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Environment, Agriculture, Santa Clara County

Composting workshops: a cornucopia

Composting workshops
A pitchfork or similar tool is essential for regularly turning your compost pile, Master Composters advise at composting workshops.

Do it for your yard, garden — and planet

Summer is a time of rapid growth in your yard and garden. What better time to attend one of the many composting workshops and start that compost pile you’ve been thinking about for years?

Luckily, there are several backyard composting workshops scheduled conveniently throughout Santa Clara County in the coming months to answer any questions and get you started.

Taught by Master Composters under the auspices of the University of California Cooperative Extension of Santa Clara County, the Composting Education Program is a project of the County’s Recycling and Waste Reduction Commission. The County of Santa Clara and its cities fund the program (and some offer low-cost bins).

The finished product.
The finished product returns critical carbon to the soil.

Newsbeat attended a recent workshop in Sunnyvale about the basics of composting, and we came away thinking it was fun, easy, inexpensive and earth-friendly.

“It’s not rocket science; it’s just science,” one presenter quipped.

Indeed, nature does all the real work; all a human needs to do is supply the few simple materials in a way that just speeds up a process that’s going to occur anyway: breaking down plant material so it can be used to nourish other life.

But wait. What about …

Q: Aren’t rodents a problem?

A: Yes, if you do it wrong. Best practices: Bury food scraps deep within the pile. And don’t let it dry out.

Q: What about bugs?

A: They’re more of a mild nuisance, at worst, if you do it right.

Q: Fine. But it stinks, right?

A: It certainly can smell bad, but it’s easy to prevent odors by following a few simple rules: provide enough air by turning the pile regularly and don’t make the pile too wet.

Q: But I’m busy. Is it worth the time and effort?

A: You can work as much or as little at composting as you like. Hint: The smaller you chop up your yard and food waste, the sooner your yard and garden will be feasting on sweet, soil-scented compost. But one way or another, nature will do its work.

A well-built compost bin will help keep out unwanted visitors like raccoons and rats.

Composting workshops: the basics

All people have to do to make great compost is supply four types of materials in the proper proportions: Plant material (we’ll call them green and brown in roughly equal amounts), plus air and water. Easy as pie.

In simplest terms, you can think of the “green” materials as nitrogen-rich fresh growth and the “brown” as the carbon-rich stuff like dried-out leaves, pine needles, branches, shredded cardboard and newsprint. Mix the green and brown together. The brown stuff creates air pockets for the microbes, worms and insects to do their work. If you don’t mix them well and provide proper moisture levels, beasties that don’t need oxygen will take over and do the job — but it’ll stink to high heaven.

A roughly 50-50 mix of fresh, green, nitrogen-rich growth and older, brown, carbon-rich growth makes for excellent compost.

Other than that, all you have to do is keep the compost pile about as moist as a squeezed-out sponge. (Too wet and you’ll have a stinky mess; too dry and your pile could attract rats and take its sweet time breaking down the materials.)

Anyway, within a few months, you’ll be working that broken-down, nutrient-rich material into your soil and making your yard and garden explode with vigorous growth.

Earth-friendly composting

If the delicious yield of fruits and vegetables and the kaleidoscope of flowers aren’t reason enough to take up composting, there are also environmental benefits to consider, including climate resiliency, a key County goal.

You can soak newsprint, shred it and add it to the compost pile. Those cardboard pizza boxes that your curbside program won’t recycle? Toss them on, too.
  • The county and cities spend a lot of time, money and fossil fuel hauling curbside yard waste to commercial composters. You can reduce your carbon footprint by composting because your stuff is staying put and doing work for you in your own yard.
  • Your plant-based kitchen waste — watermelon rinds, plate scrapings and the like — go deep into the compost heap and stay out of the landfill, where they would contribute to the production of powerfully climate-changing methane gas.
  • Standard synthetic lawn and garden fertilizers are made from climate-changing petrochemicals. Your fertilizer is not. You may take a bow.
Using worms to drive your compost pile is an option.

OK, so that’s it in a (compostable) nutshell. You’ll learn a lot more details (including composting with worms) in one of the two-hour composting workshops. Sign up today.

Maybe you’ve decided composting isn’t for you. That’s OK. You can always participate in the cycle of nature by buying local compost.

June 19, 2019

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