Monday, July 12, 2010

Compost helps plants through heat and drought

Previously, I had posted a question about whether it would be okay to put cooked, whole wheat pasta into a compost pile. We always seem to cook too much and I hate to throw anything away. The pasta didn’t have any ingredients that I thought were questionable, other than egg whites, which I wasn’t sure about. So I was seeking some expert opinions.

Composting, of course, is a very eco-friendly and easy process for any home gardener. When used as an additive for garden soil, it can help plants make it through times of drought and hot weather.

Organic matter such as yard and food waste make up about 23% of the waste that is generated in the United States. Composting is a way to re-use this organic waste to keep it out of the landfills while creating natural soil additives for your gardens. When worked into the soil, compost provides essential nutrients, improves soil texture, moderates temperatures, and increases the ability of the soil to absorb air and water. It also suppresses weed growth, decreases erosion, and reduces the need to apply commercial soil additives, thereby saving you money.

With many local jurisdictions banning yard wastes, composting is an important part of waste management in the Metro DC area.

Generally, there are certain “do’s” and “don’ts” about what can be added to a compost pile.

The “do’s” are items such as grass clippings, leaves, sawdust, fruit and produce waste, old plants, coffee grounds and shredded newspapers.

The “don’ts” include meat, fish, bones, dairy foods, fats, and oil or grease because they smell, attract pests, and retard the biological process that converts the organic material to compost.

Since pasta didn’t seem to easily fit into either of those categories, I wanted some other opinions.

I received an answer from Kelly Smith, an author who is currently writing a book called How to Build, Maintain and Use a Compost System. She said:

“There is no reason not to add pasta to your compost UNLESS it is covered in an oily sauce of some kind. Grease and oil can smother the bacteria that decompose items in your compost. But if it is just leftover spaghetti with no oily sauces don't worry about it. It will break down just fine.”

I hadn’t really thought about the oil, but I had used a bit while cooking my pasta, so I decided to just throw it in the trash. In the future, I’ll probably skip the oil when I make my pasta and go ahead and add it to my compost.

If you have ever considered making your own compost, now is the perfect time to start. Whether you just decide to create compost with your grass, leaves and other yard waste or add your kitchen scraps, such as coffee grounds, your plants (and the planet) will benefit from it.

For local information about creating compost, see our new Topics, Links and Resources Page

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