exploring green interiors – composting—your garden will thank you! – By Beth Haley
I remember shopping for my first home 20 years ago. On my priority list was a dishwasher, food disposal, yard for the dog, and different paint colors for each room—all the things you typically do not have as a renter! While I still have the same home (I remodeled it into my dream home), the dishwasher has been upgraded to a quiet Energy Star model, the dog has since passed away, different paint colors were replaced by a soothing creamy color throughout the house, the garbage cans have multiplied to handle all my recycling needs, and I was still doing the same thing with kitchen scraps: they all went down
the food disposal.
That is until I attended a Home Builder’s Green Council meeting a few months ago that made me stop and think. We were asked if we would like to tour the water treatment plant. My first thought was, “No, I do not want to know what goes on there.” A fellow member piped up that he had been on the tour, and it was fascinating; so much so that it would change what you put down your food disposals. His comment did make me pause. All those chopped up pieces of miscellaneous scraps are in my drinking water? Or rather have been filtered out or chemically decomposed of? I have not yet taken the tour, but thinking about what our water goes through to be drinkable scared me. I had thought before about composting, especially since planting my spring vegetables (yes, in the city). The ground was dried up, looked dead, was not rich, and crumbled in your hand. When I watered my plants, the water ran off. My yard is hard, old, and worn out. I need new dirt!
I decided to purchase a compost bin, in part to help my yard, keep my food scraps out of the drinking water, and as a fun exercise for my four year old son and me. I purchased my starter mix and a clean air filter/kitchen compost bin to store my scraps until I take them out.
For the most part, it has been fun. Sometimes my son joins me on the journey to the side of the house where the bin is kept, and we peer into the barrel, excited to see what has been produced. He loves to see which new insects have found a home, and I love seeing what has decomposed. I am excited about our first crop of compost and am enjoying learning something new. If my crops did not grow this summer, maybe I can grow dirt!
Here are a few basics. Composting needs air, water, and food.
Air: properly aerated materials keep the smells down and decomposition up. Products good for air circulation include dry leaves or straw. You will need to turn your pile when you add to it to improve circulation.
Water: ideally, your compost will be damp, but not soggy. Kitchen scraps usually have plenty of moisture, but when you add dry clippings or leaves, you may need to add a bit of water to keep it as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
Food: composting microbes need a combination of “brown” and “green” foods; “brown” foods include dry and dead plant materials, such as straw, dry weeds, leaves, sawdust, etc. “Green” foods include fresh plant materials, such as kitchen fruit & vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, and green weeds from the garden.
Compost is ready for use on gardens, landscapes, houseplants, etc., when it is mostly dark in color and has a clean earthy smell, like soil. It provides so many benefits to the soil, including adding organic matter, helping soil retain water, and inoculating the soil with beneficial microbes to help plants grow. I encourage you to find out more and give it a try! There are a ton of resources online and at your local library. Hopefully I have inspired you to join in the fun of dirt making!
Editor’s Note: Beth Haley Design, an urban interior design firm, assists clients with all phases of renovation, remodeling, new construction, and décor. Haley has won awards from the Tennessee Chapter ASID (American Society of Interior Designers). She is a member of ASID, ASID Sustainable Design Council, HGTV Designers Portfolio, Home Builders Association Remodelers Council, National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and the USGBC. E-mail your questions to her at ngregg@ ngregg.com or visit http://ww.bethhaleydesign.com.