cooking healthy vegetable dishes
leek and lettuce on a chopping board
leek and lettuce on a chopping board

As part of this project I want to include this piece on composting which addresses the waste we generate in the kitchen after preparing a nourishing meal - hard peels, soft skins, the paper covers of onion, garlic, and tomatillos, corn cobs, large pits, tops of carrots, tips of kale, artichoke leaves, bottoms of cabbage, leaves that turned yellow, bruised fruit, and small amounts of food left over on some dinner plates. Simple composting bins cost between forty and a hundred dollars, are easy to keep, and will last a lifetime. Your County might have a program where you could get some basic information and perhaps even a bin. I encourage you to make a couple of calls and find out.  Start a compost pile this season.

*what is composting?

Since time before time dead plant and animal matter have been combining with air and water to become rich soil.  This rich soil in turn supports more plant life, and by extension more animal life...  We humans become involved in the process when we design a space, monitor the conditions, and harvest rich humus in the end.  We can use this humus in our garden and in our house plants. 

*why compost at home?

Most of us value rich soil, healthy plants, and hard earned money.  The waste we send to the landfill is like a bleeding vein.  Every time we send organic matter to the landfill we miss the opportunity to close the system and restore circulation.  This one way traffic of nutrients is very costly. 

      Up to 60% of landfill is organic matter capable of turning into soil: grass clippings, yard waste, kitchen waste.  In the landfill these materials do not decompose.  Surrounded by inert materials they are preserved intact in isolated pockets taking up valuable space and tying up resources.

*what goes in your bin? and what doesn’t?

Organic matter will decompose; cement, glass, plastic, metal will not.  Plant matter will render a sweet smelling compost whereas animal flesh will rot with a familiarly unpleasant odor, therefore keep meat and cheese out of the bin.  Similarly the droppings of vegetable eating animals are valuable for your compost mix whereas the feces of meat eaters like your dog or cat should be kept out.

Seeds are quite durable and should be kept out of the mix or they will sprout without your consent where you least expect them.

*describe the kitchen-to-bin experience?

I keep an open beautiful ceramic bowl on a matching plate by the sink.  Vegetable ends, corn cobs, unused greens, fruit peels, any coffee grinds, or tea bags will fill up the 6 cup container and at least once a day I take a short walk out to the garden compost bin.

*how do you proportion materials in a compost bin?

Mix more browns than greens in a proportion of about 2:1.  This takes care of moisture and allows for air to circulate in between.

*what can go wrong?

Large twigs and matted clumps of spent garden plants and weeds will fill up your bin too quickly - they are best allowed to decompose on some corner of your yard in an open pile.

A bin filled with only kitchen waste, which is very wet and nitrogen rich, will turn into a smelly slime.  It will eventually decompose but very very slowly tying up your bin for a very long time.

A bin filled with brown leaves, which are nitrogen poor and carbon rich, will eventually decompose but can remain a dry fluffy pile for a long time also tying up your bin with little appreciable activity.

At times you open the lid to a swarm of fruit flies.  These tenants are doing their job, helping the decomposition, so it’s best to be a bit tolerant of them. 

Minor imbalances inside the bin can greet you with a disagreeable smell when you open the lid to add materials.  The contents might be too wet or deprived of oxygen.  With a simple step you will correct the situation almost immediately: just add some brown leaves and stir in some air.

*what is the down side of composting?

Even though you will put out significantly less garbage at the curb, your trash collector will charge you the same!

*what are the benefits of composting?

Cut grass blades decompose right where they fall, keeping them from traveling long gas miles.

After we eat and have taken the plant nutrients for ourselves, we close  the cycle by returning left over nutrients from vegetables and fruits, cooked grains and legumes back to the soil.

As the growing season slows down and like manna from heaven leaves fall to the ground we watch them turn to humus and again join life come spring.

Such a simple mindful act as composting in our yard shows the next generation our commitment in the care for our world.

Ana M. Negrón MD,  master composter                                                                

click here for printable version  

two women composting