To celebrate International Compost Awareness Week I asked Michelle Gambon, a Cobb County Master Gardener who volunteers at Marietta City Schools, for a great compost story. Anyone who knows Michelle knows she is passionate about composting and inspires those around here. She sent us this:
When asked to reflect on the value of compost six grader Jaylin Cabrera, Marietta City Schools wrote:
What is composting? By: Jaylin Cabrera, 6th Grade, age 11
Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. Composting transforms garden and other vegetable waste into a dark, rich productive soil amendment that gardens call “Black Gold.” Composting is nature’s way of recycling . Composting is also a natural biological process. Composting comes in many different ways for example worm composting.
What is compost? Compost is an organic matter , such as raw food scraps from fruits like apples or bananas,fallen leaves ,and coffee grounds ,that has been decomposed and recycled to use as fertilizer for growing new plants . Why is composting important ? Composting is beneficial in many ways it is used as an organic fertilizer for soil and greatly contributes to a cleaner environment by composting your raw food scraps you are reducing the amount of trash that is put into a landfill and recycling pollutants in the air.
During each lunch period an average from 13 to 18 pounds of vegetative waste is saved from the landfill. Under the guidance of a Cobb County Master Gardener volunteer, our Middle Grades Earth Ambassadors compost over three lunches twice a week totaling 540 pounds per week 2655 pounds per school year. That is a lot of “BlackGold.”
We are proud of biodiversity full of good bugs and beneficial organisms. We are always sure to keep all levels of brown and green waste true to science therefore keeping temperatures uninhabitable for anything dangerous. We are smart about the food chain and are sure to never have any animal byproducts in our compost, keeping it’s kept strictly vegetative. Because our students are so knowledgeable there is never any worry of inviting critters with eyes, (beside a bird or two who want a snack.) Teachers in Science Math, Social Studies and ELA offer many outdoor classroom experiences benefited through our diverse ecosystem.
Thank you, Michelle and Jaylin, for the great things you are doing!
December 5th is World Soil Day, a fitting end to 2015’s International Year of Soil.
The 68th UN General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations implemented the program, within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with Governments and the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.
The goal of the project was to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions. Your local UGA Cooperative Extension office probably offered a class on soil health or composting during the year. There were several offered in the metro Atlanta, Georgia area.
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils. With this initiative the UN hopes to raise appreciation of the importance of soil for human life, educate the public about the role soil plays in food security, and promote investment in sustainable soil management activities. Basically, the UN wants to raise awareness about the importance of soil.
Their website states “Soil is where food begins! It is estimated that 95% of our food is directly and indirectly produced on our soils. Therefore, food availability relies on soils. Healthy and good quality food can only be produced if our soils are healthy. A healthy living soil is a crucial ally to food security and nutrition.” As food growers we already know how important our soil is to the overall health of our plants. Their website lists the following reasons that soil is important:
Soils are the basis for the production of food, fibers, fuel and medicinal products.
Soils absorb, store, alter, purify and release water, both for plant growth and water supply.
Soils interact with the atmosphere through absorption and emission of gases (e.g. carbon dioxide, methane, water vapour) and dust;
Soils make up the greatest pool of terrestrial organic carbon (over double the organic carbon stored in vegetation).
Soils regulate carbon, oxygen and plant nutrient cycles (N, P, K, Ca, Mg, etc.)
Soil is the habitat of several animals and organisms such as bacteria and fungi and thus sustain biological activity, diversity and productivity.
Soil is the habitat for seed dispersion and dissemination of the gene pool.
Soils buffer, filter and moderate the hydrological cycle.
Soils are the platform for urban settlement and are used as materials for construction.
International Year of Soils: Free Workshops
In conjunction with the International Year of Soils there are events all over the world scheduled to
Resolve to live more sustainably in 2015 by creating a compost pile or bin to help reduce waste.
Many items thrown into the trash can be sorted out and composted and benefits go well beyond waste reduction. Compost can be used to improve garden soil and make landscapes and vegetable gardens more productive. With a little organization and a designated space, gardeners can amend their own soil through composting.
