City of Alexandria, VA
Page updated Jul 27, 2012 9:36 AM
Invest in "Black Gold" and Start Composting
Considering growing your own vegetables, sprucing up your neglected flower garden, or finding new ways to help our environment? With the surging interest in gardening and reducing waste, composting has really become a hot topic (pun intended).
Only three percent of the 34 million tons of food waste generated by the U.S. each year is recovered and recycled, and food waste now represents the single largest contribution to landfills and trash incinerators. Landfills currently produce over 30 percent of the methane emissions in the U.S., and methane gas poses one of the greatest environmental threats of all greenhouse gases.
To master the art of composting, just remember the fundamental formula: green + brown = black. Your nitrogen-rich “greens" include green leaves and stems, grass clippings, tea bags, coffee grounds, eggshells, fruit and vegetable scraps. The carbon-intense “browns” can consist of autumn leaves, hay and straw, corn husks, dried grasses and some weeds, woodchips and sawdust, and shredded newspaper and cardboard. Mix up the greens and browns by adding 4-6” thick layers of the nitrogen and carbon materials. Maintain the golden ratio of 3 parts browns to 1 part greens and you'll quickly have an ideal blend of “black gold” - nutritious, garden-ready compost.
Some major items to NOT include in your composter include human and pet feces, meat and dairy products (these attract pests and produce foul odors), bones, chemically-treated wood products, diseased plants and weeds, and charcoal ash.
Mixing and turning the materials is an important step in the composting process as the introduction of air increases the population of microorganisms which chow down on the organic waste. Remember to add water periodically to maintain a moist, but not soaking wet, mixture.
Although you can construct your compost bin from a number of materials (wood and plastic are very popular), home improvement stores also carry a variety of compost bins from basic stationary models to high-capacity tumblers. Keep a simple stainless steel container in the kitchen and you have a great way to collect those food scraps you typically would just dump in the trash. By using a compost bin you will have excellent fertilizer for your soil, play an important role in protecting the environment, and enjoy not replacing those pesky garbage bags so often.