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Composting serves dual purpose

June 13, 2008
By MIRIAM MOELLER, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - John Rebers tumbles once a day. He collects his kitchen and yard waste in a black tumbler that he rotates every day to make compost. "Since we put most of our kitchen waste in here and use recycling bins, we get rid of a lot of waste that way," said Rebers, who lives in east Marquette. "We only fill up a green (city) garbage bag every two to three weeks." The Northern Michigan University biology professor said a month ago he raked up leaves in his yard, combined them with sticks, carrot and potato peels, coffee grounds and filters, and other kitchen waste and put the mixture into the compost tumbler. Now, about a month later, the mass has turned into nutritious soil that he uses to nurture his vegetable and flower gardens. "It's really good stuff for the garden," he said. "Several times a year, I get a nice pile of really rich stuff." But Rebers not only composts for the rich soil. He also sees it as a way to be environmentally friendly and send less waste to the landfill. "Individually it is not much of a difference," he said. "But collectively it can make a big difference." Composting is also cheap and easy, Rebers said. "It's really a simple thing to do to make your garden a little bit better and help out the Earth," he said. It is especially simple, if one does not have the space or money to get a wind turbine or solar panels - options that Rebers had considered when looking into becoming more "green" and energy efficient. Starting to compost is easy. A handy item is a garbage bin or plastic bin with holes in it, so air circulates through the compost. Some people just sink four posts into the ground and wrap them with chicken wire and others simply make a pile out in the open. However, Rebers said, boxing compost up in a tight pile keeps it moistened better. Having a container also keeps animals away and odor contained. Add garden and kitchen waste and some dirt, and be sure to keep a balance of green and brown stuff, Rebers said. Avoid meat and dairy items. "I think it would get pretty smelly, if you put in very much dairy," Rebers said. He said to make sure to move the compost regularly to get the air moving within the pile - a tumbler is easy for that - and to not let it dry out. Another way to compost is with worms. Heidi Shatz, who lives off of County Road 550, said for many years when she lived in apartments, she did what's called "vermicomposting." It's a perfect solution in cases where one does not own a yard or the landlord won't allow a compost, Shatz said. "It cuts down on so much garbage and you can use it as fertilizer," she said. To vermicompost, one needs a plastic or wooden container with holes in it. Add worms, shredded newspaper (spray some water on the newspaper, so it's damp) and kitchen waste. "You have the worms and they eat your food waste," Shatz said. "You shred newspaper and the worms eat that as well and they release castings. The castings, they're slow-release fertilizers. It means it doesn't release all its nutrients right away. It fertilizes for a longer time. It's one of the best kind of compost you can get." Shatz, who has done presentations on vermicomposting locally, said one pound of worms can eat half a pound of food waste in a day, which can lead to 1 ton of compost in a year. Besides helping to cut down on waste, Shatz said composting with worms is fun, easy and cheap. "Worms are cool," she said. "You can use your worms for fishing and (worm composts) are really cool to give away as a gift." Although Shatz does not vermicompost any more since she lives in the woods with lots of space to compost outside, she used to have several bins in her former apartments. "People would bring me their compost or I would give them my worms," she said. "It's just an easy and simple way to cut down on waste."

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