April 22 was Earth Day.
If you've been reading the paper or watching the news, you've seen photos and read accounts of nearly every community taking part in the celebration of our planet. The idea is to keep it clean and keep it green. Girl Scout troops were cleaning up parks, neighborhoods organized roadside cleanups, children and adults engaged in community flower plantings and many other ecological beneficial activities are taking place throughout our county.
There are many ways to celebrate our Earth, not just one day or one weekend a year, but every day, and one of the best ways I can think of is by composting.
What better way to say thank-you to the planet we live on than to do what we can to create more of it. And when plants break down and decompose, they become, well....earth.
When my children were in school, each spring and fall they went to Tampeel, an environmental learning lab in Lordstown that operated in association with the Trumbull County Educational Service Center. The kids loved Tampeel day. They would wear old clothes and pack a lunch made up of nothing they needed to bring back home. This was because once they finished eating, they buried the leftovers. From the banana peels to the paper bags, it all went under the soil.
When students went back for their second trip, they dug up what was left of that once-buried lunch to see how the decomposition process worked. In most cases, all that remained was remnants of banana peels. Because they are so fibrous, banana peels take a longer to break down. But the paper bags, leftover sandwich bread and apple rinds were all gone. They had become earth; and nutritious earth at that.
Those of us who garden create compost for selfish reasons. We do it so we can mix light, loamy organic material into our heavy clay soil, making it rich and nutritious for our growing plants. We do it to make our lives easier. How much easier can it be than to plunge seed potatoes deep into the soil with our fists instead of toiling away digging trenches. We do it because the micronutrients left behind after the recognizable tissue has broken down will feed the next generation of plants. We do it to feed the worms and other organisms, which eat the vegetable matter and expel organic matter with their castings. And we do it so oxygen can mix with the soil and so water can flow freely to our plants' roots where these things are needed the most.
It doesn't cost a thing to compost. We don't need expensive plastic bins or large metal drums. Any small space set aside in the yard will do. We don't need fencing or crates. It's as easy as making a pile. There are a few simple do's and don'ts, but even those are minimal.
l Don't put meat or oil products on your pile. They could attracts small animals.
l Don't put wood chips on your pile. Sure they were once plants too, but wood tends to raise the PH and most plants prefer a neutral balance.
l Don't put diseased plants on the pile. Many plant diseases are soil borne and could contaminate new plants.
l Don't put animal or bird feces, (or human, but that should go without saying), in the pile.
l Do add egg shells, coffee filters and coffee grounds, tea bags (take the staples out), and used paper towels.
l Do use sawdust, but be gentle. Use it as a dry ingredient between layers of wet material.
l Do use all of your fruit and vegetable trimmings.
l Do use grass clippings and autumn leaves.
l Cut and smash thick stalks and stems, such as corn stalks, for faster decomposing.
l Use a planting fork to turn the pile at least once a month. Turning enables oxygen to mix with the organic matter so that microorganisms aren't suffocated while they help speed up decomposition.
l Water the pile if it is too dry or cover it with a tarp if the weather is unusually wet. It needs to be somewhat moist but not soupy. If the pile smells, it is too wet. A good compost pile has an earthy smell but no offensive odor.
l Add animal manures, provided the animals are herbivores, including cows, sheep, goats and chickens (although chickens eat insects, they're manure is beneficial). Note that animal manures must be composted before using or the uric acid will burn plants.
l Be patient. It will take one year for the pile to be fully decomposed. Longer if the plant material is fibrous or dense.
Without healthy earth, there would be no gardens and even if you don't plant vegetables or flowers in your yard, don't add to the landfill problem by putting your kitchen waste into plastic bags for trash pickup. Give it away to someone you know who does garden, or better yet, make yourself a compost pile to feed your lawn. Grass needs to eat too.
But most importantly, celebrate Earth Day every day.