How does your garden grow?
"You make trash!”
That’s what Yvonne Michel tells first grade composting students at Daniel Island School (DIS). “I make trash, we all make trash.”
And she’s right.
“Forty percent of food grown or transported in the United States gets thrown away,” says Michel, a Daniel Island resident who helps maintain the Community Garden at DIS. She believes we can mitigate some of that waste by recycling leftover food as compost.
Compost is organic matter that has been decomposed and recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Composting is a simple way to add nutrient-rich humus, which fuels plant growth and restores vitality to depleted soil. It’s also free, easy to make and good for the environment.
Yvonne points out that you can compost anything organic, but the bigger and tougher the item, the longer composting will take. A tree trunk, for example, might take hundreds of years.
The easiest raw materials to compost for the home gardener are vegetables.
“With the exception of eggshells, which are really just minerals, we’re going to stay away from animal products,” adds Michel. Animal products decompose with a lot of odor and attract pests. Celery, lettuce, rice, coffee grounds and vegetables of any kind make good composting choices.
In addition to the green vegetables, you will also need dry brown materials like dry fallen leaves.
Composting is done in a compost bin. There are several important features to look for when buying a bin. First, you want a black one.
“Just as it takes energy to grow plants, it takes energy to decompose them,” Michel says. A black bin absorbs heat and that solar energy speeds the composting process.
Second, you need a bin that is easy to turn. You will be turning your bin often, as much as once a day, so make it easy on yourself.
Third, you need to look for good aeration. Air needs to get into the composter for composting to occur.
Fourth, you need to make sure it has a drain. Water will slow down the composting process and needs to drain easily and well, especially after a rain. If the composting materials remain wet, they will rot rather than compost.
Siting is also important. You need to put your composter where it gets a lot of sunlight. Yvonne has Daniel Island School’s composter up against a south facing brick wall.
To produce compost, she uses a three-month cycle and two composters. She begins putting compost materials into the first along with dried leaves. She then adds leftover food and rotates the bin. As the composting materials get damp, she adds dry leaves. She continues to add materials, rotating frequently for three months. After three months, she begins to add to the second bin and stops adding to the first, continuing to rotate both. After six months, the first bin is composted, ready to spread. At that point, she empties the first bin, begins filling it and stops filling the second, continuing to turn both. She now has a continuous supply of compost every three months.
Yvonne is passionate about the end product as well.
“On Daniel Island, we have clay and we have sand, but you also need organic material. Without organic material, the sand can’t hold water. Soil is a complex community with all the organisms, fungi, and bacteria. When you dig it up, you disturb that infrastructure. Adding compost on top of the soil allows the nutrients to replenish it without disturbing its organization.”
Clemson Cooperative Extension, with offices on Meeting Street in Charleston and the Berkeley County Administration Building in Monck’s Corner, suggest that you “Think of compost as a soil amendment and not as a fertilizer, since the nutrient level of compost is low and released over time. Mix compost with soil to enrich the flower and vegetable garden. It can be used to improve the soil around trees and shrubs, as a top-dressing for lawns, or as a mulch.”
With a small expense and little effort, you can not only help the fertility and yield of your garden and plantings, you can do your part to improve the environment. No wonder Yvonne is passionate.
For additional information on composting, visit http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/other/compost_mulch/hgic160....
The do’s and don’ts
• Fruits and vegetables
• Coffee grounds and filters
• Tea bags
• Nut shells
• Shredded newspaper
• Yard trimmings
• Grass clippings
• Hay and straw
• Wood chips
• Cotton and Wool Rags
• Dryer and vacuum cleaner lint
• Hair and fur
• Fireplace ashes
• Coal or charcoal ash
• Dairy products (e.g., butter, milk, sour cream, yogurt) and eggs
• Diseased or insect-ridden plants
• Fats, grease, lard, or oils
• Meat or fish bones and scraps
• Pet wastes
• Yard trimmings treated with
• Black walnut tree leaves or twigs
Source: Environmental Protection Agency.