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Composting -- Natural Recycling!
by Kitty Bertlin
Compost is the product of any rotted organic material. The rotting plant materials contain nitrogen and carbon, and in a confined space they mix with oxygen to become compost. It is the microorganisms in the waste that works to break down the material. After all nitrogen in the compost is consumed, the microorganisms die, releasing the nitrogen back into the soil.
This occurs daily in our forests, creating that wonderful fluffy stuff called humus or duff. Any organic material is easily composted, and compost is easily recycled back into our soil, leaving it more fertile and productive.
Organic gardeners are avid supporters of composting. They understand and value the importance of composting and its benefits to soil. Compost will aerate clay soil and give substance to sandy soil, allowing both to retain moisture, resulting in nutrient-rich produce and disease-resistant plants.
How do you compost? Traditional composting basically consists of alternately layering green and brown organic material, covering it (or not) and letting it "cook" for several weeks, and then manually turning the heap to allow oxygen to penetrate the material. This is done over several months until the organic material decays and becomes rich, black compost. Another way to compost is to feed your kitchen waste to worms -- called "vermin-composting." You dump organic waste into the worm bin and the little creatures eat it, turning it into rich compost. This system works a little faster than the traditional layering method. There are also several barrel, drum, and under-the-counter composting systems on the market.
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Blending green and brown material with oxygen is the basis for compost. Green materials include grass clippings, vegetables, fruits, kitchen scraps, eggshells, tea leaves and bags, horse and rabbit manure, and plant clippings. Brown material consists of dried and shredded leaves (except oak leaves), untreated saw dust, organic newspaper, pasta, rice, nuts and nut shells, coffee grounds and filters. The absolute no-no materials consist of any diseased plant material, cow manure (can contain E. coli), dog, cat, and reptile waste (can contain parasites), human waste, gypsum, glossy or colored paper, cobs, seed pits, cigarettes, or anything treated with chemicals.
Why compost? The increase in waste management issues is relative to increasing personal consumption and population growth. It is estimated that food and waste are the second largest materials in landfills, which produce methane gas that is harmful to the environment. And, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "food waste is the number one least recycled material" finding its way to the landfills. So, it all comes down to stewardship.
If we control our waste, and compost what we can, we can manage our soil. Organic material is easily recycled back into our soil, leaving it more fertile and productive while reducing the impact on our declining landfills. Composting enriches the soil, producing strong, healthy plants, and habitat to natural insects. Composting is part of the "circle of life" and a necessity to continued and sustained plant life.
R. Lewis Young once wrote, "Human intelligence and initiative are gifts of nature…We have the capacity to understand nature, to cooperate with it, nurture it, and reap its rewards."
I believe it is our understanding of composting and our initiative to use it that will allow us to nurture our earth, thus reaping its rewards. Embrace nature, nurture it -- go green by composting!
Kitty Bertlin is an avid gardener and is the owner of Go Green Composting, the Oregon dealer for NatureMill kitchen composters. For more information, contact her at 541-659-5297 or visit her Web page at www.gogreencomposting.com.
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