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Backyard Composting: A Feel-Good Habit for a Better World

For as long as I can remember, when I would visit my grandmother in Chicago as a child, she would always have me crush our breakfast eggshells into tiny pieces and place them in the soil out back, right by where she grew her tomato plants.  And I remember, those verdant stems and leaves produced the reddest, best tasting tomatoes. The memory is still vivid today. When I’d ask her why, she’d say to me: it’s good for the soil, for the plants and for my tomatoes! A very, wise lady my grandma was. And it wasn’t just the eggshells; she put all of the vegetable waste out back in a metal bin, which she used to fertilize her bushes and evergreen trees. Well, my grandmother’s enthusiasm is regaining a hold today, as more and more of us learn about and experience the job of nature’s recycling—yes, I’m talking about composting.  
My own composting journey didn’t take place until many, many years later.  It was when I began juicing that I was found myself astounded at the amount of organic matter—vegetable peelings, fruit cores, banana peels—that I was tossing in the garbage afterwards.  
All that organic kitchen waste really bothered me, so I proceeded by reading up a bit more on the composting I had been instructed in so many years ago. Quite quickly, I came upon vegetative composting for the kitchen … then I began to learn more about what actually happens to food and yard waste in the garbage, and how much of our waste is consisted of it. Food and yard waste make up nearly 30% of what we throw away!  
Although I’m only one person, with one family, I decided to start there and build outwards. So, I instituted our mini-family system of composting:  
I keep it very simple. I don’t use many bins, formal wood, or a fence fancy composter, as is popular with many avid composters; instead, I simply focus on collecting all of my vegetative waste from every meal and put it out the back door in a small William Sonoma metal composter. Once that collection can is full, I then transfer the waste into a barrel composter at the back of the garden. (We have this one from Home Depot and an even larger composter for lawn clippings from William Sonoma. Unfortunately,  it is not sold there anymore, but here is something similar.  All three composters have served their purpose well). The large composters get turned every day or at least 4 times a week and need heat/sunlight and water to break down the organic materials.  During the winter time, you’ll see the composting time slows down a bit due to the weather change, but during the warmer months, the process get expedited.   
Benefits of Composting on a Small-town Level  
There are many exciting and awesome benefits of composting.  
  1. Enriches the soil 
  1. Keeps this waste out of landfills.  
  1. Significantly reduces methane emissions (organic waste in landfills actually generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas).  
  1. Compost reduces and, in some cases, eliminates the need for chemical fertilizers. 
  1. Compost enhances water retention in soils. 
  1. Saves fuel and energy: because many organic wastes contain a lot of water, they are some of the heaviest wastes to transport! 
My family has a vegetable garden out back, so that was another driving force for me to start kitchen composting. I wanted AMAZING soil for my garden plants to grow in and produce wonderful vegetables!  We use the finished product (deep rich black soil) to be used in our vegetable garden and in our flower beds.   
Simple Recipe for Combining Compost Bins Successfully  
  1. GREENS. See list below.  Greens are materials that are rich in nitrogen or protein. They are also the items that tend to heat a compost pile up because they help the microorganisms in the pile grow and multiply quickly. 
  1. BROWNS. See list below. Browns are carbon or carbohydrate-rich materials. The browns in a compost pile are the food sources for all of the soil-dwelling organisms that will work with the microbes to break down the contents of the compost pile. 
  1. WATER AND HEAT. I decided to compost all that I could coming out of our kitchen and add in a balanced number of sticks and leaves with that waste.  One has to know what organic waste that CAN be composted before he/she starts.   
Below is a list of what I always send out back from the kitchen or compost from the yard:  
  • Fruits and vegetable waste (core, skins, seeds, rotten pieces, etc.).  
  • Eggshells 
  • Coffee grounds and filters (for the coffee drinkers)  
  • Tea bags (if not loose tea, unless a safe, unbleached, biodegradable tea bag, I usually empty the tea leaves out for composting) and dispose of the bleached tea bag in the garbage.   
  • Nut shells 
  • Yard trimming/sticks 
  • Grass clippings (not treated with chemical pesticides)  
  • Houseplants 
  • Leaves 
  • Sawdust 
  • Wood chips 
  • Fireplace ashes 
We recently started to explore using earth worms for our composting (Vermicomposting) and had about 250 worms in a plastic bin in our garage recently, but we realized the worm tea created needed to be attended to and drained.  So,  this worm composter is our next avenue to explore! 
As I am raising my own family, and as the years go by, I have often thought about what changes or habits I can incorporate into family life that can affect some positive change in our world, and hopefully create a better future for my children, as well as the Earth.  
To me, compost is a great—and super rewarding—step in the right direction to lessening our footprint on Earth. Composting our family’s organic waste is a super simple habit to begin and easy to maintain. Just one mindful act, makes a big individual/family difference on the amount of waste we produce, and the health and productivity of the nature right in our backyard.  
Thinking of adding some Kitchen Composting to your daily habits? This is a list of the Four Best Composters of 2020!  As we are currently without municipal composting, backyard composting is a wonderful way to reduce our overall community footprint by reducing waste and the need for as much water or fertilizer on our plants. How great would it be if every family in Ridgewood starting kitchen composting?! 
Kristin Mann is a mother of two young boys and owns and instructs at her classical Pilates studio Mankind Pilates.    

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