Start by finding a space where the compost can “cook.” The location should be in full sun, at least 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet, out of the way and with good drainage.
A compost container can be bought or built with materials like welded wire, fencing, pallets or blocks. Open spaces should be left on the container’s sides to allow good air circulation through the pile, and the bottom should be open to the ground.
Just like cooking a meal, cooking compost involves following a recipe. Almost any organic plant material
can be used for composting, including grass clippings, leaves, flowers, annual weeds, twigs, chopped brush, old vegetable plants, straw and sawdust.
Avoid composting diseased plants, weeds and seeds or invasive weeds, like morning glory. Vegetable peelings and coffee grounds can also be composted, but avoid adding meats, bones and fats that may attract animals.
For best decomposition, mix a variety of materials. Most compost piles are layered with whatever organic material is available at a given time. The smaller the pieces of organic matter, the faster they will decompose. Once a layer of organic matter is added, add a little garden soil or animal manure. This adds fungi, bacteria, insects and worms to the pile and helps speed up the decomposition process.
Keep the pile moist, but not too wet. To speed up the decomposition process and prevent odors, use a shovel to mix the pile once a month. Compost is completely “cooked” and ready when it looks like rich, crumbly earth and the original organic material is no longer recognizable.
With every mix of the pile, some ready-to-use compost should be available. This compost can be added to the soil before planting vegetables or trees, shrubs or flowers. It can also be used as mulch on the soil surface, or as a potting soil for container plants.
Completely cooked compost will slowly release nutrients into the soil, but don’t rely on it for fertilization. Your plants will still need to be fertilized appropriately.
Mary Carol Sheffield is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agricultural and natural resources agent in Paulding County. Mary Carol’s vegetable garden is small to match her children! They love to help her there and have their own kid size tools and gloves.
Every year, more and more people decide to start a compost pile in their backyard or community garden. By recycling organic materials from the house and yard, composters reduce the amount of material going into the landfill and create a free soil amendment for their yard. Anyone can compost, but the process can be tricky for first-time composters.
Here are a few tips that can improve your composting process and product.
Keep your ratio of carbon to nitrogen as two-thirds carbon and one-third nitrogen. Carbon sources include dead leaves, sticks, branches, shredded paper, dead flowers and sawdust. Nitrogen sources include fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags and grass clippings.
Keep your compost pile moist throughout the pile. The microorganisms (bacteria, fungi and microbes) and macroorganisms (earthworms and insects) need this moisture to survive. Your pile should be as wet as a wrung-out sponge. A pile that is too wet will smell, and a pile that is too dry will decompose slowly.
Chop your ingredients before adding them to the pile. The smaller the inputs, the faster they will break down. Small ingredients are much easier for the micro and macroorganisms to consume!
Turn the pile regularly. The center of the pile is where the magic happens. In the center, the compost reaches the high temperature required for decomposition and killing weed seeds in the pile. Turning the pile ensures that all parts reach the center. Use a pitchfork to turn the pile every one to two weeks.
The minimum size for a compost pile should be 4’x4’x4’. The pile needs to be this large to maintain temperatures for decomposition.
Do not put oily items, dairy or meat in your compost pile. These items will attract pests and rodents, and they can create foul odors in the compost pile.
Don’t limit yourself to just the backyard compost pile. Some gardeners use sheet composting, trench composting, com-posthole-ing, tumblers or vermicomposting. Research what method works best for your lifestyle and embrace it!
If you would like to learn more about composting, consider participating in the Georgia Master Composter Program. Participants of this nine-week program learn the chemistry and microbiology of composting, types of and reasons for composting, backyard composting techniques and tools for sharing this knowledge with their community. They also visit a variety of composting facilities.
The next Georgia Master Composter Program will be held in Athens from January through March, 2015. Registration will begin in November. As always, your local UGA Extension Agent can help you develop a composting plan for your community garden.
Amanda Tedrow is a UGA Extension Agent for Athens-Clarke County and is affectionately known as the “compost queen!”