This week Dietitians Network of Nova Scotia spoke with Carla Scholten, Speech Language
Pathologist at Hants Community Hospital (HCH) in Windsor, to get her perspective on
composting. Carla is a home gardener, and she been making her own compost for around
15 years. Here is a look at Carla’s experience with composting. We connected with Carla
through Lynn Campbell, our current Dietitian of the Month, who works closely with Carla at
Dietitians Network of Nova Scotia (DNNS): Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us, Carla!
Tell us why you decided to get into composting.
Carla Scholten (CS): Well, I wanted to go to more organic ways of feeding my garden. I also live in a rural area and we didn’t have compost pick up. So it was put on me to do something about it. At the time I started we were getting Harrowsmith Country Life magazine, which was a great magazine for encouraging people to think more organically and that helped me get going.
DNNS: What have the benefits of composting been for you?
CS: It saves money because I don’t have to go out and purchase bags of compost for my garden. I also get to put most of my food waste in and I know it’s a more friendly way to treat the environment instead of using chemical fertilizers.
DNNS: What method works best for you?
CS: I have a large property so I created for us – my husband and I - a 4x4 bin. It’s made from wood, with small spaces between the slats for air to get into the compost. It’s also angled so it’s higher in the back than in the front, so it’s easy to toss things into it.
DNNS: How do you recommend getting started with composting for first-timers?
CS: You can get small plastic black compost bins at hardware stores, so that would be good for a first timer to get used to the habit of going to a bin and using it. Since it’s smaller you will also get a useable product more quickly than if you have a large pile. It’s important to have a mix of green and brown waste going into your compost. Green is fresh cut things like grass clippings or weeds you’ve pulled. Brown is waste like vegetable peelings, table scraps (not animal), coffee grinds, and stuff like that. You can put egg shells in, but you generally don’t use animal flesh or animal products. Leaves that you rake up in the fall would also be brown waste.
You need to make sure air can get into the pile. If there is a dry spell you can water it as well – not soak it, but just water it a little on top.
If you have more space and more waste to draw from, a chicken wire cage works well. You would just shape the chicken wire into a bin (open at the bottom and top) and then toss your waste in.
If you have access to manure you can put that in as a brown waste too. You don’t want to use dog, cat or human feces though. Just manure from herbivores like cows, chickens, horses, etc.
DNNS: Why is that?
CS: I’m not sure of the exact biology behind it, but that’s the general rule. I believe it has to do with possible pathogenic bacteria. Generally you don’t put animal waste, or feces of animals that eat meat.
DNNS: Is there a ratio of compost to soil you would recommend for vegetable
CS: I don’t have a set ratio I use. I just planted transplants and all I do is get them
into the ground and then put a couple inches high of compost around the base,
but not touching the stem, to feed the roots.
We also just planted seeds. For that I probably did about 1 part compost to 8
parts soil. It worked, all our seeds are growing and we just planted last week!
DNNS: Tell us one thing you wish you had known when you started composting
that would have made your life easier.
CS: When you’re throwing waste in the compost you should alternate the type
that you put in. More brown than green. I didn’t appreciate how important that
was in the beginning. If you don’t alternate you can end up with a very green or
a very brown pile, and too much of either doesn’t make good compost. When
you alternate the temperature of the pile is more controlled – a really green pile gets very hot - and the waste breaks down better. You also won’t get worms if your pile is too green, and the worms help break the waste down too. Usually you want 3 parts brown to 1 part green when you’re composting.
DNNS: Any trouble shooting tips if people find their compost is not working out quite right?
CS: It’s always good to connect with someone in the community who’s done it before or to go online and see what people are saying on forums or websites. Sometimes people have trouble finding enough brown waste to balance out the green, so one thing you can do is to keep one of those large yard bags full of leaves from the fall next to your composter. Then whenever you throw some green in you have more brown to add as well!
If you find it isn’t breaking down well it also helps to turn it over. I use a pitchfork,
sometimes it’s a bit of an ugly business, but the turning really helps.
DNNS: Last question: Any words of encouragement for first time composters
CS: I would say practice makes you better at it. It took us a while to figure out what
we were doing and learn how to alternate green and brown, to water it occasionally,
to turn it over, so it can take some time in the beginning. I do find more and more
people are moving towards the older ways of doing things, like composting, which
is all around better for us and better for the environment too. Just don’t give up on
it if you find it difficult that first year!
DNNS: Once again, thank you so much for your time!
CS: No problem! Glad I could help.