EXTENSION MASTER GARDENER PROGRAM
September 18, 2018
By Bea Cole
Extension Master Gardener
University of Vermont
Vermont's Act 148 states that no more food waste will be allowed in trash by 2020. The most logical solution is to compost that waste, which for some people is a natural process but for others raises concerns.
Cat Buxton, a Windsor County University of Vermont (UVM) Extension Master Composter from Sharon, says that creating compost is an important step in reducing emissions that contribute to a decline in air quality, water quality and accumulating greenhouse gas in our atmosphere.
"It's a great way to build healthy soil for lawns and gardens that can create conditions for diverse soil biological systems to thrive and cycle nutrients without using synthetic fertilizers," she explains.
According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, backyard composting can divert 30 percent of household trash from the landfill. This means that if three families participated in composting, we could keep about a ton of material from the landfill each year. Landfills produce more greenhouse gases than composting, so composting can improve air quality.
Some of the concerns people have with composting are the fear of attracting pests and creating odor. However, when you build a pile with the right ingredients that includes the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, pests are not attracted to the pile because there is no odor.
Carbon refers to "brown" materials such as newspaper, shavings, hay, straw, leaves, cardboard, paper or plant stalks to name a few. Nitrogen refers to "green" materials including kitchen scraps, vegetative garden debris, raw manure and weeds, among other materials. Add these ingredients to your pile in a three-to-one ratio of brown to green.
Buxton recommends a bio-filter of about an inch or two of carbon-rich materials around the perimeter of the pile to draw in air, hold moisture and hold heat. She refers to it as a doughnut with the hole in the middle left for your nitrogen materials.
Once you put in your green materials, then add your browns or carbon to this and cover the pile with a few inches of loose carbon-rich materials. Buxton says, "If you follow the right recipe to create aerobic compost and give attention to the pile structure ensuring that the pile remains aerobic and at 50-60 percent moisture, compost will not emit odors."
If you don't have the space or desire to build your own compost bin, most landfill sites now have places you can leave your food scraps either for free or a nominal fee. These bins are then hauled away to a larger facility.
Composting is a common sense solution to the problem of food scraps that most households produce every day. For more information on composting or other gardening questions, call the UVM Extension Master Gardener Helpline toll-free at (800) 639-2230 or (802) 656-5421, or visit www.uvm.edu/extension/mastergardener.