Compact Composting for the Rural-Urban Farmgirl

Urban living is no reason to give up your dirt-under-the-fingernails farmgirl fantasies. And believe it or not, February is a fabulous time to start thinking about your future garden, no matter how petite the plot will be. After all, spring is just around the corner.

The first step to growing your own goodies is great soil, and there is no better soil than that which you create yourself. If making soil sounds like it’s way out of your league, think again. You don’t need farm experience, a tractor or even a backyard. In one tiny corner of your kitchen, you can convert food scraps into compost, the most critical component of fertile soil, and it will happily nurture an amazingly productive windowsill or outdoor garden. I can hardly explain how satisfying it is to lay the groundwork of your own garden — you have to try it for yourself!

Suffice it to say that the more wholesome, chemical-free nutrients your soil receives, the healthier the food will be that grows from it. Plus, you can reduce up to two-thirds of your household waste in the process, cutting down on your contribution to the landfill (a significant green deed, considering food waste is one of the least-recycled materials in the United States).

It’s all a matter of dreaming big and working within the space at hand. Rurban (rural-minded) farmgirls are known for their resourcefulness, and they’re growing bushels of fresh food in nooks and crannies across the nation using compost they’ve created right at home. Welcome aboard the bountiful bandwagon!

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To avoid that sticky, gooey mess in your compost bucket, line strips of newspaper at the bottom and toss your scraps on top.

The Creative Cycle
Compost is dark brown, crumbly soil made of rotting organic matter. It forms naturally nearly everywhere. Leaves drop from trees, grass clippings are left after mowing lawns, plants and animals die, etc. Over time, bacteria, fungi and worms break these dead materials down into the highly nutritious plant food we gardeners call compost. The trick is to scale down this natural phenomenon into a container that tucks tidily into a corner of the kitchen. Check out these three options to find a system that works for you:

Option 1: Bokashi Composting
Unlike conventional composting, a Japanese method called Bokashi actually ferments kitchen waste, similar to the process of creating wine, without producing any rotten odor. The how-to is simple: Place any kind of food scraps (even meat and dairy products) in a specialized bucket, and add a powdered culture mix comprised of wheat bran, molasses and micro-organisms. In a matter of days, your waste will be converted to rich nutrients ready to feed your soil. Learn more and shop for your own Bokashi system at www.bokashicycle.com.

Option 2: Automatic Composting
A higher-tech kitchen composting solution can be found in an automatic composter. The NatureMill Automatic Composter (www.naturemill.com) is a sleek, attractive container that uses minimal electricity as it controls the temperature, air flow, moisture and mixing of food waste to simplify and accelerate the composting process. While this is a more expensive option, it is super low maintenance. All you do is deposit food waste (up to 120 pounds per month, and leave it until the indicator light comes on, roughly every two weeks. Voila — concentrated compost fertilizer.

Worms Eat My Garbage

Worms Eat My Garbage: an excellent vermicomposting resource!

Option 3: Vermicomposting
Vermicomposting is a fancy term for using earthworms to convert your food scraps to compost. The thought of worms might make you squirm, but this is a natural and effective method that isn’t as gross as it sounds. The Worm Factory 360 composting system from Nature’s Footprint (www.naturesfootprintinc.com) makes the entire process quick and easy. Simply add a handful of worms and your organic waste to the bottom of four trays. Once the bottom tray is full, begin another tray. The worms migrate upward to the newest food source, leaving the bottom tray full of nutrient-rich compost. The system is odor-free, and the worms will happily keep to themselves as they work to create sensational soil.

Compost Galore
When you’re ready to put your kitchen compost to good use, mix about one part compost with three parts organic potting or topsoil, and start planting. Compost can also be spread around existing plants, bushes and trees.
In the event that you begin producing more compost than you can use, there are several ways to dispose of it. Scatter it around your yard, share it with friends and neighbors, or donate it to a local community garden, nursery or school.

Copyright 2010, MaryJane Butters.
Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.