Posted by: Bill Stoneman | July 23, 2009

Celebrate life. . . by composting

At the risk of sounding impressed by the obvious, healthy soil is where successful growing begins. And the secret to healthy soil, in large measure, is decayed organic matter – or compost.

Composting requires a certain amount of effort and commitment. But it pays rich dividends and may in time prove to be the hallmark of sustainable growing practices. More composting, including in backyards, may turn out to be a part of keeping food production up with population growth.

For now, composting probably suffers from a kind of “real men don’t eat quiche” attitude. You know, real men buy fertilizers bearing three numbers if they think their soil needs a boost. Big bags of it stack neatly in the back of the pick-up. But just as real men actually do eat quiche, real people who care about the food they eat, their communities and simply the pleasure of nature’s sights and smells know that composting is the very celebration of life.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read about Will Allen, whose Growing Power organization is producing healthy food on vacant lots in Milwaukee and Chicago.

We save vegetable scraps , weeds, hedge clippings and fall leaves at our home and mix it all together. We spread absolutely beautiful worm-laden sweet-smelling crumbly brown material atop our garden all summer long. And we dig it in when we remove turf to start new beds. A number of books on the subject make it sound way more complicated than necessary. Just let piles of organic material sit there. Or speed the process along by turning it, keeping it moist and making some efforts to mix brown and green.

Municipalities have wisely developed composting operations, mainly to divert the fall’s leaves from their waste streams. But how much more vegetable scrap goes into landfills? And what would it take to divert some of it, maybe by collecting from supermarkets and big restaurants?

Just imagine all the rich material that could become growing media, maybe turning vacant lots in distressed parts of more cities into vibrant and productive places.


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