The Greenest Gardener

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Composting dos and don’ts



This week’s Conservation Corner suggests composting as another way to reduce the amount of trash you put into your garbage can and eventually, the landfill. 

What you should NOT compost is a short list and primarily consists of meat products because they tend to attract more pesky animals or bugs plus the possibility of more odor. It’s not impossible to compost meat but it can be trickier. Used kitty litter is also generally not considered a compostable material, especially if you plan to use the compost later around food plants. 

The list of what you can and should compost is much longer and includes the following:

Vegetable and fruit scraps (including citrus, peels, rinds, seeds, pulp, leaves, etc - fresh or rotten), used paper towels from your kitchen, tissues, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, dryer lint, hair from your (or your pet’s) hairbrush, feathers and “stuff” from the bottom of your bird cage, scraps of thread, grass and small plant clippings, sawdust from untreated wood, straw or hay, eggshells, powdered milk, stale cereal or granola, old seed packs, tobacco, most vacuum bags and their waste, weeds, flowers, crop or garden waste, peanut hulls, rice, flour and meals, oatmeal,  seaweed and marsh grass, natural fibers such as cotton, linen or wool, dead insects, corn cobs and old potting soil mixes - and that is by no means an all inclusive list.

While you can compost hair, thread and dryer lint, you can also toss it into your yard and the birds will use it to build nests. You can recycle newspaper but you can also use it to layer around your vegetables or garden paths and cover with hay or straw. At the end of the growing season, let it compost in place or toss it into your compost pile to finish it off. 

If you have a staghorn fern, put your banana peels on it. They love banana peels. If you have non-moldy old bread, dry it out in the oven on low heat and make bread crumbs in your food processor or blender. Add herbs for a great topping for Clams Casino or any number of other dishes. Store in the freezer.  If it has gone moldy, then you can compost it. Wood ash (as long as it is from non-treated wood) and potato plants love each other. Place the ashes around the plants.

You may be wondering about animal manure. For the same reason that meat scraps are not high on the list of compostable items, neither is the manure from animals that eat meat. That would include most cats and dogs. There is a system called the Doggy Dooley that is a simple easy way to dissolve pet poo that won’t attract flies or smell. 

If you are lucky enough to have access to a large herbivore, such as a horse or cow or chickens, hogs, goats, rabbit,  then you have struck composting gold. Horses produce about 30 pounds of it a day and it smells “great” (comparatively speaking) and breaks down quickly. You can also make manure “tea” and water your plants with it and eventually compost the “starter material.”

Last, would be fish scraps. Yes, you can toss them back into the water for the crabs to eat or use them as bait in a crab trap. Or, you can always do what the Indians did - bury them (deeply) around your trees and plants. You can also make fish emulsion (tea) and water your plants with that, however the smell might be a little tough to bear. 

By incorporating as many of these composting ideas into your life, you can further reduce the amount of garbage you send to the landfill.  Composting is easy and if done correctly, should not create any unpleasant odor or attract pests. 

You can compost in a black garbage bag in the sun or in a fancy rotating barrel type compost bin or strike a balance with a simple wire tube about two feet across made from scrap wire. 

 There are plans available for a more complicated three-bin systems and for the most serious compost afficionado (with more free time) it can work great. There are even indoor electric composting products available online for people with little to no outdoor space.