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Tracy Frank, Published July 09 2012

Waste not, want not: Compost creates better soil, keeps waste out of landfill

FARGO - Wendy Gabriel has been composting for as long as she can remember.

In fact, when she and her family moved to Fargo from the Twin Cities in 2009, one of the first things they purchased was a composter.

Gabriel, who created a website about living an environmentally friendly lifestyle on mygreenside.org, says composting is a lot easier than most people realize.

“At some point all organic matter will decompose,” Gabriel said. “It’s something that you really can’t mess up.”

You can measure the soil’s temperature and track the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio if you want to, but it’s not necessary, Gabriel said.

“People think it’s really difficult,” she said. “It’s as easy as throwing it in the garbage.”

Yard trimmings and food waste make up 27 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

When used in gardens and yards, compost improves the soil structure, porosity and density, creating a better environment for plant roots, according to the U.S. Composting Council.

And it doesn’t smell or attract flies and mice – you just have to know what to compost and what not to compost, said Gabriel, who also talks about living green during her “Simple Tips for Green Living” segment on her husband Christopher Gabriel’s radio show at 12:20 p.m. Tuesdays on WDAY 970 AM. (Both WDAY and The Forum are owned by Forum Communications.)

Wendy Gabriel said avid gardeners may need to pay more attention to the ratios of different products they put into their compost, but she just throws all of her compostable materials together and uses the same compost in her yard, garden and flower beds.

“I am certainly more of a pacifist composter,” Gabriel said. “I love the end result, but my big thing is creating less waste to throw into the landfill.”

She does keep a separate compost bin for weeds because she doesn’t want them to spread. She said she’s not yet sure what she’ll do with that compost, but she knows she doesn’t want it going to the landfill.

If you can heat the composting pile to above 140 degrees, you can roast the seeds so they don’t sprout in your garden soil, according to homecompostingmadeeasy.com.

Gabriel has a bowl she uses when cutting up vegetables and anything that can be composted goes in the bowl. After dinner, any leftovers except those containing meat, dairy or oils go into the compost bin.

“Make sure it’s conveniently located to your kitchen, so it’s easier for you to remember to go bring it out,” she suggests.

Even her kids know what can go in the bin. If they’re eating an apple outside, they throw the core in the compost bin when they’re done, Gabriel said.

Gabriel has two composters. One is a compost tumbler that can be turned to aerate the compost. The other is the Earth Machine composter the city of Fargo sells.

The composter turns kitchen and yard waste into rich soil in six to eight weeks, the city’s website states. The machine, which has an 80-gallon capacity, can be purchased for $40 by calling (701) 241-1449. (The Solid Waste Department cannot make change, so you’ll need a check or exact cash for the composter.)

Fargo sells the bins at cost and typically sells one a week, said Terry Ludlum, Fargo Solid Waste Utility Manger.

Gabriel said when she was growing up, her dad made a three-bin composter out of chicken wire and wood.

The type of composter depends on how much you have going in and how much space you have to store it, she said.

Microorganisms will do the rest of the work for you. According to the U.S. Composting Council, microorganisms that require oxygen produce compost by accelerating the natural decomposition process. A high-temperature phase sanitizes the product and allows a high rate of decomposition, followed by a lower-temperature phase that allows the product to stabilize.

You can find a slew of information about how to compost at www.compostinstructions.com.

Basically, you need a compost site with drainage, air flow, insulation and a good mix of various ingredients, according to the website.

Your compost pile should be damp without being wet (about like a squeezed sponge), well-aerated, and it should have a mix of yard and kitchen waste, according to the site.

The fastest decomposition occurs between 140 and 160 degrees, so to get extra heat, choose a compost bin with dark walls or put a black tarp over a compost pile, the site states.