Compost tips zero waste |Susanne Harm | Central Texas Gardener


Thanks so much for opening your garden gates
for us. Right now we’re going to be talking about compost – how to do it and why you should.
I’m joined by Susanne Harm who is a public information officer for the City of Austin.
She is with the Austin Resource Recovery Program, and the Resource Recovery Program has a big
goal for the city which is zero waste. And when are you shooting for? 2040. 2040? Right.
The City of Austin has an ambitious goal to reach 90% diversion from the landfill by 2040
and to get us towards that goal we’ve done some studies, and we’ve found that almost
50% of what is in our landfill is actually organic material which could have been composted.
Hmm, OK, is garden gold going to the trash? Garden gold, that’s exactly how I Iook at
it. The leaves that are falling in October and into November, do not bag those up, do
not put them in the landfill. Let’s make compost and use it as a great fertilizer for our gardens
and yards. Well it’s a great resource, it’s right there in our backyards, and people should
be taking advantage of it. When I think of composting and getting people started, what
I think of is that push-back I sometimes hear like “Oh, I don’t want anything that smells”
or “Won’t it attract critters to my yard?” – what’s your standard reply to that? Well,
I have a big yard, and I understand that you don’t want raccoons coming around, if you
have pets especially. The first thing is to know if you’re backyard composting, you don’t
want to put anything in there that’s going to smell bad. If it’s green, it goes. If it
grows, it goes. But don’t put meat, bones, any kind of dairy in there, because of course
that’s going to smell bad. But if you’re putting your food scraps, your leaves that have fallen
off the trees, any kind of grass clippings, and mixing that together, you will not have
a smell problem. Yeah, don’t put animal waste in there. Right, absolutely no animal waste
because that does have bacteria. The backyard compost do not get hot enough to kill off
bacteria, so meats like poultry, you can put eggshells, but you might want to rinse those
first, but nothing like that. So greens and browns. You want to have your nitrogen and
your carbon. Nitrogen and carbon, those are the two primary ingredients. And you said
it perfectly: greens and browns. It’s like leaves and twigs, right? Yep. Your food scraps
are your greens, that has your nitrogen. In Texas there’s no exact science to composting
first of all, but you want to have one part greens or food scraps or maybe green grass
clippings, and you want to have three part brown, which is your carbon. That can be brown
leaves, it could be twigs, it could be the grass that’s dried, even paper towels in your
household. You can put in paper, right? You can put in paper towels, Kleenex, even dryer
lint, there are a number of things you can put in as browns. Coffee grounds we consider
a green because it’s wet and nice as a compost. Of course, OK. Compost piles can be gigantic
and cheap, or they can be cool and small. You brought a cool and small example. A big
concern that a lot of people have is the aesthetic of this thing, it’s like “My neighbors don’t
want to be looking at this” or “I don’t want to be looking at this”. Check with your neighborhood
association definitely. Most composters that are out on the market today are really quite
small like this one like this one, it has two chambers and it can go into the corner
of your yard. You can also make a compost pile with some chicken wire and just put it
in a corner. But it depends where you live and what your neighbors can see, but yeah
it can be very, very inexpensive. And discreet and this is a cool little system that’s available
and people can buy systems like this and they can actually get a rebate from the city. Absolutely,
we want to get that 50% of organic material out of the landfill. It’s valuable resource.
we want people to backyard compost so we’re giving $75 to people who go out and buy a
backyard compost system. They can either get a rebate when they go out and purchase one
from somewhere or even faster they can get a coupon in the mail for $75 and they can
go to one of our partner vendors. We have hardware stores, gardening shops in town,
a lot of retailers that offer these compost bins and you can take your coupon in there
and get $75 off. And most of them start, you know the nicer systems start at about $100.
