Monday, May 4, 2020

Time to Start Composting

Fairfax County temporarily eliminated yard waste pickup to protect solid waste employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Loudoun County officials are asking residents to reduce yard waste and in Prince William County only bagged household garbage and recycling will be accepted.

With all the rain and warmer weather this means that many of us will have yard waste materials readily available for composting, and with more people eating at home, it’s the perfect time to start composting food waste. Composting is merely the managed decomposition of plant remains and other once-living materials to make an earthy, dark, crumbly substance that can be used to enrich garden soil. It is one way to recycle your yard and kitchen wastes, reduce the volume of garbage you send to landfills and live a more sustainable life. According to 2017 data 12% of U.S. trash is food and another 13% is yard waste. By composting these items we can reduce trash to landfills by 25%.

According to Christine McCoy of the Fairfax Solid Waste Management Program Yard and food waste can be composted except for:
  • meat, fat, grease
  • fireplace ashes
  • dairy products
  • pet waste
  • yard waste that contains noxious weeds, invasive plants, is diseased or too bulky also do not compost black walnuts.
Meat and fat attract rodents and flies; pet waste may contain parasites and bacteria; and large sticks and logs take too long to break down, though the pile of wood next to the fire pit in our yard is well on its way.

The structure and composition of compost determines a successful outcome. It is necessary to have 70%t carbon (brown) and 30 % nitrogen (green) mix.:
  • Brown waste are: newspaper, cardboard, dead leaves and small twigs
  • Greens waste are grass clippings and food waste, including fruit
Your approach to composing to a large extent will be dictated by how large your yard is and your interest in the project. Because I have acres of land and woods I have the luxury of utilizing the lazy girl’s methods of composting. The most basic and passive form of composting is backyard mulching. The largest amount of green waste generated at the suburban home is from the garden. Grass clippings should be left on the ground, they will decompose and add nutrients to the soil, improving the quality of your yard. There are mulching blades for the mower.

With lots of land I can create a mulch pile in a sunny location away from the house. The sun ‘cooks’ the compost, using heat to breakdown the material. The internal compost pile temperature should be between 90 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit an easy thing in a Virginia summer. The pile should be kept moist but not wet. Food waste should be buried about a foot deep into the pile. Keeping the pile moist and turning it every few days with a garden pitchfork will accelerate the decomposition process.

If you live in a small lot suburban or urban environment that does not collect your kitchen scraps, then you will have to utilize a rodent proof and enclosed method of composting. There are basically three enclosed methods of composting which can be used for interior, garage or small yard/patio composting:

Bokashi is done inside your home. Kitchen waste is placed into a container which can be sealed with an air tight lid to contain the smell. Kitchen scraps are layered with a Bokashi carrier, wheat bran, rice hulls or saw dust that has been inoculated with composting micro-organisms. When using this method, it is best to have more than one container and to fill the second while the bacteria in the first are completing their work.

Vermiculture is the method of composting using worms. Worm composting typically uses a commercial worm bin. Bedding material must be used, typically, shredded newspaper that has been moistened. A handful or two of soil, ground limestone, or well-crushed eggshells every couple of months is good for providing grit and calcium. You fill the bin with moistened bedding, toss in a few handfuls of soil, and add the worms and food scraps. Red worms are sold for the purpose. Be sure to keep your worm composter at moderate temperatures, which basically requires keeping it in the garage.

A sealed drum composter can be used if you have any outdoor space. These systems are rotating drums of various sizes. You simply rotate the drum three times a week during warm weather to ensure perfect mix and proper air circulation. When the weather is freezing do not turn the drum

However, you may not have time for yet one more thing in your life, or just are put off by tending garbage especially in the summer. There is one other option. You can buy your composting. Fairfax county lists two licensed composting companies that pick up you organic waste from the curb and bring it back to you for gardening. Of course there is a fee, but it may be the way to go for the busy household.The two companies are Veteran Compost and Compost Crew.

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