugs. Yearly I empty the black compost and spread it around my garden, thus starting the cycle again. Fertilizer for growing food, cooking it and recycling it back to earth again!

Until next time!

–Elaine Bothe

Resources and images courtesy of:

The Earth Machine (which does not plug in)

the Naturemill composting appliance, which does plug in

Composting in Portland, Oregon

Intro to composting

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