How Much Water Should I Drink If I Weight 110 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 your carrot peels and apple cores in the trash has no effect since they decompose anyway. But even natural plant material will last for years when sealed in a plastic bag and thrown into a landfill.

As a great example of social 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 divert your own kitchen waste from landfill, but you can also create rich, nourishing humus for your own garden, whether it’s an acre or an old wine barrel on your patio.

WHY SHOULD I COMPOST?

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

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

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

WHAT IS COMPOST?

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

Your plants are much healthier because:

o nutrients are added

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

o if your soil is sandy, the compost will help it retain water

If your compost pile is cool, worms and insects will find their way into it and help turn your waste into food for your garden. But it helps to get things right. Give these friendly creatures adequate 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 composted manure can be mostly water by weight.

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

If you are buying compost, remember that there are no statutory labeling requirements for bagged compost. Class 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. Feed fertilizers are much more dangerous from a pathogen point of view since testing is not 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 container (about 18 gallon size or larger). Drill or punch holes about an inch or two apart on all sides, in the bottom and in the lid. Put it in another slightly larger and shallower container (the ones under the bedpans work well for this). Place a few stones or blocks between the two so there is room for air flow. Add your trash and shake the bin every few days. If you have room for two, you can add to one for several months, then stop adding to it and start the other. Continue to shake it occasionally until it is brown, crumbly and smells earthy. You can use this compost for small balcony plants, or even your houseplants if you don’t have space for a large garden.

WHAT DOES MY COMPOST NEED TO THRIVE?

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

Your compost must breathe:

Without adequate air, your compost pile will decompose, but more slowly… and it will be much smellier! So make sure you have plenty of room for air in your pile. Straw works great to keep the pile from matting. If you don’t have access to straw, be sure to break up any clumps and try to turn it with a spade or garden fork regularly to fluff it up.

Your compost should be drunk:

You want just enough moisture to slightly coat every particle in your pile, providing the ideal environment for thirsty microbes. It should be as damp as a towel that has been wrung out. More than this and it will start to smell. Generally, your kitchen scraps will be moist enough, but if you add dry leaves from your garden, you may want to moisten them a little. If your pile is open to the elements, cover with a tarp in rainy weather. Too much moisture can cause the temperature inside the pile to drop and make it smelly. Not enough moisture prevents the pile from heating up and delays the decomposition process. Check your compost pile’s moisture level weekly and adjust it if necessary. Add water to increase moisture or add dry material to help dry it out.

Your compost must eat:

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

o Brown (dry) – These materials have a high carbon content and include straw, dry leaves, wood chips or ash, peanut shells, pine needles, vegetable stalks and shredded cardboard or newspaper (avoid colored paper and ink). It may be a good idea to moisten these slightly when you add them to your compost pile.

o Greens (wet) – These are high 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 is better if it is well stored. Check in a local barn.

Your compost must stay warm:

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

You might consider hot composting (110 to 160 degrees F) because the heat produces compost quickly (in weeks instead of 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 disease.

COMPOSTING TIPS

o Balance of fresh and dry: Compost piles with a balance between one part fresh and two parts dry materials break down the fastest. Add a garden forkful of fresh material to the pile and top it with two forkfuls of dry material. Then 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’re just starting your compost pile, add a shovelful of high-quality garden soil to help jumpstart the microbial activity in your pile.

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

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

o When finished: The compost should be dark brown, smell earthy and moist to the touch. Compost at the bottom of the pile typically “ends” first. You know your compost is finished and ready to use when it no longer heats up and when original ingredients are unrecognizable. This usually takes 6 to 12 months.

o Nothing happens!: If you notice nothing happening, you may need to add more nitrogen, water or air. Cold composting can take a year or more to break down 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 some more carbon materials to reduce the heating. A bad smell can also indicate too much nitrogen.

o It 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. Don’t forget… don’t add meat scraps or other animal matter, animal manure, diseased plant material, weeds, fats or oils, or dairy products.

o Can I use fresh manure?: Don’t. This can burn your plants. Make sure the manure (NOT dog or cat feces) is well aged before it goes into your garden.

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