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Rot to Gold

September 29, 2009

I can’t really describe it. Cutting bruises off tomatoes and the tops off of eggplant. Collecting the skins of garlic and onions, slicing avocado peels into smaller bits…and knowing all this waste is going to turn into a beautiful mixture of nutrients, which we will then feed back to our plants.

I mentioned the community garden across the street. I didn’t mention that after going to see what it was about, Bram and I went down to Greater Goods on U street, to pick up the newest edition to our apartment – a compost bin! The EnviroCycler. Greater Good also hosts a variety of “Green Living” classes, which so far have been beneficial. I’ve attended the Solar Panel workshop, which I recommend for anyone looking to know more about how to incorporate solar into their home. (Sorry, renters, it looks like unless you have an awesome landlord, we won’t be getting panels anytime soon).
A look inside our compost bin Yesterday, I attended a composting workshop, which is part of the store’s regular rotation of workshops. Though I didn’t learn a whole lot of new information – I’ve been researching the subject quite a bit lately – I was intrigued to hear that the instructor Cindy Olson, an Eco-Coach, was living an almost-waste-free lifestyle. She uses about four different types of composting, so is able to eliminate almost everything.

I would love to get our apartment to be waste free, but considering how so much is wrapped in plastic these days, it will take some time. Regardless, over the past few weeks we’ve had to take the the trash out less, and when we do the bag is much lighter. It is even more satisfying to know that in a few weeks we’ll have compost and fertilizer for our indoor plants (chives, thyme, and basil) and lots of goodness for spring planting. I will admit, after three weeks of peering into the compost bin, I am getting a little impatient, but I know that when I hold the “black gold” in my hands, all the waiting will be worth it.

The bin in action!I want to make the point, however, that you don’t need a fancy bin to compost in your apartment. Bram and I are lucky to have a roof deck where we can place a larger-bin. However, our neighbors have been setting scraps of veggies out in the sun, and adding the scraps directly to the soil, resulting in some really great herbs. It turns out the only potted plants that survived of theirs, were those that had this simple treatment. Vermiculture (using worms to compost) also seems like it would work well in urban apartments, as you don’t need many leaves, etc. The bins are not too expensive, can be placed indoors with no odor, and are pretty cool in general. Supposedly, owners of vermiculture boxes get quite attached to their pets. At the workshop, we looked at a worm system and it seemed really simple, easy, non-smelly, and a relatively small size. There is also a Japanese system called Bokashi which is an excellent way to compost, especially if you want to be able to rid yourself of dairy and meat waste. The fermentation process seems to break down anything, and quickly. Lastly, you can always opt for the electric composter that pretty much does the work for you, and works with meat and dairy.

Now, if you are lucky enough to have a yard, some chicken wire is all that is needed to really create a compost heap.

I think urbanites, and those of us living on a budget, can benefit from composting, no matter to what degree. Whether this means we work to become as waste free as possible, or simply use the system to take the trash out less, or just want to save money on fertilizer and compost – they are all great reasons to start reusing our waste not-so-novel ways (composting has been around since the beginning of time!).

I’ll report back once our first batch is ready 🙂

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