Talk Dirty to Me
However you source your meals, it’s likely food waste piles up along the way. Composting is a great solution for these scraps and spoils, and for home gardeners, the process creates a rich fertilizer.
No doubt your great-grandparents, possibly your grandparents, lived by the 20th century pop culture mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle.” For the pre-baby boomer generation, the three Rs weren’t a response to the surplus of waste and the impact it had on the environment; they were a matter of economic survival.
During World War II, when resources were at an all-time low, people planted Victory Gardens at the urging of the government since fruits and vegetables were in short supply. They reused their waste to create compost piles that produced rich organic soil — the secret to flourishing gardens.
Today, whether you garden for hobby or sustainability, or just want to give your shrubs and flowerbeds the best soil available, you can learn to get down and dirty like generations past to produce a rich, thriving garden through composting.
Natalie Mallory of Full Sun Composting, an artisan composting company that processes and manufactures compost from local food waste, says the key to a healthy and productive garden is the amount of organic matter in the soil. “Twenty-five percent of the soil in gardens should be organic or living,” says Mallory.
When most people think organic, they think about the USDA organic standards. When Mallory talks about organic, she is talking about adding living organisms or things that used to be alive to the soil.
The best way to add these nutrients to the soil is through composting, which recycles and reuses organic material such as leaves and food waste. The waste decomposes over time into something gardeners call “black gold.” This black gold or nutrient-rich, organic soil is the key to longer growing fruits, vegetables, foliage, and flowers.
“If the nutrients aren’t in the soil, the plants and food won’t develop,” says Mallory, a registered nutritionist and dietician. “The closer you can get the produce to being ripe, the more nutritious the food will be.”
According to Mallory, if you’re adding liquid or single nutrients to the soil, as soon as it rains or your plants grow, you use the nutrients. Composting helps soil regeneration so that the soil isn’t lost or stripped of nutrients.
“All the organic life like worms, insects, fungi, and bacteria produced by composting create a healthy ecosystem and rich, soil-based garden,” says Mallory
When Natalie and her husband, Don, first moved from Colorado, they realized Tulsa didn’t compost on a larger scale. That’s when they decided to start Full Sun Composting — because they knew they could do something good for Tulsa and the ecosystem.
“There’s good stuff in the food that gets wasted,” says Mallory. “And the beauty is when you add organic waste to the soil, you’re helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem you can’t see.”
Part of Full Sun Composting’s services include collecting food waste from area restaurants for composting instead of being dumped in the landfill. After the waste is composted, it is ready for resale to the community.
“We pick up food waste from restaurants up to three times a week, and then give a portion back to the restaurants so they can use it in their flower pots, landscaping, or home gardens,” she says.
Though they sell compost to the public, Natalie wants people to know composting is easier than they might think. She suggests striving for 5 percent organic soil.
“Almost anything that’s alive or was alive can be composted,” says Mallory, who cautions against composting anything cooked with dairy, meats, and bones because it takes longer to break down, which can cause odors that attract critters.
If you want to try backyard composting, Mallory suggests starting with kitchen scraps of fruits and veggies. No special containers are needed. You can set up chicken wire in a ring around the compost pile to keep it contained, but it’s not necessary. Simply pile the food waste in a corner, add a 6- to 8-inch layer of leaves and wood chips, and turn it every once and a while.
“Turning the pile creates oxygen which helps bacteria thrive and breaks down the food waste,” says Mallory. “It also helps to control the odor. Pockets that don’t get enough oxygen will give off odors; that’s why it’s important to turn the pile.”
Mallory suggests adding the compost to your soil a few months before you plant or after you clear out your garden. “Not only will it help to retain rain water, but the roots will have better aeration and you will grow healthier plants,” says Mallory.
Whether you are growing vegetables from your garden or you’re practicing sustainability, it’s never too early or too late to start composting. You may not be planting a Victory Garden, but by reducing, reusing, and recycling food waste into compost, you will be creating a win-win for the next generation.
Full Sun Composting
Basic Ingredients Needed to Start Composting
- Carbon: From brown materials like shredded paper, leaves, straw and other dry yard waste.
- Nitrogen: Green materials like garden trimmings, grass, vegetable and fruit scraps.
- Air: Allows microorganisms to work.
- Water: To keep things moist and warm.
How to Compost
While there are different methods for composting, one of the most popular is the three-bin hot compost method.
- Site: Pick a bare-soil site that is level, well drained and close to a water source. Keep it partially shaded to prevent moisture from evaporating.
- Pile Size: The most effective piles or bins measure one cubic yard. Maintain a series of three bins for different stages of decomposition.
- Ingredients: Maintain a ratio of 1:2 green materials to woody materials. Add a bit of soil or finished compost every 9-12 inches as a starter.
- Particle Size: Aim for particles that range anywhere from a half-inch to 1.5 inches. Anything smaller compacts. Anything larger takes longer to break down. Shred or chop woody plant material.
- Water: Moisture is hard to maintain in some areas of Oklahoma, but too much water is also bad. Compost should be kept damp, like a wet sponge wrung out. Too little water and the compost will take longer to decay. Too much water and nutrients may run out, or unpleasant odors and pathogens may form. Cover piles during heavy rains.
- Mixing: Turn piles weekly using a pitchfork for aeration. As one pile begins to heat up (temperature naturally increases within the pile as organisms work to break down materials), start a new one. By the time the third bin starts working, the first bin should be usable. Test the temperature using a thermometer or your hand. Aim for 120-160 degrees, or a temp that is uncomfortably hot to the touch.
- Curing: A working pile should stay hot for several weeks, then begins to shrink in half. Let it sit for another four to eight weeks to “cure” or cool down to 80-110 degrees. Once it cools, it’s ready for use.
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