Yes, there is a reason why we should all be composting. According to the EPA, 30-40% of all available food in the US is wasted. Over one fifth of discarded material in landfills is believed to be food. Sadly, the third largest human related methane emission is from landfills.
One of the simplest ways for private citizens to make a difference is to set up a compost system in their home. First decide where you want to place your compost. It should be away from your vegetable garden or water well. The preferred location should be in the shade on a flat surface not prone to flooding. Small amounts of compost can be processed in a bin indoors.
Composting methods include cold composting where no structure is needed, and the inner temperature is low; it requires very little maintenance and takes about a year. Hot composting usually is a confined heap that gets hot enough to kill seeds and pathogens, and works faster, but needs regular turning and wetting.
Compost heaps should be made up of brown and green material. The browns are the carbon part of the mixture, and greens add nitrogen. The ratio should be 25-parts brown to 1-part green. Browns include yard debris of less than 1 inch, straw, brown leaves, sawdust and newspaper. Greens are grass clippings, eggshells, coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit peels, and d herbivorous animal manure (rabbit, cow, sheep, chicken, and horse). Food scraps may be stored in a container near the kitchen sink to routinely add.
Items that should not be added to compost include meat, fish, bones, fat, dairy products, chemically treated yard trimmings, plant debris that is disease or insect infested, ash, pressure treated wood, slick paper, pine needles, and thorny trimmings.
Two clues to a problem with your compost heap are an ammonia smell which indicates the need for more browns, or a rotten egg smell that is telling you to reduce moisture and turn for more air.
About a year after starting, it will be time to cover the heap with a piece of terra cloth and let it rest a few weeks. Using a framed screen, sift over a wheelbarrow to remove uncomposted material.
Adding compost to your soil will improve aeration and drainage, improve water holding capacity, encourage a healthy root system and will add some nutrients. By composting, we all can cut down on the waste of resources, gas, time, manpower, pesticides and fertilizer that goes into producing food in this country.
Ways for consumers to help reduce food waste include
- Place fresh produce in your refrigerator in clear containers making them easy to identify.
- Use your freezer to store extra bread, fruit or meat.
- Plan meals ahead of time and make a list, or use what you have on hand first.
- Learn the difference in the terms sell by, use by, best by and expiration dates.
- Plan a leftover night menu each week.
- Order only what you can eat at restaurants, or take home the leftovers.
- Research the best ways to store fruits and vegetables to make them last longer.
- Do not wash berries until you are ready to eat them to prevent mold.
- Store fruits and vegetables in different bins.
- Store tomatoes, bananas and apples by themselves to prevent natural over ripening.
Submitted by Johnnie Riley Davis, Marshall County Extension Master Gardener