Cornell Pink Azalea and Steeple

Spring is just around the corner bringing a fresh year to begin new gardening activities. Composting is a great way to recycle weeds, food waste and just about anything that was once a plant. Composting home and garden waste is one way to reduce what is picked up by the garbage truck, reducing your carbon foot print, and saving money for you if garbage collection is charged by bag, or your town in tipping costs. Tipping costs are the amount municipalities have to pay per ton to use regional trash plants. Every little bit helps. The benefits of the end product of compost can be used in gardens and lawns, returning nutrients and increasing organic matter to the soil resulting in healthier plants.

compost finished

Finished Compost.

Composting is controlled decomposition. Everything eventually rots, but by knowing a bit of the science of how things break down, we can make rot happen quicker, getting more compost faster. Every compost pile or bin needs carbon, nitrogen, air and water, and soil organisms to do the dirty work of decomposition. Micro-organisms are the fungi and bacteria which feed on the stuff in the pile. They are most efficient when the pile contains a ratio of 30 carbon to 1 nitrogen.

Browns are the carbon and are from dead plant material. They are the browns of the pile. Fall leaves, newspaper, scrap paper, woodchips, dry hay, straw sawdust dried grass clippings and weeds without seeds are all browns.

newspaper for composting

leaves and caroline Dry leaves are carbon.

 

Newspaper is carbon. No glossy sections.

Greens provide nitrogen the microbes need to process the carbon. The nitrogen will be given back to the pile after the microbes use it, and also release more from the carbon material. Greens are green leaves, grass or weeds without seeds. Also fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea leaves and even coffee filters as they are paper, which comes from trees.

compost pile

Things  not to put in a compost pile include meats or dairy products, fats and oils, bones, weeds with seeds, diseased plant material, and dog or cat manure. Also no pesticide treated plant material.

dog, rye

Pet waste is not recommended.

Water should be added to keep the pile as moist as a wrung out sponge. Too much water and microbes drown. Too little moisture and the microbes will dry out and die. Turning the pile will incorporate more air, helping the pile to dry if too moist.

man-hand-garden-growth.jpg

Piles can be out in the open just as a heap on the ground or contained with wire or fenced sides.

Closed container can also be used and must have drainage holes to allow water to escape it the inside become too wet from rain or watering the pile. Some containers are mounted so they can be turned, effectively turning the contents inside. Turning the container or the pile incorporates more air and distributes moisture, both of which the microbes need to do their work of decomposing. If a container is used to compost, add a few shovels of soil or finished compost to introduce healthy microbes into the organic matter of greens and browns.

Finished compost can be screened through a 1/4 inch piece of hardware screening stapled to a square made from 2×4 inch boards. Shovel the compost in, and shake or move it around to keep the larger sticks and debris out of the finer end product. Through the larger pieces back into the pile for further breaking down.

compost screened

Happy composting!

-Carol Quish

A couple of weeks ago, the Connecticut Community Gardening Association partnering with the community garden at Manchester Community College held a Summer Celebration of the gardens, the dedicated gardeners, their bounty, composting efforts and the desire to learn more about growing one’s own food. I just learned from an on-line article that only 5 % of Americans garden! That is really depressing to me (not only as a soils and horticulture educator) but because gardening affords me such a pleasant escape from my every day, real-world trials and tribulations. I look at it as free therapy – often with culinary benefits!

Manchester Community College Community Garden

Manchester Community College Community Garden

A moderate sized group of local, interested folks showed up for a tour of the gardens and an informal but insightful presentation by CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (CT DEEP) Sherill Baldwin. Some of the statistics that Ms. Baldwin presented us with were truly amazing. Food waste is apparently the largest component of municipal solid waste that goes to landfills and incinerators. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that food wastes made up 21.3 % of the total national municipal solid wastes generated in 2011. Amazingly that amounts to 36.31 million tons of wasted food each year! This represents major inefficiencies in our food system!

Sheril Baldwin from CT DEEP

Sheril Baldwin from CT DEEP

Not only are our valuable natural resources (soil, water, nutrients, etc.) wasted when edible food products are tossed into the trash but there is a monetary loss (estimated $1,365 – $2,275) when food is discarded and not eaten and if food ends up in a landfill, methane gas is produced as the food decays underground and it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming. Even if the food waste is burned for energy, it still could often be put to better use, according to Ms. Baldwin.

Bob Halstead from CCGA and Bridgeport preparing a meal from locally harvested community gardens.

Bob Halstead from CCGA and Bridgeport preparing a meal from locally harvested community gardens.

A recent UConn study found that 12.7% of Connecticut residents from 2008 to 2010 were living in a household which was deemed ‘food insecure’. The USDA’s definition of food insecurity is ‘access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life”.

So Connecticut gardeners, what can you do if you have extra produce to share? Actually there are a lot of options. Contact one of the following organizations:

http://site.foodshare.org/site/PageServer?pagename=index

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/

http://communityplates.org/

http://www.rockandwrapitup.org/

http://www.ctfoodbank.org/how-to-help/plant-a-row

http://www.ampleharvest.org/index.php

Or call 2-1-1  http://www.211ct.org/AboutUs/Default.asp

Many of us gardeners produce more that we can freeze/can/dry/giveaway before our harvest starts to lose its freshness and nutritional qualities. For those not able to grow food crops, think about planning meals to avoid waste and purchasing nutritious vegetables, fruits and meats produced locally.

Do consider finding a community garden in your community if gardening space is limited at your residence. The CT Community Gardening Association can help find suitable space in some areas of the state.

Charmaine Craig from Knox is the current president of CCGA, seen here with Steve Kovach, CCGA board member.

Charmaine Craig from Knox is the current president of CCGA, seen here with Steve Kovach, CCGA board member.

Growing one’s own food can provide a great deal of satisfaction and sustenance. While it can be challenging at times, acquiring knowledge at events like this one or contacting the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center (860) 486-6271 or Master Gardener volunteers at your local Cooperative Extension Center will help you grow healthy and productive crops.

As far as what else to do with food waste, many gardeners add kitchen wastes to their compost piles. Composting is a time-honored method of disposing of a large amount of kitchen and yard wastes (no fats, grease or carnivorous animal droppings) and recycling these items into a wonderful soil amendment. Just so happens that UConn offers an annual Master Composter Program and this year it will be held in Stamford at the Bartlett Arboretum in October.

And on a totally different topic, I went to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory in Deerfield with a friend while on vacation and purchased a Monarch butterfly chrysalis thinking I could blog about it hatching. Well one vacation day another event was planned and I noticed the chrysalis becoming transparent. I left it attached to the porch railing in case the butterfly emerged before I got home and low and behold it did! So much for that idea, but some compensation. The next day was my sister’s birthday  (she lives a short distance from me) and she told me she was so excited to see a Monarch butterfly in her garden – the first one she saw all year. Maybe it was the one that emerged from my chrysalis. But even if not, I will wish it an uneventful journey to its Mexican wintering grounds.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis just before emergence.

Monarch butterfly chrysalis just before emergence.

Happy Harvesting! Keep on Gardening!

Dawn P.