published Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Five tips for maintaining a compost pile

Banana peels are good for something other than pratfalls.

Food scraps such as eggshells, melon rinds and banana peels can help nourish plants. Shredded paper, leaf clippings and other biodegradables do the job, too.

Composting, which Crabtree Farms farm manager Joel Houser described as “the recycling of nutrients,” uses existing materials to create a rich soil that helps plants to grow.

“You’re making [the scraps] very beneficial to plants because they’re in a form that plants can take up through the soil. It’s taking a piece of lettuce and turning it into free fertilizer,” he said.

Anyone can compost, he said. There are compost tumblers available, or one can use wire or wood to create a compost area. Houser said he just uses piles.

The key, he said, is to layer greens and browns. Browns can include dried grass clippings, wood chips and saw dust, which can be layered with food scraps (greens). The browns on top keep down smell and rodent invasion.

“If your compost pile stinks, you need more browns. If it’s not breaking down fast enough, you need more greens. The brown is the fuel, and the green is the fire.”

Any plant matter that was once alive, he said, can be part of the compost pile.

five tips

1 Keep compost piles moist but not wet.

2 Make sure to stir the compost pile to get air mixed through it.

3 Let the compost age fully. “When you pick up a handful of compost, you want it to smell good. Dirt smells pretty good.”

4 Don’t add meats, cheese or bones, or waste from carnivores (house pets). “Animals tend to have diseases we can pass to each other.” Horse manure, however, can be added safely to a compost pile.

5 Keep a bucket in the kitchen, and collect food scraps to add to the compost pile every now and then.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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