The Good Earth
Composting can benefit your garden as well as the environment.
THE IDEA OF composting is gaining momentum as people look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint and make their own nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer for their gardens. “People can be intimidated by the idea of composting, but it’s actually easy,” says longtime composter and certified horticulture professional Allison Palmer, owner of Palmer’s Garden & Goods in Orlando.
First, choose a spot with partial sun that’s located near your back door since you’ll be making frequent trips to deposit kitchen scraps. Palmer’s own compost operation includes two small piles fenced in on three sides. You can also purchase ready-made bins from outlets such as Home Depot or Lowe’s.
Once you’re set up, start adding dry waste (lawn clippings) and wet waste (kitchen scraps). Turn the pile every couple of days to aerate and break up any large pieces of material. Dampen—don’t soak—the compost every few weeks with water. Moisture is important because dry compost doesn’t decay. However, cover the pile during the summer rainy season so it doesn’t get too wet.
Thanks to Central Florida’s abundant heat and moisture, it’s possible to compost year-round. Decomposition can move quickly—in as little as 4 to 6 weeks—if you manage your pile properly by keeping it damp and turning it weekly. Organisms, such as earthworms, also help the process by breaking down organic material and returning nutrients to the soil. “Compost piles need air and moisture to break down waste,” says Palmer, who simply flips the contents of one of her compost piles into the other. If you have a single bin, you can use a tool like the Garden Weasel for turning. However, some bins are built to make it even easier by spinning like a rotisserie.
Worried about odor? Compost shouldn’t smell bad. If it does, add some lawn clippings to your pile. “This is one of the most common composting mistakes,” says Palmer, “but it’s easy enough to fix.” Alfalfa meal or clean cat litter can be added, too, to help with odors.
COMPOSTABLE: A small sampling of compostable items includes fruit and vegetable waste, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, dryer lint, latex balloons, pet hair, shredded pizza and cereal boxes, used facial tissues, fireplace ashes, junk mail, grass clippings and yard debris—unless your lawn is treated with chemicals. If you compost weeds, however, they will likely spring up in your garden.
NON-COMPOSTABLE: meats, milk products, bread products, cooking oils, and pet manure (the manure of horses, cows, rabbits and chickens—all herbivores—is okay because it’s a good source of nitrogen).