Sustainability 101: Composting

Did you know a cracked eggshell has great potential, or that coffee grounds are cause for excitement? If you have never composted, these items might seem a lot like common household waste. However, they are the building blocks of a product that will become as valuable as gold dust in your garden—compost. Composting is a wonderful way to lead a more sustainable lifestyle with minimal effort, as it achieves many useful goals at once.

Composting is great because it is the ultimate recycling. By making your own compost, you can recycle household and garden waste on site, and use the product to condition the soil in your garden and nourish your plants. Waste that once found its way into your local landfill will instead be turned into delicious veggies for you and your family!

Here is a helpful guide to what should and should not be composted, as well as some ideas for suitable composting bins and containers: What To Compost?

A useful and simple way to begin composting for your vegetable garden is to get a small plastic container to sit on your countertop. Just throw your table scraps, potato and onion skins, and coffee grinds inside. Do not add meat scraps, as these attract pests. Also, avoid banana peels, orange rinds, and peach skins, as these tend to retain pesticides which will be transferred to your compost. Take your compostable items out and start a compost pile in a corner of your back yard. You can put a few stakes in the ground and wrap some chicken wire around them, or simply purchase a small composting bin at your local hardware store or garden center (Morrison’s Home & Garden in Plymouth has composting tumblers available). Throw in a few handfuls of leaves when you rake in the fall. Toss in that houseplant that didn’t survive being left alone during your last family vacation. Let the air, moisture, and bacteria do their jobs and just sit back and watch the magic happen!

In six months to a year, if you turn your compost occasionally, you will see this former waste begin to break down into rich, loamy, humus. Then you will know you have helped create an environmentally friendly and very effective fertilizer for your garden! Check out this handy guide to make sure you are on the right track in ripening your compost: How Long Does it Take for the Compost to Ripen?

When your rich compost is ready, work it into your garden soil at a depth of 6 inches to a foot. Add new compost every growing season, and the nutrients will replenish your garden soil and yield you gorgeous vegetables, flowers, and shrubs, as a result. You will also see beneficial creatures like Lumbricus terrestris (aka earthworms) appear, as they are attracted by the nutrients in the compost. They offer the added benefit of aerating the soil. As you can see, a decision to start the old compost heap has a lot to offer the sustainable living newbie!

Getting your entire family involved in composting is a wonderful teaching tool to learn about the food web and how energy is recycled in nature. Have the kids toss in their apple core now, and then remind them next October when they are carving a pumpkin from your fabulous garden that the energy from the apple core was used to grow their Jack-O-lantern! It’s a lesson they will definitely remember!

You probably recycle already, so just think of this as taking that habit one step further. You don’t have to start big–the most important thing is to just get started. Composting is a great way to promote a sustainable lifestyle and become more aware of our role in the food web. It also provides a head start to the beginning gardener. Please send in your comments and photos, I can’t wait to see you turn your “trash” into gardening “treasure!”

Bethany Bergin is the author of the Sustainability 101 series. For more articles in this series, click here. For more information on local composting resources, check out the Go Green Web Directory.

About eSS&SC

The South Shore and South Coast has been home to hunting, gathering, fishing, farming––and great eating––for over 10,000 years. We are committed to identifying, devouring, and sharing all that Southeastern Massachusetts has to offer today and preserving local options for future generations.
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