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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Why You Should Compost

... Even If You Have No Intention of Ever Starting a Garden 

The deadly E. coli outbreak in Germany, which was at first believed to be caused by eating raw tomatoes, lettuce, or cucumbers and has now been conclusively linked to organic sprouts, has people there understandably nervous about eating fresh vegetables. In rural areas such as Charlestown, though, we can do our own backyard organic farming using our own compost. And even if you don’t grow your own food, there are plenty of good reasons to compost anyway. First in a two-part series. Coming next: Hints for Successful Composting.

Composting had always seemed like one of those virtuous things that anyone who’s halfway environmentally conscious should do. But we never had enough room for a garden in our postage-stamp yard in the city, so there didn’t seem to be much point. Here in Charlestown, though, we’ve got plenty of space for a garden and for the dogs to run around. And lo and behold, there was already a composter on the property when we bought it.

Except we have a wooded lot, and where are we going to plant the garden that it gets enough sun but is safe from the dogs, who are terriers to boot, so stopping them from digging is about as easy as stopping a rooster from crowing at the crack of dawn. And really, when you get right down to it, gardening is a lot of work, and we’re surrounded by farms, and why not help support the local economy by buying from the farm stands. So we never got around to planting anything last year. 

But meanwhile, I’m composting everything, because I’ve got the composter and now if I were to put food scraps or yard waste in the trash I’d feel guilty. And I’m thinking sooner or later this composter is going to get full, and then what? Do I buy another one? But somehow or other it was always about three-quarters full, no more, no less, even though I’d never removed so much as a shovelful from it until this spring when my husband and I bought some seedling plants from Moonstone Gardens at Earth Care Farm

Broccoli seedling plants purchased on May 6 from Moonstone Gardens
at Earth Care Farm. Guess which one didn't get any compost.
As it turned out, we underestimated how much space we’d need and one of the plants didn’t get any compost. Can you guess which one? (click on photo to enlarge)

Compost is the ideal plant fertilizer. But even if you don’t garden, by composting you’re removing trash from the waste stream. That’s X number of pounds fewer that you’re throwing in the trash every week, meaning that many fewer trips to the collection center for you and ultimately that much less weight in the trash trucks and that much less fossil fuel being burned to haul it off to the central landfill in Johnston. Which, by the way, is filling up fast; Rhode Island being the smallest state in the union has the least amount of land available for landfills. And in fact, Seattle and San Francisco now have mandatory composting programs whereby residents must separate out their food and yard waste for collection so that it can be composted. Composting also means that many fewer trash bags you’re filling to dispose of your trash. Which by the way are a nonrenewable petroleum product.

Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that we’re too far north to be able to compost year-round. In winter, I’ve shoveled a foot or more of snow off the cover of my composter, and when I open it, steam rises off the compost. Those worms don’t hibernate; they keep eating all year round. In fact, the heat generated by the process of decomposition doesn‘t need to go to waste, either. If you have a greenhouse, composting in the greenhouse will help keep it warm in the winter.

Need I go on? What are you waiting for? Start composting! If you’re not going to use the compost yourself, give it to a neighbor who gardens. Or spread it on your lawn, or use it to pot your houseplants. Regardless, Mother Earth will thank you for returning to her that which has been taken.

Author: Linda Felaco