COMPOSTING by Dotti Hydue

Composting is a great way to turn food scraps, yard clippings, and animal waste and bedding materials into a valuable soil amendment. I have composted for years using a cylinder of 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth. The cage is 4-feet tall by about 32-inches in diameter (I started with a piece about 8-1/2 feet long). I gather my materials and build my compost pile all at once, layering materials as I go. Once the pile settles and cooks down, I turn it about once a week for several months before screening it and using it as an amendment in the vegetable garden or as mulch around my fruit trees and landscape plants.

This finished compost was screened through 1/2-inch-mesh hardware cloth resulting in a crumbly, fine-textured product.

This finished compost was screened through 1/2-inch-mesh hardware cloth resulting in a crumbly, fine-textured product.

There are many types of containers you can make or purchase to hold the composting materials, and several ways to create the finished product. Turning the pile is called aerobic composting. This process mixes oxygen with the materials, which helps them decompose quicker. The no-turn method is called anaerobic composting. This method takes longer for the materials to break down but saves wear and tear on your back. Then there is sheet composting, where layers of materials are laid down over a garden area and left to decompose.

Some municipalities compost yard debris to keep it out of their landfills. Zoos often compost their critters’ manures and sell bags of zoo poo to area residents. Many gardeners have their own small compost pile cooking down in their backyards for personal use. I know other people who compost using materials they collect from their friends and neighbors.

The following article by a Williston resident tells of her passion for composting. The point of this article is not that everyone should have a compost pile, but rather to get you, dear readers, to think about the impact your footprint has on this earth. What can you do to reduce waste and keep it out of our landfills?

For more information on composting methods and materials to use or not use in a compost pile, visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and search for “compost.”

THE POWER OF ONE by Sara Nussel

Composting and recycling have always been a passion for me. These actions express the teachings of my parents and grandparents. I grew up in Jacksonville. Even though I was a city girl I often visited my maternal grandparents who were part-time famers. At the “Lot,” the name they gave to their little farm in Dukes, FL, the pigs and chickens were fed every food scrap from the kitchen. Nothing went to waste. Even Grandma’s dirty dishwater got poured in there!

Waste that does not go to waste is not wasted. My grandparents were the epitome of that motto.

Plastic garbage cans are good containers in which your compost can “cook.”

Plastic garbage cans are good containers in which your compost can “cook.”

My husband and I have been composting since 1983. When we moved to Williston from Gainesville in 1992, the compost operation came with us. At first we did not produce much compost, but volume was not our main objective. We wanted to keep our food wastes out of the landfill and also have a cleaner garbage can. Let me take a minute to brag on our kitchen garbage can. It never stinks. It could sit in our kitchen for months with no ill effects. Instead of putting two garbage cans down by the road every Thursday morning, we may not even fill up one. When my husband puts the can down by the road, we don’t have to worry about critters getting in our garbage. There is nothing to attract them. Composters will know what I’m talking about.

A few years back I was talking with a friend who has a house on Cedar Key. In 2010 this small island community embraced the Florida League of Cities’ green cities initiative to establish and facilitate sustainable practices for its community. This effort included reducing the amount of garbage it produced, which has to be transported off the island at quite an expense. The community came together to significantly reduce their waste through backyard composting and intensive recycling. This translated into lowering the city’s tipping fee by 40 percent!

Shredded paper is layered with kitchen refuse and recycled into compost.

Shredded paper is layered with kitchen refuse and recycled into compost.

I thought if Cedar Key residents could pull together and produce such awesome results, why can’t other communities in Levy County? Unwilling to go up against our city leaders or deal with the headaches and red tape involved, I set up my own composting network of about a dozen friends and fellow church goers. They save their kitchen wastes (minus meat and dairy scraps) and bring them to me. When I come out of church most Sundays there is a bag of trash waiting by my front tire. Lots of times it’s frozen. Because many of my partners are seniors who live alone, it takes them awhile to accumulate enough garbage to fill a plastic grocery bag. So they save up their materials in the freezer. I now have nine compost bins going in my backyard because of all my partners.

A compost donation sits by Sara’s car after Sunday church services.

A compost donation sits by Sara’s car after Sunday church services.

For the last several years the church folks that cook our meals and prepare the tea and coffee have been saving any waste for my compost bins. Now at church we have expanded our efforts to be even greener. Wednesday night suppers are no longer eaten off throwaway plastic plates. There are buckets for all the food waste, which a local chicken farmer excitedly agreed to take to feed her chickens.

One of the delights (or chores, depending on your point of view) of country living is going to the big city once a week. My trip usually takes me to Gainesville where my to-do list can be very long. One of the important things I do in Gainesville is collect coffee grounds from various coffee houses and cafés. Barney’s will save their used grounds for you but you must bring your own bucket with a lid. I take three one-gallon ice cream buckets; they are the perfect size. Starbucks will also save coffee grounds for gardeners. I have hit as many as four Starbucks in one day. It just depends on where my to-do list takes me. I’ve collected compost from Bageland where I sometimes stop for lunch. You have to call them the day before so they know to save the kitchen wastes. I call my trips to Gainesville the Adventures of Eco-Girl!

Most Sunday afternoons I am out in my compost area dumping the kitchen scraps from my church friends. In most of my chores, I’m a real procrastinator but composting is not something you put off. When someone makes a delivery, I am out there moving the process along. Besides food scraps and coffee grounds, I use oak leaves and shredded paper in the compost bins. A layer of food scraps (fresh or green material) then a layer of paper or leaves (dried or brown material). Always leave a layer of brown on top. This discourages critters from visiting and also cuts down on flies. My compost bins are large plastic garbage cans with the bottoms cut out and many holes drilled into the sides for aeration. You can chop big pieces of food scraps up to hasten the process, but I usually let Mother Nature do the work. Once the compost has cooked down, I move it to smaller containers and start over.

If you don’t want to compost using the pile method, you can also sheet compost. I have used this method in my vegetable garden and called it my lasagna garden (pictured at top of page). Make layers of flattened cardboard boxes, leaves, kitchen scraps, finished compost, fresh horse manure, and newspapers. Top with a layer of soil or worm castings and let it age for a few weeks to a few months. You can plant directly into this without tilling it in.

Two compost bins showing compost materials in different stages of decomposition. The vertical pipes allow for aeration of the compost.

Two compost bins showing compost materials in different stages of decomposition. The vertical pipes allow for aeration of the compost.

What do I do with all my finished compost? Once the piles “cook down” there is not much left. After a few months, when the compost is finished, I mix it with chopped oak leaves to produce potting soil, which I use in my plant nursery area and vegetable garden. My compost partners are free to come and get some for their own gardening needs, and also to come work it with me. So far, there have been no takers.

This may seem like an odd endeavor, but I’ve come to look on composting as a spiritual obligation. God led me to increase my input and output of kitchen waste. He planted this passion in my heart and I’m out there doing His will. What better place to commune with God than in a garden? He is a Master Composter who takes our human garbage and turns it into gold. If anyone wants us to save the planet, I believe it’s the Creator. God is great. God is good. God is green!

If more Levy County residents started composting, just think of the waste that would be saved from our landfills and the improvement to our gardening efforts. It would be wonderful if Levy County had its own composting center, which could use manure and bedding from our local horse farms along with chipped tree and plant debris. When gardeners wanted some good dirt for their gardens they could go there and pick some up. The county could charge a nominal fee to help pay for the whole operation but the environmental savings would be priceless!

When you look at the enormity of food waste in America, my little efforts seem pretty pitiful but I persevere. I know ten families that now compost because of me.

The power of one. How powerful are you?

 

 

 

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