November 2, 2014 -
Turning Trash to Treasure: Composting Tips + Tricks
Spice Kitchen + Bar is on a mission. Not only do we prepare entrees and cocktails based on the seasons of our city, we aim to directly decrease our carbon footprint(s). How, you might ask?
As the population increases around the world, so does our waste. More shoes, more food, more stuff. Of course we can recycle, reuse goods, buy vintage clothing, and so forth, but composting allows us to reduce waste and reconnect with the environment.
At Spice, we’re moving forward in our most sustainable way. When every pepper has been pitted, every onion shelled, the scraps enter the compost pile behind the restaurant.
Composting is the controlled decomposition of organic matter. When you compost and use it as mulch in your garden, it naturally increases the organic matter in the earth’s soil. This organic matter is essential for plant development and growth because it increases the soil’s ability to hold moisture and nutrients. And you, the gardener, don’t have to worry about adding fertilizers and pesticides (Think: cha-ching! How much money will you save if you skip purchasing bagged mulch or fertilizers this year?). The compost regulates the soil’s pH levels and eliminates the need for as much water without it.
Even if you don’t have a vegetable or herb garden, your nutrient-rich compost can be used for houseplants or landscaping. Also, check with your local community gardens. They may accept donated compost for their beds.
In The City
Many people have composting concerns: How do I compost? Where do I store the scraps? What if I live in an apartment building, can I still do it?
Time to queue up Rust Belt Riders Composting! RBRC is one of Cleveland’s first food waste removal programs. For a small fee, the Riders supply their customers with a five-gallon bucket and a schedule for pickup. They show up on bicycles hitched with a homemade trailer and carry your scraps to feed multiple gardens around Cleveland.
Spice was one of RBRC’s very first clients. The Riders pick up our scraps whenever we fill up, which can be quite often, and deliver the decomposing goodies to community gardens. By utilizing this service, we are on our way to a more sustainable city. This is the time where “everyone’s doing it” can actually be a positive outlook on a situation.
According to RBRC’s website, the US Environmental Protection Agency indicates that 24% of household waste is compostable. When food scraps are sent to landfills and begin to decompose, the scraps produce methane gas, “a greenhouse gas twenty times more damaging to the o-zone layer than carbon dioxide.”
We have the opportunity to take part in the entire cycle. What’s good for the soil turns out is also good for the soul. Imagine if we ALL composted our food scraps? Or dead leaves? And newspapers?
In most schools and work places, children and employees are encouraged to recycle their pop cans, water bottles, and paper scraps. However, energy and resources are used to transport the waste materials to a recycling or garbage facility where the items are sorted, transported, and produced into something new. You, with your own two hands, can churn and generate compost in your backyard.
Composting All Year Round
And you can compost, all year, without the help of the ardent Riders. Yes, Clevelanders, even in the sleet and the snow and the increasingly frigid temperatures, you can compost.
Even in the winter, a compost pile is alive. The decomposition is known as exothermic, meaning that heat is a by-product of the chemical process that breaks down the organic material, or, your food scraps. That said, the process slows down in colder temperatures. Just like food keeps longer in the refrigerator or freezer, the compost pile will not decompose as quickly as it would in warmer temperatures.
So start with a plastic buckets, with a lid, which works just fine to store your scraps but stainless steel keeps the smell from taking over your kitchen. You can also create your own composter for outdoors (see below). But, beginning the process with a large mass of compost will help maintain a good compost temperature in the winter (you can buy a starter if you don’t have enough).
When it’s warm weather, it’s easy to just throw scraps onto the pile and watch it decompose. But in the cold season, take a little extra time to layer the browns and greens, which aids in insulating the pile. This traps the heat and gases inside and the decomposition process continues.
Though compost is made up of mostly food waste, it still requires its own special diet. Carbon and nitrogen-rich nutrients are key to a full belly, such as fruit and vegetable peels, coffee grounds, or eggshells. If you house a few chickens in your backyard, snag some of their manure, which is conveniently loaded with nitrogen. For more carbon-rich ingredients, use straw, dead leaves, or even shredded newspaper. Small amounts of ash from your fireplace boosts the calcium, phosphorus, and potassium of your compost. Who knew, one man’s food scraps are a compost pile’s full, steaming, healthy belly?
Make Your Own Insulated Composter:
1. Cut the bottom out of a plastic trash can. Poke or drill holes 6 to 12 inches from the top.
2. Dig a hole (about 12 inches deep) in an area that gets lots of sunlight and sink the can into it.
3. Insulate the exposed part of the can with straw bales and dead leaves.
4. Put a few scoops of your already fashioned compost or soil to the bottom and then layer brown and green ingredients. Keep the lid closed between every addition of scraps.
Other Helpful Tips:
1. If you don’t have rabbits or chickens, you can always purchase alfalfa pellets or blood meal to boost the nitrogen levels.
2. Aid the microbes by doing some of the work: shred the newspaper, chop your spoiled food, and mix the ingredients well before adding to the pile. This way, the pile heats up uniformly and easier than it would all on its own.
3. The microbes require moisture to survive. During warm spells (though few and far between in the winter, this is Cleveland after all), water the pile so that it’s damp but not soaked.
4. Oxygen is key to microbial survival. However, you don’t want to disturb the insulation of your pile so save your pitchforks for turning in the spring.
5. Sit the pile in the sun! Think of solar power as your new best friend.
6. Cover the pile with a canvas or tarp to prevent heat and moisture loss. But, when it snows, you can always leave the icy blanket on top of the pile for extra insulation. Scrape it off when you’re ready to add a fresh layer.
7. Packing straw bales around your bin or pile can add another layer of protection from cold temperatures and wind.
8. Dig a trench and fill it with your compost. The earth’s stored heat will add as a natural insulator.
Original source for Michael Robinson & Spice compost bin images: “The Rust Belt Riders Pedal a Green Solution for Detroit Shoreway,” by Emily Banforth.