DIANA SOMERVILLE’S ACT LOCALLY COLUMN: Back to the future — with compost

“I WAS RAISED composting,” says Mary-Alice Boulter, touring her Port Angeles garden, “but when the city offered a composting workshop, I figured I could always learn something new.

“So now I’m a Master Composter.”

“We have about 20 volunteer Master Composters available to speak to groups, schools and clubs,” said Helen Freilich, Port Angeles waste reduction specialist (recycling@cityofpa.us, 360-417-4874).

In Jefferson County, Al Cairns encourages composting at community gardens and neighborhood-scale composting (acairns@co.jefferson.wa.us, 360-385-9160).

Composters advocate a time-honored way of replenishing soil.

Once, everyday housekeeping included an old bowl or bucket near the kitchen sink. Into it went vegetable peels, eggshells and scraps destined for the chickens — or the compost pile.

Only yard-less city dwellers, prohibited from washing food down the sink, threw discards into the trash.

When John Hammes patented the InSink ­Erator garbage disposal in 1935, discarded food became “garbage.” Soon modern homes included gadgets that sent scraps into sewers.

Then along came early satellites, sending back photographs of Earth from space. By 1967, those mind-altering images demonstrated that our fragile Spaceship was a continuous, borderless whole.

Earth really has no place called “away” to throw anything.

Some 20 million Americans celebrated these new realizations on April 22, 1970 — the first Earth Day — laying the groundwork for reducing, recycling and reusing all of Earth’s resources.

People began wondering about alternatives to burying tons of stuff in landfills and flushing soil-building nutrients down the drain.

Now some European countries turn their organic waste into biogas that fuels buses and warms houses.

Capturing methane from landfills is an energy source — with a global bonus. In the atmosphere, landfill methane becomes a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, says the Environmental Protection Agency.

On the North Olympic Peninsula, composting reduces what we pay to ship off to landfills — while improving our soil.

The basics: Dump vegetable scraps, soiled paper, coffee grounds and filters, egg shells and spoiled food — but no meat, dairy or animal products — in toto a pile of leaves, grass clippings and yard trimmings.

Add water and wait.

In about 6 months, voila! — clean-smelling, soil-like compost.

Neatness? A sprawling pile can be contained by wire mesh circle. Or consider compost bins to keep critters out and conserve the heat created by decay.

“Springtime is when most garden shops and hardware stores have composting bins,” Freilich said.

Handy with a hammer? Build your own. For instructions and advice, see http://tinyurl.com/ydbmhdu.

You can also dig a trench next to garden rows and bury your food scraps, said Boulter.

“Trench composting takes about a year,” she said.

“It’s best to start in the fall or winter after you’ve harvested. And smaller pieces work faster.”

No yard or garden?

Compost indoors with worms.

Vermicomposting uses those silent, squirmy invertebrates to digest food scraps faster.

Half-buried metal garbage cans with holes punched through the sides can corral worms outside. But indoors, you’ll want a worm bin.

“Worms are kind of like pets; you need to take care of them and pay attention to their needs,” Freilich said.

Worms require air flow and drainage.

“They like to stay a bit warm, too” said Frank Kathol, eyeing the sun on his worm bins.

A Port Angeles contractor, Kathol (360-417-5549) is also the local “worm guy” who supplied both bins and worms for Roosevelt and Monroe schools and Peninsula College.

Sid Maroney also builds and sells bins and occasionally offers worms through Sequim Locally Grown (http://tinyurl.com/ycgelet).

To make an easy, inexpensive bin, see http://tinyurl.com/25nrjn.

Start composting to nourish your garden, enhance your community and partner with Mother Earth.

Ready. Set. Grow.


Diana Somerville, an award-winning author and science writer, lives in Clallam County and can be contacted via www.DianaSomerville.com.

Act Locally, her column on sustainability and the environment on the North Olympic Peninsula, appears every other Tuesday.

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