14 Jul The Things That I Do Not Know: Composting! (The Sermon and The Science.)

Part One: The Sermon

I’m one of those people. I don’t kill bugs, I don’t leave the campfire unattended, and I brake for turtles.

As a kid, I was fortunate that I had family with some woodland property, and I’ve loved nature for as long as I can remember. But growing up with a love for nature and actually understanding some of its basic principles are two different things.

When we moved to Lancaster, my wife (Samantha) and I bought a cozy little house just outside the city in Manheim Township. With it came a certified Audubon Society habitat and a big, black compost bin. Between the two of us, we’ve got four black thumbs…so taking care of this new property was something about which we had quite a bit to learn.

Enter Barb Baker, recycling manager at LCSWMA .  On Earth Day (April 22), a few transplant peeps attended her workshop on composting.  For the first time, I knew what to do with all this dirt I had.

Here are some of the previously-unknown things that I was able to stash away that night:

First of all, composting is more than just letting your plants decay. It’s actually a simple yet sophisticated process that nature has encoded in its DNA. Barb’s example was perfect. If you were to take a pre-snow walk in the forest in November, you’d certainly notice that the leaves were thick on the ground. No one is going to rake those!  They lay on the forest floor until the right mixture of moisture, carbon, nitrogen, heat, insects, and chemistry convert them

into healthy soil for the trees to propagate. This is called the “passive” method of composting. Essentially, you let nature do all the work.

What most home composers practice is called “active” composting. This helps your yard and food waste compost faster, but includes some effort on your part.

(There also exists a semi-passive approach called “mulching” in which, you guessed it, you can use your waste as mulch. This mulch will eventually break down much like those forest leaves. However, you probably aren’t letting your banana peels decorate your gardenias, so we’ll focus on the “active” compost method.)

First of all, why compost?  I mean, I already recycle, I joined NPR, and I’m pro-bicycle!  Well, one reason is that we all currently PAY for our yard waste to be picked up and composted for us. That’s not so bad, until you consider that those big paper bags of leaves you see lining your streets eventually get sold to a company who packages them and sells them right back to you via your local home improvement store. That’s right!  Those bags of soil and mulch you’re purchasing at the big box are (partially, at least) your own stuff in the first place.

Secondly, consider compost a way of land-fill reduction. It’s all-natural recycling. And in Lancaster County, it costs  $73/ton to pitch something into a land-fill.  In my estimation, that makes composting — like recycling — a responsibility that we share.

I know, I know, but who has tiiiime for this stuff, right?  Well, let me tell you how easy this process is, and you’ll see that I’m not preaching about some new lifestyle-altering habit that will cause you any struggle.

Next time…Part Two: The Science. 
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