3 Why Are Food Animals Far More Fertile Than Horses How Your Old Carrot Peels and Apple Cores Can Make You Healthier and Be Kind to the Planet Too

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How Your Old Carrot Peels and Apple Cores Can Make You Healthier and Be Kind to the Planet Too

You might think that throwing carrot peels and apple cores in the trash has no effect since they will decompose anyway. But even natural plant matter will last for years when sealed in a plastic bag and thrown in a landfill.

As a great example of community responsibility, the city of Seattle, WA offers free compost bins to all residents. This keeps over 800 million pounds of waste out of their landfills! Not only can you help keep your kitchen waste out of the landfill, but you can create nutrient-rich humus for your garden, whether it’s an acre or an old wine barrel in your backyard.

WHY SHOULD I COMPOST?

o Over 21 million tons of food waste is generated each year in the US. If this were composted, the greenhouse gases saved would be equivalent to taking over 2 million cars off the road.

o You will add valuable nutrients back to the soil and your garden will be healthier and your vegetables will be more nutritious for you and your family.

o You will save money by not having to buy garden soil and mulching materials, and it will save energy to transport those products to your store and your garden.

WHAT IS COMPOST?

When organic materials such as leaves, plant food scraps, manure and garden waste decompose in a controlled environment (your compost bin), a rich, fertile humus is created that will improve and fertilize your garden soil.

Your plants are much healthier because:

o nutrients are added

o drainage is greatly improved if your soil has a lot of clay in it

o if your soil is sandy, compost helps it retain water

If your compost pile is fresh, worms and insects will find their way into it and help turn your waste into food for your garden. But it helps to create the right conditions. Give these friendly animals enough air, water and food and they will be your garden’s best friends.

IS COMMERCIAL COMPOST THE SAME AS HOME MADE?

Homemade compost is better for microbes and nutrient diversity, but bagged compost provides organic matter and some microbes. Be aware that compost can be mostly water by weight.

If you have a large garden where the soil needs added nutrients, you may want to purchase inexpensive bags of composted manure or bulk fertilizer from a local commercial composter, then add your own compost as needed.

If you are buying compost, keep in mind that there are no regulatory requirements for bagged compost labelling. Grade A composted sewage sludge is probably the safest because it is the only type of compost that requires testing for heavy metals and pathogens before it is approved for sale to the public. Food waste is much more dangerous from a pathogen standpoint, as no testing is required.

WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH SPACE?

Even if you only have a small apartment balcony or back porch, you can compost in a plastic bin (about 18 gallon size or larger). Drill or drill holes about an inch or two from all sides, in the bottom and in the lid. Place it inside another slightly larger and shallower bin (under bed bins work well for this). Place some stones or bricks between the two so that there is a space for air to flow. Add your trash and shake the bin every couple of days. If you have room for two, you can add to one for a few months, then stop adding and start the second. Keep stirring occasionally until it turns brown, crumbly and earthy. You can use this compost for small balcony planters, or even for your house plants if you don’t have room for a large garden.

WHAT DOES MY COMPOST NEED TO THRIVE?

For excellent quality compost, mix materials high in nitrogen (such as clover, fresh grass clippings) and those high in carbon (such as dried leaves and straw). Moisture is provided by rain and fresh kitchen scraps, but you may need to add water to keep it moist. Turning or mixing the pile often provides oxygen.

Your compost needs to breathe:

Without enough air, your compost pile will decompose, but more slowly… and it will be much smellier! So make sure you have plenty of air space in your pile. Straw works great to keep the pile off the bed. If you don’t have access to straw, be sure to break up each pile and try to turn it regularly with a shovel or garden fork to fluff it up.

Your compost should drink:

You want just enough moisture to slightly coat every particle in your pile, providing the ideal environment for thirsty microbes. It should be as wet as a towel that has been wrung out. Wetter than this and it will start to smell. Generally, your kitchen scraps will be fairly moist, but if you’re adding dry leaves from your yard, you can moisten them a little. If your pile is open to the elements, cover it with a tarp in rainy weather. Excess moisture can cause the temperature inside the pile to drop and make it smelly. Insufficient moisture prevents the pile from heating up and slows down the decomposition process. Check the moisture level of your compost pile weekly and adjust if necessary. Add water to increase humidity or add dry material to help dry it out.

Your compost should be eaten:

Your friendly composting insects have two food groups… and it’s always best to mix the two if you can:

o Brown (dry) – These materials are rich in carbon and include straw, dry leaves, wood chips or ash, peanut shells, pine needles, vegetable stalks and shredded cardboard or newspaper (avoid colored papers and inks) . You may want to moisten them slightly as you add them to your compost pile.

o Greens (wet) – These are rich in nitrogen and include kitchen fruit and vegetable waste, green leaves and grass clippings, tea bags, coffee grounds and even seaweed. Horse manure is great, but it’s best if it’s well aged. Check at a local stable.

Your compost needs to stay warm:

If you live in a cold climate, your compost pile will most likely be dormant during the winter. It will be in great shape once the spring heat starts to warm it up again. Compost doesn’t need to be hot — 50% Fahrenheit is fine.

You might consider hot composting (110 to 160 degrees F) because heat produces compost quickly (in weeks rather than months) and kills most seeds and plant diseases. However, studies have shown that compost produced at high temperatures has less ability to suppress diseases in the soil. High heat can kill the beneficial bacteria needed to suppress the disease.

COMPOSTING TIPS

o Balance of fresh and dry: compost piles with a balance of one part fresh to two parts dry materials break down faster. Add a garden fork of fresh material to the pile and two forks of dry material on top of that. Then we mix them together.

o Size: Compost piles that are at least 3 cubic feet (3 ft. x 3 ft. x 3 ft.) heat up faster and break down faster.

o Start your compost pile: If you are just starting your compost pile, add a shovelful of high-quality garden soil to help start microbial activity in your pile.

o Mixing: If possible, mix the compost once a week to move material from the outside of the pile to the inside. This keeps the pile from compacting. (compression reduces air flow and slows decomposition)

o Smelly?: Healthy compost smells earthy – if yours smells, it’s too wet. Turn it more often and add more dry matter to help it dry out. When your compost is too wet, it eliminates oxygen in your pile — which slows the decomposition process and encourages anaerobic microorganisms to thrive… increasing the stench! It can also smell bad if your mix has a lot of garden waste or kitchen waste. Bury it deep into the compost and add more dry matter.

o When it’s done: The compost should be dark brown, earthy smelling and moist to the touch. The compost at the bottom of the pile usually “finishes” first. You’ll know your compote is finished and ready to use when it stops heating and the original ingredients are unrecognizable. This usually takes 6 to 12 months.

o Nothing is happening!: If you notice that nothing is happening, you may need to add more nitrogen, water or air. Cold composting can take a year or more to decompose depending on the materials in the pile and the conditions.

o Compost pile is too hot: If your compost pile is too hot, you may have too much nitrogen. Add more carbon material to reduce heat. A bad smell can also indicate too much nitrogen.

o Attracts flies and insects: Adding kitchen waste can attract insects. To prevent this problem, make a hole in the center of the pile and bury the waste. Remember… don’t add meat scraps or any animal matter, pet manure, diseased plant material, weeds, fats or oils, or dairy products.

o Can I use fresh manure?: No. This can burn your plants. Make sure the manure (NOT dog or cat poop) is well aged before it goes into your garden.

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