Compost bucket

Compost bucket

COMPOSTING 101

The Merits of Table Scraps

Most people toss out their table scraps, not realizing how valuable they can be. The following is why you don’t want to be like most people.

If you don’t yet have a compost pile, you’re missing out in a big way. First of all, composting gives us the opportunity to recycle the waste coming out of our kitchens. Food makes up almost 13 percent of U.S. waste and an even higher percentage of landfill-caused methane gas, because foods produce large amounts of methane as they break down. Compost from the parts of your food that you don’t eat today will give you healthier more vigorous plants and can actually improve the nutritional value of the homegrown food you’ll eat tomorrow.

Scraps for Your Soil

To realize the benefits of these table scraps, work them into your compost pile, where they will break down alongside yard waste into garden fertilizer that you can apply directly to garden beds. Composting is incredibly easy and some scraps even help deter animals when added directly to garden beds.

Apples

Benefits: Apples and apple pomace (the remains from juicing) contain a fair amount of potassium, plus some phosphorus. They decompose quite quickly.
Note: Avoid non-organic apple skins, which have been sprayed with pesticides, herbicides and who knows what else. Make sure you balance the moisture and acidity of pomace with equal parts dry leaves and newspaper. (news print today is made using soy based inks, making it safer to use for composting) Avoid the “glossies” from your paper as they may contain chemicals that can deter the good you’re looking to do with composting.

Banana Peels

Benefits: Banana peels are a rich source of potassium (around 40 percent), some phosphorus, a little nitrogen, plus trace elements—all of which makes for strong stems in your plants. Banana peels also help activate the decomposition of other organic matter.
Note: Chop peels to speed breakdown.

Potatoes

Benefits: Dried potato vines, tubers and skins are a good organic source of many nutrients including calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, many trace minerals and some nitrogen.

Note: Cut vines into smaller pieces, and use only vines that you are certain were not contaminated by late blight. Late blight—or any diseased plants should NEVER be used in composting. The composting process can actually encourage these diseases to thrive and infect future plants.

Citrus Wastes

Benefits: Citrus fruit wastes contain a large percentage of potassium, a little phosphorus and traces of nitrogen. Citrus peels help deter small animals.
Note: Citrus peels are slow to decompose if not chopped into small pieces. To deter animals, chop up and leave peels near your plants on the soil surface of your garden.

Vegetable Scraps

Benefits: Green vegetable scraps are rich in nitrogen, vitamins and minerals. For example, lettuce is a good source of calcium and vitamins A, C and K.
Note: Most vegetable scraps decompose quickly, but if your compost pile is accessible to wildlife, it’s wise to cover newly added food waste with grass, leaves or other compostable material.

Coffee Grounds

Benefits: Coffee grounds contain small amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plus trace nutrients. Slightly acid-forming, they are particularly great for plants that like acidic soil such as blueberries and rhododendrons.
Note: Use in moderation or along with a calcium supplement such as eggshells.

Eggshells

Benefits: Eggshells are an excellent source of calcium (lime) and micronutrients, plus phosphorus and nitrogen.
Note: Try incorporating crushed eggshells into planting holes when you set out seedlings. The calcium helps prevent tomatoes from falling prey to the plant disease, blossom end rot.

Fish Bones and Scraps

Benefits: Fish bones are a great source of slow-release phosphorus and calcium. Raw fish scraps have been used for ages as a rich source of nitrogen. They are also said to repel insects from soil.
Note: Avoid using cooked, oily fish. Bury these bones and scraps in beds rather than adding them to your compost pile.

Plant Nutrients 101

What these nutrients do to help your plants thrive.

Nitrogen (N)

Benefits to plants: Healthy growth of stems and foliage; rapid vegetative growth; component of amino acids, proteins and chlorophyll

Phosphorus (P)

Benefits to plants: Important to seed, root and flower development; promotes vigorous growth; an essential component of DNA; important for protein synthesis; involved in the transfer and storage of energy for biochemical processes

Potassium (K)

Benefits to plants: Hardy growth; strong stalks; increased disease resistance.

Before you go adding in a bunch of N P or K be certain to do a soil analysis to determine whether or not you need any additional nutrients and of course, how much. OVER treatment can do as much or even more harm than a soil slightly lacking some of these elements.

More information on composting

Winter composting tips

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