Gross-out green week - Day one: Composting - Our Daily Green

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gross-out green week - Day one: Composting

We have been rolling this idea around in our green brain for a while now. A lot of the things we do when we go green elicits a gag reflex. This week, we're going to write about a few of the "gross" things we green folks do and some ideas and suggestions how to get around the yucky aspect.

The first time I explained that I wanted to begin composting our yard and kitchen scraps, a certain member of my family strongly objected. Mr. UltraSafe, SuperClean, FarFromGreen spouse thought it was simply an excuse not to clean as much and that we now would be inviting filth and critters to invade our home by leaving a convenient pile of accessible food.

To say he was not on board with composting is an understatement.

How to overcome the "ick" factor and why start composting?

We started composting over 10 years ago. While Mr. Daily Green still calls my compost container the slop bucket and casts disparaging looks my way, he also will finely chop melon rinds so they compost sooner. We have managed to undo years of simply grinding up the waste in our food disposal. One weapon in my arsenal was when the kitchen trap began to breed drain flies as a result of fine food particles that accumulated. When you compost organic scraps, there is nothing accumulating in the drain.

Truthfully, we hated washing those valuable minerals down the drain when they could be improving our soil. Our ground is impacted clay, which according to Wise Geek,
... clay soil is usually easy to identify. It tends to be almost gluey when wet, in addition to very clumpy. When it dries out, it cracks, and the soil has a dense, heavy feeling when felt in the hands. Clay soils are also known as heavy soils, a reference to their density. The problem with clay soil is that the density creates poor drainage, which can be bad for many plants. In addition, it is prone to compaction, and it is often highly alkaline. 
One of the best ways to improve clay soil is by adding a variety of compost materials which includes:
  • Kitchen scraps that are not meat or dairy based (no bones, fat or cheese)
  • Eggshells
  • Coffee grounds (and filters!)
  • Shredded newspaper (but not more than 10% of the total material)
  • Vegetable peels
  • Apple cores
  • Citrus skin
  • Banana peels
  • Plant trimmings
  • Dead headed flowers
  • Grass clippings
  • Leaves
  • NO pet waste from animals that eat meat. (Horse manure is fine, for example, as is cow manure or rabbit droppings) Dog or cat waste is not acceptable. 
By carefully choosing the material that goes into the compost, the smell is eliminated. We must warn however, that different folks have different thresholds for smell. I grew up on a farm and so anything less than a pig pen or cow pasture smell isn't "bad at all" to me. My city family does beg to differ. 

Compare Various Compost Tumblers at CompostMania.comAir circulation is also an important factor in proper composting. The scraps need to decompose, versus spoil. By rotating the composting materials, there will be enough aeration to help the material break down properly. The absence of oxygen is what causes material to break down more slowly and smell foul.  Another way to hasten the breakdown of the organic materials (and therefore minimize the smell) is either by using lime powder which holds nitrogen and generates heat or by using red worms to eat and digest the material which also breaks it down faster. A caveat about lime is that it often disrupts the pH of the soil and then the soil needs adjustment.

One more factor to consider is moisture. A compost pile can neither be too dry or too wet. Both extremes will slow the process. If it is too wet, it compacts and doesn't allow for aeration, while if it's too dry, the microorganisms will not break down the material quickly at all. A good gauge is that the compost should feel as moist as a wrung out sponge.

From our sponsor: is a comprehensive online destination for all things composting, encouraging people to reduce their ecological footprint and reconnect with their local ecosystem through composting, organic gardening, and promoting the Earth’s natural lifecycle. 

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, where we revisit going without soap

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