Composting will soon become the fashion statement of the gardener. Darling, you will simply be a nobody, a non-gardener, a pretender if you are not making your own compost.
My local garden club committee is well ahead of the curve, recognises the need to be avant-garde (avant-garden?) in all matters horticultural and, to ensure all members were riding the crest of progressive planet-saving gardening and lifestyle practices, this week organised a talk by a lady from the Environmental Protection Agency on reducing food waste and garden composting.
In its most simple forms composting is the process of converting any material which will rot – materials of organic origin – into “compost” which can then be used in the garden to enrich the soil, as a mulch to protect the soil from drying out and as a tonic for the gardener who will feel so delighted to have done something so worthwhile, essentially taking waste material and making something useful and valuable from it.
“Waste”, particularly food waste, is a serious concern it would seem. Apparently, there are simply mountainous amounts of food waste each year here in Ireland – and consequently, of course, there is the waste of time, energy and resources which went into producing this food and then in disposing of it afterwards. I have seen television reports of the waste of food in restaurants, supermarkets and the likes but the topic didn’t ring a bell with me on the personal level. There are only the two of us in the house and we don’t waste food. Indeed, I have often witnessed the face of the son who visits most regularly – as he lives nearest – drop, with a surprised and disappointed expression when he opens the fridge door to find it quite empty bar the basics of milk, butter and fruit juice. We buy only what we want, what we are going to eat and don’t stockpile.
There are many methods of composting in the garden. One can simply stack and let rot or stack and turn regularly which increases the speed of the rot. There are commercial compost bins, some static and others which can be rotated to help mix the contents. One can employ worms – a particular type of worm – and this produces an excellent compost but the worms go dormant in winter which is a drawback.
However, on the night, it was more the nitty gritty details which occupied the minds of those attending rather than the general approach. Could egg shells be included in the compost? – Yes, said the presenter, and she recommended drying them in the oven first and then crushing them to a fine powder. What about teabags? Yes, again, but the bag itself had a certain plastic content and it would be best to tear them to release the contents. There was a lengthy discussion on what was to be considered “brown material” and what was “green material” for the balance of these in the compost process was very important. Grass and fresh green material from the garden are obviously green. Twigs, cardboard and the likes are brown but what about coffee grinds? – green, it would seem. And the biodegradable bags which are now being supplied in the supermarket for our fruit and veg? – it’s a scam! They simply disintegrate but don’t actually biodegrade; the bag falls apart but you still have smaller plastic pieces in your compost.
I have felt that these nitty gritty details, these minor issues, were little more than a niggling insignificance in the whole discussion about compost making and I have quietly scoffed at them. It seemed to me that people became bogged down in minutiae but I now believe that they are trotted out as a comfort and as an encouragement for those for whom successful composting is a challenge, a challenge because they don’t have a garden or have a garden which is so small that it cannot provide the amount of material necessary to make a viable compost heap. By suggesting these people are making a significant contribution by drying their eggshells in the oven, managing the disposal of their teabags and coffee grinds, using reusable shopping bags rather than disposable plastic and such does, perhaps, help lead to a general change in attitude in society and this can be very significant – just think of the remarkable change in attitude to smoking over the past ten or so years. It is generally now considered an unpleasant, even dirty, habit which is unacceptable while it was once commonplace and part of everyday life.
Attitudes change slowly and in small increments and the person who takes care to avoid unnecessary waste in the small scale of the domestic setting, who attempts to dispose of whatever little waste they create, will also wish to see such care applied in a local, national and international manner also.
Great oaks from little acorns grow!
Watch the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves!
Take care of the eggshells, teabags and coffee grinds and you will save the world!
If you would like to read the full pamphlet on compost you will find it on the Environmental Protection Agency site.