The Ottumwa Courier

Ottumwa

April 13, 2014

Recycling in a garden

(Continued)

Composting can also reduce the amount of trash going into the Wapello County landfill, which local department heads at City Hall have called a high priority. In fact Bain, from the recycling center, estimated that nearly half of what goes into our landfill is organic matter and paper, both of which are good components for composting.

Besides, added Koepke , local gardens and farms in Iowa produce so much, it seems strange that we would bring in most of our food from California. But we do, he said.

“It’s so easy to get started,” he said. “And it’s fun. I tell people that it’s not rocket science; it’s soil science.”

A compost pile is made up of two main ingredients: Browns and greens. Greens are nitrogen rich items like lettuce, coffee grounds, tomatoes or yard waste. The browns might include tree leaves, shredded newspaper or egg shells.

Some beginners don’t think the “browns” are important, which keeps their compost from breaking down, Koepke said. It’s a specific mix of carbon and nitrogen, though it’s not difficult to do, he said. As the pile heats up (to about 160 degrees), turning it over occasionally with a pitchfork can speed up the breakdown process. So can introducing worms, like Koepke’s favorite, “red wrigglers.”

Not everyone wants to do this at home, he said, and he understands that. But rather than taking up room in the landfill and “burying a resource,” please see if a neighbor into composting would be able to use the small amount of food waste a family generates in a week.

On his block, he is that neighbor. As a result, going to his compost pile usually means he’ll come away with some super-high nutrient soil that he calls “Black Gold.”

“Grow your nutrients,” he said, pointing at the wooden pallets he used to create a compost frame. “All this stuff is free. I’m building organic matter, which is what plan roots need. [Old food] helps create new food. It’s a beautiful cycle.”

Education reporter Mark Newman is on Twitter @couriermark

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