Sow Good Seeds: Why I compost

Sow Good Seeds

Sow Good Seeds is a column devoted to environmental issues, gardening, cooking, and anything else connected to the natural world that has so graciously hosted us on this earth. It is the author’s hope that it will encourage you to see the world around you in a different way, to make incremental changes in your daily living, and to treat our planetary home such that we honor the generations of life that will follow.

You may have noticed, in this time of restaurant closures and stockpiling of staples, that your kitchen is getting more use than usual. 

Alternately energized and exhausted by the cooking opportunities that are afforded to me and required of me, I have found I am producing kitchen scraps in abundance: apple cores, outer cabbage leaves, egg shells, coffee grounds (so many grounds!) and more. Into the compost bucket they go, and eventually out to the pile in the backyard. 

My compost pile isn’t huge or fancy; I constructed its three sides from some reclaimed concrete blocks and an old pallet, lashed together with twine. It’s not perfect, but it’s doing the job, which is to break down kitchen scraps and yard clippings into rich material that returns nutrients to the soil.

I use the terms “scraps” and “clippings” instead of “waste” because I want to be conscious of language: these materials are a resource! They contain valuable energy, which can be a part of the energy cycle that includes sun, soil, water, plants, and food. If they go in the garbage and get hauled off to the dump, then they are truly wasted. 

Science-y side note: Food in landfills decomposes anaerobically, which is a process that creates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Food in compost piles, with more access to oxygen, is able to break down aerobically, which produces significantly less methane. 

It’s for this reason and many others I dump our household organic material onto a pile, and I encourage others to do so as well. I do it because I hate wasting food (especially now, when trips to the store are few and far between). I do it because I need a place to go with all the leaves I rake up. I do it because I wait expectantly for squishy tomatoes and fallen twigs to transform into life-giving black gold. 

I think it’s important to mention, though, that you don’t even have to do anything with the compost once it has progressed from raw material to finished product. 

If you have a garden, it will serve as fantastic fertilizer. The compost nourishes the soil, which grows the plants, which produce fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. The inedible parts and the dead plant matter go to the compost pile, and the cycle starts over again.

If you don’t have a garden, the pile will still serve numerous important functions: worms underground enrich the soil with their castings; birds pluck insects from the pile; squirrels nibble on the veggies; microorganisms teem, bringing diversity and health to the ecosystem in your backyard; and, as mentioned above, you’re reducing your impact on climate change. 

Regardless of the outcome, you’ll know that you’re contributing. You’re participating. You’re connecting with our natural world.

What if I don’t have a yard, or space for a compost pile? Ask around. There may be someone you know who would be willing to add your scraps to their pile.

What if I don’t want a bucket of food scraps sitting on my kitchen counter? One of my favorite tips is to store scraps in the freezer, if you have the space. No smell and no pesky fruit flies!

What if I don’t know where to start? There is a wealth of information available online about composting; here is an easy and accessible guide, complete with visuals and lots of directions you can go in with your new venture.

Composting reminds me we are all part of a system, a cycle, a loop. Things grow, produce, and die, leaving behind everything that’s needed for life to begin anew. 

Deborah Haak-Frost is grateful for every ray of sunshine that reaches her skin. She is the Caretaker for Community Engagement at GilChrist Retreat Center in Three Rivers. 

Any views or opinions expressed in “Sow Good Seeds” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Watershed Voice staff or its board of directors.