Keyswide environmental nonprofit Green Living & Energy Education has added an additional R to the traditional ones of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The fourth R stands for rot, or compost. By composting, people can reduce the amount of trash they send to the mainland. Better yet, composting creates one of the best fertilizers there is, for free.
Many people would like to use compost on their garden but are turned off by the process of making it. The traditional method calls for layering plant waste such as leaves or plant stalks with food waste (other than meat), dirt, manure and even straw or hay. People also put in shredded white paper (no colored ink), lint from the dryer and even what accumulates in the vacuum cleaner bag.
Once the compost pile has been created, it needs to be turned regularly, which can be an arduous task. So much so that many who begin the process bail out after they turn their pile once.
Now, however, a number of new products have appeared that not only make the process easy but also fast, especially here in the warm Florida Keys.
They all work on a variation of having a large barrel that opens on one end. The container is then mounted on a frame that allows it to turn with little effort. Since these containers are made from plastic, they last for years and resist all kinds of weather.In addition, rodents and other critters can’t get into them. Finally, many people like them because they seal in any odor that might come from the rotting garbage.
One of the best products out there is the Sun-Mar Autoflow composter (www.compost
bins.com). Though the unit is somewhat pricey, it makes compost faster than any of the others. It’s also easier to turn than similar composters because the container tumbles horizontally instead of vertically. I have personally used this product and I’m getting crumbly compost within a month or less. It’s a snap to open the large door on the unit and dump in kitchen scraps or yard waste.
One difficulty with many composters is that the compost can’t be used if you’re continually adding more kitchen waste. The Sun-Mar overcomes that by depositing the finished compost in an easily accessible central cavity.
Another device, available on composters.com, is called the Green Machine. It consists of a recycled plastic container that is easy to spin regularly. This unit has indented spinning handles that double as interior “teeth” that provide a mechanism for breaking up the compost as the unit is tumbling Aeration holes on the interior pipe optimize bacterial activity. The large barrel holds about 55 gallons of material.
To get the best compost, it’s advisable to shred material you put in the bin. Cut up kitchen waste into small bits, particularly items such as fruit rinds. If you have an old food processor, use that. Put the scraps into a container you can keep under the sink. One of the best ways to make the task less messy is to use Eco-bags, which break down quickly in the composter. They keep the container cleaner.
Try to shred or chop up yard waste. The smaller the pieces, the more quickly the material will break down. This is particularly true of leaves, which tend to clump and mat if they aren’t finally chopped.
Yard waste makes up a significant percentage of all municipal waste, which is why it makes so much sense to add “rot” to the traditional combination of reduce, reuse and recycle. There’s no need to send away material that will help you make the richest, most fertile soil available.
Michael Welber is the newsletter editor for Green Living & Energy Education.