Monday, February 19, 2007

Composting with Style

As a sign of her everlasting love, my wife recently returned from a trip to the local World Market with what looked like a miniature trash can. It is metal, white and quite decorative, with the heft of a coffee can and a snugly fitting lid with handle. It can only be one thing: Our new counter-top composting receptacle.

Those of you who do not compost obviously are unfamiliar with certain housekeeping issues involved, such as, where do you keep all those potato peels, apple cores, used paper towels, coffee grounds and other kitchen scraps that accumulate daily and need to be saved in between trips to the compost heap in the side yard? In the past, we had simply used a stainless steel mixing bowl. But although our catering business is small, we generate kitchen scraps at a prodigious rate, especially since we make all our food from scratch. Think about all the skins and trimmings just from onions if you are preparing your own stocks and broths; the ends of celeries; the skins of rutabagas; the peels of carrots. Start adding the crusts from breads; the butt ends of baguettes; the filters full of used coffee grounds; the lemon that went mouldy; the orange rinds; the mushrooms that got lost in the crisper drawer. It all starts to pile up pretty fast, and heaps of it sitting in a bowl on the countertop did not suit my wife's sense of decor. So she spied this mini-trash can at World Market and snagged it. "I want my bowl back," she said.

Some of you are probably thinking this hoarding of bits and pieces from the kitchen is taking composting to an extreme, and I assure you it is not. As much as 25 percent of everything we send to the community landfill consists of kitchen scraps, things we can easily recycle by feeding them to our compost pile (or compost container, for you urbanites). Compost loves a diversity of ingredients and kitchen scraps provide a good balance of nitrogen and carbon, just right for the bacteria and other microbes that specialize in turning your garbage into humus for the garden. Of course this time of year your decomposers might not be particularly active. I've also included a photo of our own compost pile looking pretty much frozen over. I have to use a spade to pry open a spot to dump our scraps. There may be bacteria active way down in the middle of the pile. They will continue to work down to temperatures of about 50 degrees. And fear not: warmer temperatures are on the way. Look for a thaw soon.

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