One Man's Trash

By Chelle Cordero

May 1, 2009 4 min read


Composting is a simple way to tend to your garden

Chelle Cordero

Creators News Service

One man's trash may be a valuable addition to your garden. Composting, or taking plant scraps and other organic materials and allowing them to decompose, is nature's own way of recycling. There are a variety of ways and ingredients, but at the end you'll have rich soil to work and grow with.

Jill Elizabeth Westfall and Michael Eastman of Atlanta have been composting since 2002. Using a mix of one-third each of compost, peat moss and perlite, they grow blueberry bushes, three fruit trees, strawberries and spring and summer vegetables and herbs -- basil, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash.

"We rely on compost exclusively to create the garden," Westfall said. "Everyone should consider gardening this way, especially during these trying times, because you get more bang for your buck and optimize your nutrition. Herbs and vegetables grow much more abundantly in composted material, and it's also cheaper to use over time."

Using a bin, or composter, encourages the breakdown of natural waste. "I find that the composter works best when we rely on it to supplement existing soil. You have to keep the contents moist for them to break down and can only add items like veggie and fruit rinds, leftover fruits and vegetables, cut flowers that have expired, house plants that died -- no bones or dairy products. We do our best to keep the composter free of weeds so they don't reproduce and flourish in the garden.

"Our composter is round, sits on a stand and you turn it to keep mixing the composted material. It's enclosed, doesn't smell and hasn't attracted insects or wildlife," she added.

Carla Wingett, Cass House Restaurant and Luxury Inn groundskeeper in Cayucos, Calif., said that composting takes the inn's garden a step beyond the average one. "Our garden is more than just organic; it was designed to imitate nature and to protect it. In maintaining the grounds we make sure that we are not impacting our local environment."

The garden provides flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables for the small inn and restaurant. "We compost our green waste and kitchen waste, which we use to replenish the soil. We grow all of our own herbs and some vegetables in our planter beds in the back of our property," she said.

Can't wait to get started? The Warren County Cooperative Extension Office in Pennsylvania offers the following list of dos and don'ts:

* DO mix manure (if available) or high nitrogen fertilizer with yard waste. NEVER add human or pet feces.

* DO mix grass clippings in because they tend to compact, making decomposition slower.

* DON'T ignore strong odors. Simply turn the pile when odors are detected. DO add lime, small amounts of wood ashes or crushed eggshells to neutralize acids which may form in compost and cause an odor problem.

* DO thoroughly mix kitchen waste into pile once depositing to prevent rodents or insects from attraction.

* DO add soil to pile to provide a source of microorganisms.

* DON'T compost weeds that are heavily laden with seeds or are persistent, such as poison ivy, multi-flora rose and quackgrass.

* DON'T add meat, fish scraps, dairy products or kitchen vegetables cooked with animal fats. They may attract animals.

* DON'T add diseased vegetable plants to the pile if it will be used on a vegetable garden. The diseased organism may reappear next year.

* DON'T locate a pile where drainage is poor or water may stand.

* DO mix finished compost with topsoil to prepare garden or flower beds. DO use as soon as possible when done. Store in plastic bag if ground is frozen.

* DON'T use unfinished compost. It will rob your plants of nitrogen instead of acting as a fertilizer. You can also spread garden diseases.

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