Composting 101: tips, tricks and helpful advice

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By Andrea Tomkins 

A few years ago my family and I browsed a museum exhibition about garbage and waste. There, in a display case, was a newspaper from the 1950s that was unearthed from a landfill. The newsprint ( a grade of paper that practically dissolves in water) was perfectly intact. You could read every word. Further along in the display was an old head of lettuce that was also perfectly preserved. These two items were in such great shape despite spending years in a landfill because they were buried in a pile of garbage so deep that they weren’t exposed to water or air. They were supposed to decompose over time, but didn’t, which makes me worry that we’re heading into the kind of self-induced Garbage Apocalypse that’s depicted in Wall-E.

The good news is that diverting food scraps and other compostable items from the landfill is a way of keeping the amount of waste we generate under control, and if you compost in your backyard it creates amazing soil for your garden and containers.

 

Things to know about composting in Ottawa

Here in Ottawa we have the Green Bin program. Most households keep a smaller compost bin under the kitchen sink for food scraps which, in turn, gets dumped into the bigger bin when it gets full. We have a Kitchen Cone – and it does the trick – but there are many other options on the terra20.com website that are stylish enough to leave on the counter, like the EcoCrock compost pail. The lid has a cute handle and holes for airflow and a natural charcoal filter absorbs odours.

 

If the idea of keeping chicken bones under the kitchen sink makes you a little queasy, check out the Green Scrap Happy Collector for the freezer. This flexible silicone container fits anywhere in the freezer and is easy to empty on garbage day.  

 

If you’re a singleton who doesn’t generate much food waste, don’t forget that you can use the Green Bin to dispose of a multitude of non-food items including pizza boxes, yard waste, coffee grounds, butcher paper, kitty litter, and paper plates. If you’re not sure what goes in the Green Bin, it’s always good to double check with the City of Ottawa “Waste Explorer” website. For example, did you know that chewing gum goes in the Green Bin? So does dryer lint. (Dryer sheets, however, go in the regular garbage.)

 

Different ways to compost

The Green Bin is the major player in Ottawa, but homeowners  can also set up backyard composting bins for yard waste and fruit and veggies scraps if there’s space in the yard. It’s important to remember that some food waste – meat, dairy, and cooked foods – should not go into a backyard compost because it could attract unwanted visitors.

 

Another way to compost at home is with a vermicomposter. Our family had one for a few years and we enjoyed having it. Read up on how worms can eat your garbage – and create nutrient-rich fertilizer in the process – with this handy book.

 

Troubleshooting compost issues

Some people complain about stinky compost bins, but it’s important to remember that regular garbage cans can be just as smelly!

 

We love the Lime-Basil Get the Funk out room spray, not just for kitchen smells, but to freshen up any room. Also, Smell Grabber is an all-natural formula that safely absorbs ammonia, methane and hydrogen sulphide gases emitted from the composting process, thus keeping flies and pests at bay.

 

The best way to keep the fly and maggot count down in the Green Bin is to hose it down at least once a year. The best time to do this is in the spring. If the stuff on the bottom isn’t too chunky, toss it into the garden and forget about it. It will break down quickly enough. Once the bin is clean, toss a layer of newspaper or yard waste on the bottom to prevent food waste from sticking. This is one thing I really like about our Kitchen Cone. Because it’s lined with newspaper, it goes a long way to minimize the yuck factor.

 

If washing the green bin seems like too much work (or you don’t have a teenager around and can’t delegate the work), compostable bin liners might be the solution you are looking for.

 

Another easy way to keep the fly population to a minimum is to keep food waste covered with a layer of leaves, yard waste, or even shredded newsprint. It really works!

 

Other ways to use your food scraps

Composting isn’t the only way to use your food scraps. How about using crushed eggshells in the garden as a soil additive and organic pest control? Did you know that you can grow whole new green onions from the bottom ends? Just pop them in a bit of water and leave them on the window sill.  

 

Do you have any composting tips or tricks to share? Got a favourite terra20 product that makes it easier for you? Let us know in the comments below!

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