Published on 05/04/06

Composting: environmentally friendly family fare

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

When it comes to recycling, you probably sort out glass and plastic products from your household trash and maybe even save newspapers for the local Boy Scout troop. But what about yesterday's banana peel and the spent grounds from this morning's java?

Composting your household vegetable and fruit waste is a form of recycling, too. You're keeping those items out of the landfill and creating plant food.

Compost is the organic matter that remains after microbes have decomposed your fresh vegetable rinds and grass clippings. It doesn't sound appealing, but soil and plants think it's yummy.

Composting newbie

I have to be honest. As a science writer for the University of Georgia, I've worked around agricultural scientists for the past 12 years. But I'm a composting newbie.

When I decided to take the composting plunge, I gathered tips from my veteran-composting friends, all of whom happen to be UGA Cooperative Extension specialists. I learned that a compost bin could be a large plastic drum, a wire bin or even just a true pile. You can put as little or as much money and effort into your compost bin as you'd like.

Living on a 6-acre homestead in middle Georgia, I have a bit of an advantage over metro homeowners. I don't have to worry about whether my bin has curb appeal or is neighbor-friendly. My nearest neighbor is an acre away.

I decided to use an old horse trough as my compost bin (yet another form of recycling). Be sure to place your bin in a convenient outdoor place. You don't want it so far removed that using it will be a chore.

And since you don't want to constantly trek back and forth from your kitchen to the compost bin, you need a collecting bin indoors. I chose a small plastic bucket that easily fits under my kitchen sink.

New habit formed quickly

I was amazed by how quickly I adjusted to composting. For a week or so, I caught myself heading to the trash can with an apple core or the shriveled remains of a head of lettuce. But before long, it became second nature.

I was also surprised by how quickly my daughters latched onto the concept. My 12-year-old is wholeheartedly into composting. She even questions me as to whether something fits the "composting bill."

She helps me when I break down the veggie remains before I put them in the bin, too. (I like to speed the progress along, so I cut my fresh vegetable waste into small pieces.)

My friend Krissy is the queen of composting. She has four compost bins in various stages. She composts shredded paper from her office and banana peels and apple cores from her lunches. She even "feeds" her bins paper towels and dryer lint.

Her son Jack, a 4-H'er and Boy Scout, is just as dedicated to composting. When they enter Starbucks, they leave with a bag of spent coffee grounds.

They also love to watch the sides of their compost bins for mystery plants. Krissy has a three-foot tall avocado plant that got its start in one of her bins. I had a nice-sized potato plant in mine until the first Georgia frost killed it.

For me, the true moment of composting glory was the day my 16-year-old daughter slam-dunked a banana peel into the composting collection bucket. No, I wasn't amazed by her basketball skills. My amazement and pride came from the fact that she did so of her own free will.

Now, if I could somehow convince both my girls that picking up after themselves helps the environment.

Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.