Rotting's Fun!

Kit Gage - February 11, 2013
Once upon a time, we lived in homes that were self-contained in ways we can hardly imagine today. When it rained, all the water soaked in onto our land – often our fields of crops, native grass for grazing, and/or forest. As for the food we ate – the remains went entirely back into our soil entirely and not just via the outhouse. The husks, seeds, peels, etc., went into a pile and rotted. We then put that rotted compost back into the garden to fertilize it – perhaps along with animal manure from any domesticated animals. Well once upon a time can be approximated today.

We in Montgomery County and surrounding areas already separate our paper, plastic, glass and cans and recycle them. If you live in a house that has a bit of a lawn or grounds, you can recycle your plant waste on site – the most effective and cheapest way of handling materials we no longer need in their current form. You too can create compost.

What’s compost? Any plant or meat product will rot, changing with the help of mold, fungus, bacteria, worms and other beasties, back into an organic loam – soil. This organic (made from living creatures rather than from rocks/minerals) material, when combined with your basic clay or sand soil, becomes much lighter making it easier for plants to take out the nutrients, holding rain more easily, and even helping maintain air pockets in the soil. It helps the soil become more hospitable to all growing things including trees and shrubs.

How do you compost? At its most basic, you make a pile of dead plant parts – usually combining green stuff like grass clippings with brown stuff like dead leaves and twigs. With some heat from the sun and a bit of water from rain and of turning by you, the pile will heat up as it decomposes. The heat speeds the process, kills plant diseases, shrinks it down. The material becomes organic mulch. When the heating’s done, you can add this to your vegetable garden or surrounding your shrubs and trees with it. It’s great to add to your grass if you do it thinly, so as not to smother the grass blades.

If you want to compost your food waste, it’s a bit more complicated. Why? Critters. Rats in particular. They’re endemic to our area. You don’t want to attract them. So if you choose to compost food waste, limit it to just vegetables – no oils, fats, meats. Purchase a galvanized garbage can that has lots of small holes punched in (plastic is NOT rat-proof). Strosniders carries them. Put a few inches of small sticks in the bottom for air, then a couple inches of shredded leaves. Now start alternating a few inches of food waste with shredded leaves. Always cover the food with the shredded leaves. When the can is almost full, you can start using a garden fork or similar tool to stir the mixture. Start a new can for the next load of food waste. If the can is in the sun, you may want to add some water occasionally if the mixture starts to dry. After a few months, the mixture will shrink and look like mulch rather than food. The process is finish. With this kind of composting, the smaller cans don’t heat up like a big compost pile does, so the plant diseases aren’t killed. Because of that, you should use the resulting product around shrubs and trees and in your grass but not in your veggie garden. It is still very useful material. Enjoy the rot!

About Kit: After working for 25 or 30 years in civil liberties, human and civil rights fields, Kit jumped with both feet into the dirt: horticulture, and more specifically,stormwater issues and environmentalism. She helped found and co-directed the National Capital Region Watershed Stewards Academy. Currently, she works with FOSC Stormwater and Silver Spring Green on an institutional stormwater project, and is a Gardener's adviser, see: She has composted off and on for 30 years.

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