You know this one is right around $140 but you could go all the way to the moon and get
a really fancy one too. (Gold plated compost) There are different systems for different
space limitations as well. Fall’s a perfect time to be talking about this because there’s
so much material coming out of the trees right now and when I think of fall leaves in Austin
I think of the oak trees and a lot of times these are really slow to compost. There are
some tricks to using those real thick leaves in a garden setting. Yeah I think the main
trick with oak leaves is to really mulch them so that they break down into smaller pieces.
When you rake up the oak leaves and just put them in their hole it can take a year. What
I do is I have a mulching lawn mower which really crunches them up into little pieces.
When you think of those microorganisms that need to chew on these to break them down,
they don’t want a big leaf they want a little cookie size so break it down. Even
when you’re mowing your grass, use a mulching mower and put those clippings in the compost. Yeah mow over the leaves, rake em’ up and throw them in. That simple and it makes a lot of sense. A
lot of people wonder about how often should I turn it, how often should I water it because
moisture is important. Right you need the four basic ingredients for a compost bin and
it’s not hard, not an exact science. Basically you need your carbon three parts brown, you
need your nitrogen one part green or food scraps, then you need water because like all
living organisms we need water to survive and you need air and that’s where the turning
or the shoveling and moving it around comes in. So the water is really tricky in Texas
because if your compost bin – doesn’t matter where it is – if it’s in the shade it might
stay a little bit more moist then if it’s in the full sun. I like to keep mine in a
little shadier area because it does get so hot here. You want to keep that compost bin,
that material like a wrung out sponge. You know nice and moist so that it can continue
to get oxygen. Not too dripping wet because that will cause some odors. If you find that
your compost pile is too wet maybe you left the top open and it rained it there add some
browns. I always keep a few bags extra of broken down leaves and you know in the garage
or in my shed so when it gets too wet just add some more browns in there and it’ll fix
that problem. Well speaking of greens you have a nice little illustration here of your
before picture. Yes, this is my before picture. And this is a nice little mixture of different
things, kitchen waste again. This is from last nights dinner prep. Alright, and we have
the finished product over here and this looks coffee ground-ish. That took about a year
and again I mulch the browns that go into my compost bin and I have two compartments.
One for letting it cook and one for adding the new materials because once one side gets
full you want to have a second place for new ingredients and again you can find out more
details on exactly how to do compost and you can just have one big pile and layer it, it
can be really easy. There are a lot of different ways of going about it. You also brought this
tidy little kitchen compost thing , it is cute actually and I was thinking I would use
that every single day. This is what you get when you take our free City of Austin composting
class. To get the $75 coupon you have to be a City of Austin resident which means you
pay the City of Austin clean community fee on your utility bill. The only other requirement
is that you take a quick class and we have 30-minute to 45-minutes depending on how many
questions. Almost every farmers market around town – there’s always going to be one near
you – on a Saturday or Sunday where we teach these classes and when you take the class
you get this bin. Have fun, go to the farmers market, spend 30 minutes learning about how
to compost and get a coupon. And meet fun people and ask all the questions you’ve ever
wanted to ask about composting because we have the experts there. Well that is really
awesome. Another big thing about compost you know a lot of people all they do is throw
their grass clippings in there and that’s what they think of that that’s going to be
an appropriate response. Sometimes it’s better to leave the grass clippings actually on turf,
right? Right, you;re talking about grasscycling. Mother nature’s way of recycling is composting
so all of those nutrients that are in that grass, leave them on the grass. Get a mulching
mower or even a regular mower, once they fall down in between the blades of grass and decompose
that’s adding nutrients back to the root system and it retains water for your soil. so we
all want to save our precious water. Absolutely and if you want to speed the process up, if
things are taking a little too long throw in a little cottonseed meal or some kind of
nitrogen source right? Absolutely and there are lots of amendments you can add to your compost
but I always like to keep the pieces small, add water so it’s like a wrung out sponge
and then stir it up a little bit and let it sit. Alright well again gardeners goal is
compost. Thank you so much for being on our program. Thank you very much Tom. Alright
Susanne and coming up next is our friend Daphne.

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