Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dig In - Compost

If you are cooking out of a Featherstone Farm CSA box,  you probably have some interest in where your food comes from.  And I bet that you might also be interested in what happens to food waste.  That is why today's topic is compost.  Compost makes soil wonderful.  Wonderful soil grows good food and absorbs water better so as to decrease erosion.  Composting removes materials from the solid waste stream, both saving money and reducing the need for landfills.   If you don't already compost,  I am asking you to think about adding this excellent habit to your daily life.  Depending on your living situation, it probably would be very easy.  It won't take you much more time than flossing.

And even if it does take a little time and effort, it is worth it.  You will feel better knowing you are doing something positive for the planet.  You know -  Circle of life.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.  Food to food.  

My husband is the extreme composter in our family.  I had no choice.  I couldn't beat him so I had to join him.   We even compost when we are away from home.   A few years ago we spent about two weeks in Brooklyn, New York cat sitting when my sister and her husband were away.   They live in an apartment with just a teeny little lawn in the front.  We cooked, so we had some kitchen waste.    Coffee grounds, egg shells, fruit and onion peels, vegetable trimmings.  The usual.   We saved this waste in a plastic container in the freezer.   It was starting to fill up, so we needed a compost solution.  We knew nothing was available at the apartment.  Recycling yes.  Composting no.

Our quest was an eye opener.   When we asked at the neighborhood supposedly green and sustainable food co-op about composting, we were met with blank stares.  They just put all that stuff in the dumpster along with the rest of the garbage and didn't think about it after that.  Finally we discovered that the New York Greenmarket (the city farmers market system) did have a compost program.  We put our frozen stuff in a plastic grocery bag and headed out for the subway and a greenmarket that we knew had a compost collection barrel.  We did this two Saturdays in a row at two different markets.  We saw other New Yorkers doing just what we were doing.   Even in Manhattan.   I was so thankful for the Greenmarket composting barrel.  Without it, we would have had to bring our compost home on the airplane.  That might have been a new experience for the TSA. (Transportation Security Administration)

Learning how to compost is like learning anything -- start small, practice and you will get better at it. Maybe you have a friend or neighbor who would be your compost mentor.

Here's some Q and A to get you started.

1.  What kinds of things should we compost?
Anything organic that does NOT have any animal products or any kind of fat or oil.  You can compost any fruit or vegetable matter, coffee grounds, egg shells, tea bags.   No meat.  No milk products or butter.  No cooking oils.  No bones.  If you stick with these rules you will avoid almost all problems connected with creatures invading your compost pile or with bad odors.

2.  What kind of container do we need in our kitchen?
You can spend a lot of money on cute containers with covers and charcoal filters etc, etc.  I discourage you from doing that.

Here is our kitchen compost container.  It is a funky old open aluminum pan.  We empty it every day into a five gallon plastic pail that lives outside near our back door.  Getting the compost out of the kitchen and the house fast is the secret to no smells and no fruit flies. 

Here is our five gallon pail.  These pails come with covers.  They are very inexpensive and are widely available at home improvement or farm and building supply stores.  You wouldn't even have to use this step if your backyard compost spot is handy to your kitchen.  We do this because our compost pile is not in our backyard.

3.  What do we do when our five gallon pail is full?
Find an out of the way and somewhat shaded place somewhere in your yard and designate it as your compost spot.  Improvise some kind of container. You can use chicken wire or old wooden pallets.  Go to this link at the Minnesota PCA to find a concise pdf file with some great how-to composting tips.  http://www.reduce.org/

There are also a wide variety of purchased compost bins and systems out there.  I can't recommend any of them because we mostly use basic compost piles on our small piece of rural land.  Frank has put together a few round enclosures with old recycled wire fencing.  Do you have any experience to share?  What kind of purchased or homemade compost bin do you use?  Do you like it?  I would love to see some pictures.  So would your fellow CSA members.  Maybe you could share your pictures on Featherstone's facebook page.  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Rushford-Village-MN/Featherstone-Fruits-Vegetables/80513594952?v=app_2373072738#!/pages/Rushford-Village-MN/Featherstone-Fruits-Vegetables/80513594952?v=wall&ajaxpipe=1&__a=7

3.  We live in an apartment.  We don't even have a balcony.  How can we compost?
I have two ideas for you.  First, see if you can locate a community garden or farmers market grower or a neighbor with a yard and a compost pile or a nearby restaurant or food store that composts.   Ask if they will take your compostable food waste.  If they say yes, then congratulations.  You have found a compost buddy.  Be nice to this person or business.

Second, talk to your representative on the city council in your town.  Ask if the city has considered starting some type of composting program.  This is still not very common but I predict that within the next decade we will see a lot more centralized composting in cities.  Why not help make this trend happen faster?  Here is an article from the Washington Post about curbside composting. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/06/13/AR2008061302768.html

4.   Does my city have rules about backyard composting?
Probably - unless you live in a small town.  In Minneapolis, for example, you must have some kind of bin.  And there are size limits.  Here is a great link so you can learn all about composting in Minneapolis.  http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/solid-waste/compost.asp
Before you start to compost in your backyard it probably is a good idea to call your city office to find out if there are any rules you need to know.  One example is the city of Plymouth, which has good information about composting on their web site.  http://www.plymouthmn.gov/index.aspx?page=425

Tomorrow: Hands On - Beating and Whipping (it's not what you think)


  1. Another option for apartment dwellers is vermiculture - worm composting :)

  2. A food scrap recycling containers are great for every house to have. Keep the bucket near your backdoor. You can search market to see the wide range of compost bins.