Photos: There are many ways to compost — from a homemade cinder block enclosure to a rolling science-fiction inspired ball. The best thing to do is find a method that works for you.
By Mary Morgan
What’s the “sweet secret sauce for gardeners?” Compost, says East Marion’s Robin Simmen. She knows her stuff. Previously head of the Urban Composting Project at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and community horticulture specialist for Cornell Cooperative Extension, Robin is a longtime advocate of composting. “Whether you’re growing vegetables, flowers, trees or shrubs, healthy soil is always fundamental,” she says. “Good gardeners know the secret sauce to building great soil – compost.”
Plant material breaks down into humus, Robin explains, a nutrient-rich, crumbly, sweet-smelling earthy substance that is a “miracle worker” — feeding soil microbes, improving air and water retention, keeping soil moist and better drained, while also balancing pH levels for better plant growth.
Compost is restorative, says Robin who has revitalized “barren tree pits, brown fields, community gardens, raised beds, and old lawns” by adding the “grace of humus.”
Shrink Your Yellow Bag
Greenporter Randy composts because “it shrinks what goes into yellow bags,” the bags accepted at Southold Town’s transfer station, saving money, time, effort.
She uses leftovers for smoothies and salads, which her husband loves, and says there is still “lots of stuff to mulch” into her flower and vegetable beds.
“I did it the wrong way for a few years before learning that dried leaves and paper were needed for alternating layers to mix in oxygen and help it break down,” she says.
In autumn she just leaves her leaves in the yard “because it’s better for the critters and the ecosystem.”
Randy got her start with a rolling composting bin, but found twisting the lid off cumbersome. Now her no-problem favorite is an Ace Hardware metal can with holes.
Such a can is “super easy, practical, and money-saving, agrees Robin who only hauls garbage to the dump once a month. “So it’s a win-win-win for me, the environment, and my healthy landscape.”
What about Worms?
Is vermiculture for you? This contained system, where earthworms break down food scraps to create a mineral-rich soil amendment, is easy and fast, according to Sag Harbor artist Scott Bluedorn. He uses a plastic bin, food scraps and red wiggler worms and voila, two weeks later, he has compost.
Randy said she tried worm composting, with very different results. After a workshop at Herricks Lane Farm, she bought plastic layered trays on Amazon and put the whole setup on her enclosed porch. Winter came, the worms escaped and everything died. Possibly Scott developed his easy knack from his childhood fascination with ant farms.
Community Composters and Farm Partners
This summer, neighbors at Breezy Shores in Southold got together to community compost. Over three months, 11 households diverted nearly 1.5 tons of food scraps away from the town waste stream, instead enriching soil and lowering their carbon footprint. Led by Minnie Chui, their compiled data synced with the national average: we waste about half a pound per person per day, more than any other country. Impressively, the food Breezy Shores diverted equates to nearly three tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided.
Then there are the East Enders who bypass backyard composting and bring their food scraps directly to farms. Like my 20-something neighbor, they save their scraps to feed the chickens or pigs, or to feed the soil – the farm compost operation.
Lower Methane, More Moisture
I recently surveyed about 50 Southolders and was surprised to learn that most said yes, they compost (78 percent). Some said it helped them see just how much food they throw out. One commented “because I see what I’m tossing, I now use everything.”
They all seemed to know that reducing food waste is a climate solution. Project Drawdown calculates it as #1 – if Americans reduced what we threw out by half (now a whopping 40 percent, so half that) we would reach Drawdown’s goal in the Food Sector. Many knew that composting, too, is a climate solution. By Drawdown’s calculation, it’s #60 out of 100 best practices that need to be scaled up, ie. more backyard bins, more town-wide operations to convert organic waste into soil carbon, averting landfill methane emissions – that highly potent greenhouse gas which is a huge contributor to global warming. It’s something vermiculturist Bluedorn is keenly aware of, estimating that he diverts about 100 pounds per year of food scraps from the landfill. That translates into a lot of no-methane!
Compost is a climate solution, states the US Composting Council, keeping food from landfills (averting GHG emissions), promoting uptake of CO2 by vegetation (drawing down and sequestering carbon) and importantly, helping soils in our gardens, yards and farms retain water so there’ll be less need for irrigation.
In our climate-stressed, drought-stressed world, it’s food for thought, and action.
Former Locavore now a Climatarian, sailor, beachcomber Mary Morgan lives in Orient with her husband Tom, naturalist and mushroom forager, early founders of the East End chapter of Slow Food in 2004. Two years ago Mary co-founded a grassroots effort, Drawdown East End, to inspire local solutions to drawdown and sequester carbon. DrawdownEastEnd.org.
Climate Local Now is a partnership between the East End Beacon and Drawdown East End, whose mission is to inspire local solutions to reverse climate change. | DrawdownEastEnd.org