Composting Tips & Tricks from Eartha

Green Tips from Beaver Ponds to Your Home

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This month's tip on composting comes from "Eartha" our neighbor over at High Country Conservation Center -- Be sure to share this with a young person in your life, as she originally wrote this for elementary school age children.  HC3's mission is to promote practical solutions for waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community.   You can learn more by visiting
Why should you compost and why is it good? There are LOTS of reasons! Adding compost to soil gives plants all the building blocks they need to grow big and strong - nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium and lots of other micronutrients. It's sort of like a human taking a multi-vitamin. Additionally, putting compost in soil helps the soil keep water and improves air circulation - water and air are both very important to growing plants.
Compost also helps keep our air clean. Most households throw away about 474 pounds of food a year, which is about 1½ pounds of food per person per day! If you piled all the food scraps by all the households in the USA on a football field, it would be more than five miles high. Wow! When people don't compost, those food scraps end up in a landfill; and, because landfills lock in layers of trash keeping oxygen out when those scraps of food decompose - or break down - they create methane gas, which is very bad for humans to breathe.

Lastly, we live in a big country that is very beautiful. Throwing food scraps away with garbage and putting everything into a landfill takes a lot of space and is not very pretty. Right now, some cities, like New York, where there are lots of people and lots of trash, have run out of landfill space. They load their garbage into trucks and drive it 600 miles away to dump in a landfill that still has space. All that trash is a mix of everything people throw away, but paper, plastic and food scraps are most of what is in the pile. Food scraps can be composted, so imagine how much smaller those landfill piles would be without those things!

It is very easy to compost! First, collect all your unusable food scraps — basically anything that comes from the refrigerator or pantry. Do not include any paper, plastic or paper coated in plastic. You’ll want to collect over time, so work with your family to figure out how you want to store the food scraps until you have enough to take to the Recycling Center or to start your own compost pile.

One way you can store the scraps is in a brown paper bag in the freezer. The cold helps it, so there isn’t any smell. You can also store them in a lidded kitchen compost pail (basically, any container with a lid). You’ll want to make sure the container is easily washable, though, as when the food scraps break down, it leaves goo. Every couple of days, you’ll want to empty out this small container to something larger like a 4-5 gallon bucket. Keep the bucket near your backdoor, and, after dumping the small container into it, add a damp paper towel on top or sprinkle some sawdust, leaves or dirt on top to cut down on the smell. Once the bucket (or the bag in the freezer) is full take it to your local recycling center that accepts food waste.

If you have space where you live, you can also compost in your backyard. There is a lot of information online, but you’ll need a bin, brown “stuff” (dry leaves, paper) and green “stuff” (food scraps), water and a way to mix everything together. If you really take care of your compost, you can have rich, black dirt in no time!  However, if you live in the mountains or somewhere with bears in the area, a little extra care is needed. 

black bear

Additional tips on composting in bear country:

For composting up in the high country you need to get material properly composted indoors in order to detract bears and other animals.  One way to do this is by utilizing other organisms to break down the waste material.  Namely, worms and fungus are great assistants to utilize in the composting process.  Most gardeners realize the value of vermiculture by utilizing their castings as natural fertilizer ~ namely worm poop.  "Worm bins" using red wriggler worms is a common method to compost kitchen scraps.  Bokashi is another indoor friendly method to compost in your home using beneficial fungi to break down the material in a closed bucket system.  This is a great way to utilize kitchen scraps by composting indoors and involves inoculating the bucket with a powdered fungus and adding scraps of vegetable matter to the bin as it collects, mixing occasionally.


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