Got Compost?

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Fertilize your garden or lawn without chemical additives.

Got compost? You should—composting is a great way to use food waste to fertilize your garden or lawn without chemical additives. Compost is decayed organic materials that have broken down to the point where plants can use the nutrients. Composting can improve soil structure by allowing clay soil to drain better and allowing sandy soil to hold more water. Through its ability to provide a neutral pH to your soil, it helps prevent plant diseases.

If you are a gardener looking to improve your plants’ health, a concerned citizen trying to reduce your carbon footprint or a taxpayer wanting to improve your town’s budget, read on.

Granby’s Conservation Commission has been working with town officials and community members to meet criteria for Sustainable CT. The purpose of Sustainable CT is to celebrate municipalities that are reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions while saving money, improving public health, and building community. Composting and food-waste reduction is one of 13 action areas.

This past July Connecticut’s trash plant in Hartford faced near-closure. Up until now this facility, initially converted to a trash-to-energy plant in the 1980s, has been responsible for burning Connecticut’s waste and turning it into other forms of energy. Due to multiple plant failures and breakdowns requiring costly repairs, and without the support of state funding, its board decided to close the plant, making Connecticut communities seek alternatives. A lot of Connecticut’s waste will likely be trucked out-of-state, with those costs increasing each town’s waste-tipping fees. You can help Granby reduce its waste fees by first reducing home food waste, and then composting what there is.

Composting requires two things: a place to hold your compost and the compostable ingredients themselves. There are many types of compost containers:

The Hole: Dig a hole and throw your stuff in, cover it with dirt and plant on top immediately.

The Garden: Lay your kitchen scraps directly on your garden bed, cover with leaves and dirt and let it rot. Wait a month and then begin planting.

The Pile: This one’s easy. Pile everything up and you will make compost.

The Pallet Bin or Ring: Use wood pallets built with non-pressure treated wood, and nail them together to make a bin, layer your compost. Or use four poles surrounded by chicken wire to make a ring.

The Store-Bought Composter: There are many options here, choose one that works for your yard.

Granby residents are well aware of the wildlife in town, including bears. Done properly, your compost heap should not attract vermin, but sometimes curiosity gets the best of our critter-friends. A closed composter can provide an interesting challenge to a bear cub so you may find it best to choose a simple open and inexpensive compost container.

Keep it simple in your kitchen. Use a plastic bin or container to collect kitchen scraps. When it’s full, dump it into your compost. In our family the kids do this job; it teaches responsibility and respect for the planet.

What goes into making compost?

Compost ingredients consist of brown and green categories. Brown ingredients provide a carbon source and include small sticks, dead leaves, straw or hay, wood chips or sawdust, ashes, shredded paper bags, peanut shells, labeled compostable food containers (not biodegradable, that’s different) and even dryer lint. Sawdust and fire ash should be used in small amounts or layers, because a large amount when wet does not let the compost pile breathe.

Green ingredients provide nitrogen and include fruit and vegetable food scraps, coffee grounds and filters, grass clippings, wet leaves, weeds, dead plant clippings, animal fur and human hair clippings. Avoid a lot of citrus fruit peels, onion or garlic skin, as they are acidic and can be harmful to the worms needed to decompose your scraps.

Don’t compost

No meat or fish products or bones should go in your compost. You should also avoid solid or liquid fat forms as these are not permeable to air and will attract vermin. Do not compost plants that seem to be diseased, pet feces or bedding and anything treated with pesticides. These can introduce contaminants into your compost.

How much is too much?

A good ratio for a compost pile is a 30:1 carbon to nitrogen ratio. That means you must be adding quite a bit of sticks, leaves, and “brown” ingredients to get your compost pile working. This ratio will aid in heating up your pile, killing off disease pathogens and allowing for decomposing while eliminating smells. If you find your pile stinks, place a layer of “browns” such as leaves, sticks and acorns over your food scraps.

Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to get the exact ratio—let a compost pile be to rot. Composting is a natural process that will occur with or without you. For less managed piles, it may take six months or more to get the first load of compost. It is a myth that compost needs to be turned—ensure your compost heap has enough air by placing small sticks or dry leaves between foods scraps to allow for good air flow. Carry on composting year-round, pile foods scraps on top of your snow-covered heap.

Compost is ready when it looks like mulch or soil. You can remove and use the oldest from the bottom of the pile. Spread it around your plants or mix into any soil. You will be doing wonders for the environment, and our town.

Editor’s Note: The author is a member of the Granby Conservation Commission. She told the Drummer that this article is important for those who feel intimidated by composting or don’t know how to get started. For those who believe they don’t have the time—Lawton works full time, is raising two children, runs her own business, and volunteers for more things than her husband thinks she should, but she makes time to compost!