Adventures in Composting

The past few years, I’ve made an effort to lighten my household burden on the environment. We recently downsized into a cozy 1,600 square-foot home at the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley on a natural, woodland lot, with a stream on our property. We live among deer, coyotes, raccoons, opossums and bugs of all kinds, under a canopy of established trees. We’ve become much more thoughtful of how our daily living affects the flora and fauna, and we enjoy living in a smaller, more sustainable footprint.

I am faithful in my use of reusable bags, and we recycle. One thing that we’re not good at is shopping smart for our food. We’re empty nesters, and I still find it hard to adapt my shopping and cooking for just two adults—people who enjoy variety and who are not crazy about leftovers. I find that a lot of foods I buy go bad before we can finish them, which really weighs on my mind. We also participate in a CSA, which sometimes leads to a backlog of greens, squash, or cabbage that we just can’t seem to eat no matter how hard we try.

Composting has been on my “to do” list for years. Recently, I discovered that the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District offers composting workshops at which you can learn how to compost properly and get all the supplies you need at an affordable cost.

Composting is the aerobic biological decomposition of organic material under controlled conditions. Workshops offer an orientation for beginners. You’ll learn what goes in, what stays out, and how to maintain the compost pile to get the best results. The science behind it is interesting—you are cultivating food for the microorganisms that will transform waste into a nutrient-rich compound.

Kathleen Rocco, an education specialist with Cuyahoga Recycles, conducts workshops to share the dos and don’ts of composting. We attended a recent workshop at the Rocky River Public Library. I had to admit, she made it seem pretty easy! An hour later, my husband and I were on our way with an Ultimate Dirt Machine Digester. We were kind of excited, and a little bit proud of ourselves because we’re geeky like that.

You can purchase compost systems through their organization for just $50. Other supplies, such as aeration tools and thermometers, are also priced at a savings and are available at most workshops or their headquarters in Garfield Heights.

Done right, compost should not smell foul and will maintain the right balance of moisture needed to break down materials in a minimum of 180 days. You need an accessible spot, a little sun, a little moisture, some manpower, and some discipline. It requires patience and a commitment to keep composting, even when the snow flies and it would be easier to drop organic kitchen waste right into the trash. We’ll be putting in leaves, grass clippings and lots of vegetables and fruits, coffee grounds, and eggshells. Just like humans, a compost pile thrives with a balanced diet of the right things. Treat it well, and it will love you back.

“Ask yourself how much time you want to spend, how much space do you have, and where do you want to use the compost,” Kathleen says. “The EPA says that 62.2 percent of what we throw away is organic material—that is a lot you can keep out of the regular trash, and you can put it to work to make your yard or garden plants greener and healthier.”

We don’t have a vegetable garden, but I plan to use my compost next year for my patio pots, which grow herbs, cherry tomatoes and decorative flowers. I’ll share a composting update midway through the summer and let you know how it’s going.

The Cuyahoga Recycles website is a resource for many important things regarding trash, recycling, composting, and even the safe disposal of prescription drugs. The next workshop combines both composting and rain barrel usage on July 20 in Strongsville. Cleveland Roots also offers periodic compost classes, including one coming up on May 13 in partnership with Rust Belt Riders.

–Lisa Sands