Food waste is food for the garden – Gainesville Sun

You might find yourself with leftovers from Thanksgiving sitting in the back of your refrigerator and each day that passes the less likely you are to eat them. It’s waiting to be thrown out. Don’t let your food go to waste! Rather, turn your food waste into something valuable: nutrient rich compost.
Food that was once for you can be used as “food” for your garden. Much of what is dumped into trashcans across Florida every day can be used in far better ways than piling up at landfills.  If the time and effort are taken to generate compost it can be used to improve and feed garden soil that lead to more productive gardens.
Start by finding a space where the compost can decompose or “cook” undisturbed. Ideally the location chosen for composting should be in full sun, and have a minimum base of 3-by-3 feet and a height of at least 3 feet. Don’t think of compost piles as being a permanent location given that new piles can be established easily. Old compost piles, especially if in full sun, can be planted into directly. For instance, Seminole pumpkins can be extremely productive if planted into an old compost pile. 
A container for composting can come in many shapes and sizes and can be bought or constructed to fit your needs. Materials like welded wire, fencing, large metal drums, pallets or blocks are some examples that can be used for composting. Also, there are many inventive designs for compost containers that can be found online. To help the composting process, spaces should be left on the container’s sides to allow air circulation through the pile, and the bottom should be open to the ground to allow earth worms access.
Nearly any kind of organic plant material can be used for composting, which includes things like grass clippings, leaves, flowers, twigs, chopped brush, old vegetable plants, straw, sawdust, and especially left over vegetables from the dinner plate. Something important to keep in mind is to avoid or be careful composting diseased plants, weeds with seeds, invasive plants, or plant material that has been killed with herbicides. Vegetable peelings and coffee grounds can also be composted, however, avoid adding excess animal materials like meats and fats. If you do want to compost animal products it’s important to add a lot of bulking material such as shredded tree mulch or leaves.
Mixing a variety of materials is best for decomposition. Smaller pieces of organic matter tend to decompose faster. After a layer of plant matter is atop the pile, add some garden soil or animal manure. Doing so adds microbes like fungi and bacteria, and encourages insects and worms to enter the pile which also helps to increase the decomposition process. Occasionally add some water to the pile if the center is no longer moist as decomposition slows when dry.
To speed up the decomposition process, use a shovel to turn and mix the pile once a month. To be clear, turning a compost pile is helpful but not a requirement. Compost is ready when it has a dark fine texture and the original organic material is no longer recognizable. Old material at the bottom of the pile is where compost should be removed first as newer material is added to the top of the pile. This compost can be added to the soil before planting vegetables, trees, shrubs or flowers. With a bit of effort food waste can be greatly reduced or eliminated entirely and turned into plant food for the future.
For more information call the Marion County Extension office 352-671-8400 or email
— Mark Bailey is the Sustainable Agriculture & Food Systems Extension Agent for UF/IFAS Extension Marion County. For more information, contact the Marion County office at 352-671-8400. The Extension Service is located at 2232 NE Jacksonville Road, Ocala, FL 34470.


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