By Larraine Roulston:
To celebrate International Compost Awareness Week (ICAW), May 7-13, composting councils are once again spreading the composting message. Established in Canada in1995, ICAW falls annually during the first full week of May. By 2001, the UK Composting Association, the U.S. Composting Council and Canada joined forces. Each year a theme is chosen, with this year’s being “Compost! Healthy Soil, Healthy Food.” In Australia, it’s “Compost! Better Soil, Better Life, Better Future!” The goal is to raise public awareness about how to create, through composting, quality soil that will nurture healthy plants, thus reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, which in turn improves water quality.
The composting councils’ efforts promote composting year-round; however, the strength of their message and programs is enhanced through their designated annual ICAW week of events. Activities include compost demonstrations and workshops, compost giveaways, displays, educational activities, poster contests, and the food growing and sharing program called Plant a Row — Grow a Row.
For a greener garden, the humus created from inside a composter can be spread over topsoil. It will improve soil’s texture, water retention, air flow and overall organic content. What’s more, it is both easy to do and free. The success lies in layering kitchen peelings, coffee grounds, eggshells, etc. that are discarded every day, with yard trimmings. These biodegradable materials, along with air and water, break down into a magnificent soil conditioner. The entire process of decomposition is complex but natural. In the food web, each organism, which includes insects, slugs, bacteria and fungi, has a job to do in turning food scraps into a rich, crumbly, dark compost. While you need to check that the pile remains moist (not soggy), basically you can sit back and let nature take its course.
Your composter should be located in an airy, sunny area away from standing water. Add a base layer of leaves or brush to facilitate air flow. With a small kitchen container to collect your nonedible food bits, you are ready to begin. Continue to layer your kitchen food scraps (which provide the nitrogen) followed by a handful of dry grass, leaves, sawdust from untreated wood, twigs, brush or bits of torn brown cardboard to provide the carbon that is necessary in the process. Soil should be added occasionally, as it acts as an odor suppressor and introduces more micro-organisms to speed up the decomposition.
Items which should not be placed into your backyard unit include meat scraps, bones, dairy products and fats, as these are slow to decompose and may cause unpleasant odors. Also avoid adding cat and dog feces. Yard debris treated with pesticides, barbecue ashes or briquettes, rhubarb leaves, diseased plants and walnut shells contain chemicals toxic to soil microbes. Weeds with mature seeds should be excluded also.
When organics enter landfills, they contribute to greenhouse gases. Whether you compost on site, participate in curbside organics collection or take your food scraps to a compost drop-off center, you will be replenishing the soil and also helping to slow climate change.
Larraine writes illustrated children’s books on composting and pollinating at www.castlecompost.com