Composting tips and compost sale at RDOS

  • Apr. 26, 2011 6:00 a.m.

The Regional District Okanagan-Similkameen will be holding a one morning only compost bin sale on Saturday April 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 11 :30 a.m. The sale will be at 101 Martin Street, Penticton in the RDOS parking lot. The Earth Machine backyard compost bins will be sold for $39 each; taxes included.

Cameron Baughen, RDOS Solid Waste Management Coordinator, hosts workshops on backyard composting. He’s seen a number of common composting problems that can easily be fixed.

“There are four main factors of composting in our dry climate,” explains Baughen. “The first is mixing the right ingredients. The second and third are aerating and watering. The last thing, and most forgotten, is having fun. There are some easy tips to make sure composting stays fun and doesn’t become a chore.”

A common concern with compost piles are flies and odors. To reduce these un-fun problems, bury your food waste under dry leaves or older compost. This will allow fresh food waste to break down without attracting flies or releasing strong smells. Often people add soil on top of their pile to keep smells down which is not advised. Soil blocks air getting into the pile, slowing or even stopping the composting process.

You can reduce smells and problems by only adding uncooked fruits and vegetables and yard waste to your compost pile. Cooked foods, meats or baked goods can create strong odors when composting and can attract pests. Fruit and vegetable waste should be balanced with an equal volume of dry leaves, dry yard waste, shredded newspaper or wood chips. You should add a bucket of dry leaves or shredded newspaper for every bucket of food waste. This will provide a balanced diet for the composting critters and will reduce smells.

Baughen believes dry leaves are the best and cheapest ingredient to compost with food waste.

Newspaper also works in a pinch. Newspaper is printed with vegetable inks which compost.

Office paper is not recommended as it is a chemical ink.

A major problem occurs when compost piles are too dry. Bacteria and insects cannot survive in a dry compost pile. Just like us, these creatures need water to live.

The simplest solution to dry compost is to regularly water. Watering can be done after you add your food waste and aerate your pile.

“After feeding your pile, poke it with a stick a few times. This will help aerate it. Aeration is important for the beneficial bacteria and insects you want in a compost pile. Eager composters can turn the whole pile with a pitch fork to see faster results. You can then add water with a bucket or hose.”

In our dry and windy climate it is often better to over water compost piles. Always make sure that the compost bin is placed on an area where excess water can flow back into the soil.

Dry compost can attract pests, such as mice, that like to nest in dry, warm locations. Regular watering will help reduce these pests. A type of metal mesh, maximum  1/4 inch wide squares, placed under compost bins will eliminate this problem. Common names for this mesh are ‘workmans cloth’ or ‘roofers cloth’ and it is readily available at most hardware stores. You can trim it to size with garden shears.

Depending on how much you water and aerate your compost, it can take as little as a few months or as long as a few years to get finished material. In the Okanagan-Similkameen, composting can be done throughout the year. In winter the composting process slows down but rarely stops. Freezing and thawing the materials speeds the breakdown process.

With the introduction of the Spotted Wing Fruit Fly to the Okanagan-Similkameen, everyone is asked to freeze fruit before composting it. Freezing fruit waste kills any eggs on your fruit and helps break down the material. Fruit stands should place cull fruit in sealed black garbage bags in the hot summer sun for a few days or bury the fruit on your property. The Ministry of Agriculture has a best practices guide to help homeowners and fruit stands reduce this serious pest.

Finished compost is like black gold. You have to fill the bin 30 to 60 times before it is full of finished compost. You end up with a small amount. Finished compost looks similar to soil. Large bits pulled out can be thrown back in your compost bins to continue breaking down. Metal mesh like ‘worksman’s cloth’ can be used to help separate the bigger bits from finished compost.

Apply finished compost on the surface of your garden; a technique called top dressing. The compost will act as a mulch to protect the soil and conserve water. As it breaks down it will slowly add nutrients to the soil for your plants to take up through their roots.

 

For questions regarding the one morning only compost bin sale or about how to compost better contact the RDOS Solid Waste Department at 250-490-4129, toll free 1-877-610-3737 ext. 4129, e-mail info@rdos.bc.ca or visit www.rdos.bc.ca..

 

– RDOS press release