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Composting

After performing a waste audit and creating on-site compost the bins, the QCOGP began collecting leftovers from the school lunch periods. Situated near the trash bins in the cafeteria is a simple but effective composting station where students can deposit their food scraps after completing their lunches. About 25 QCOGP student volunteers take turns sitting at the station and monitoring daily collection from three lunches. Once each lunch period is over, the same student volunteers take this organic material out to the bins, where they then add an appropriate amount of dry materials (see below). With a little bit of elbow-grease and a lot of patience, the outcome is the world's best garden fertilizer, which is then used in our organic garden.

We compost on a relatively large scale, producing 150 cubic feet of compost annually. We have found that the larger the pile, the more heat can accumulate in it, which helps speed up the productivity of the microbes. However, regardless of the scale of composting you plan to do or the experience you have in the area, composting is an easy, resourceful way for each of us to reduce our environmental impact.

How It's Done

adding materials to the bin

At the end of our lunch periods, student volunteers take the leftovers out to bins and cover them with stored dried leaves, dried grass (NOT green, freshly mowed grass), sawdust, wood shavings, straw or shredded newspaper (NO glossy colored paper; DO NOT add standard white office paper which may contain highly toxic dioxin from the bleaching process). You can easily do this in your yard. You don't even need a bin, although a bin is neater and keeps out animals. Ask your local board of health about low-cost bins provided by the State or do a search online for compost bin "images". You can also visit the Quabbin Regional High School bins at 800 South St., Barre, MA, which are located behind the rear parking lot near the pond or can check out our web album: Quabbin Compost Bins

Once you dump your food or garden scraps, it is important to cover them with the dry "brown" materials listed above. This helps to keep the decomposition aerobic (with air), which avoids the production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. When your leftovers go into a land-fill, they create methane because the decomposition is anaerobic or without air. You want to encourage aerobic decomposition in your pile. This also avoids the odors and slimy mess of anaerobic decomposition often associated with garbage.

If you add 3 times the volume of brown materials every time you dump your food or kitchen scraps, you will not have an odor problem or a fly problem. So, if you dump a quart of kitchen scraps, you will want to cover with 3 quarts of brown materials. If you dump a half gallon of scraps, you will want to cover with a gallon and a half. The ratio is 3 "brown or dry" to 1 "wet or green". Other "wet or green" materials include freshly-mowed grass or fresh garden plants or trimmings.

turning compost

People often ask which foods they can put in their compost, and much misinformation abounds. Any organic material can be composted, including cheese, milk and meat. Meat should be chopped or put through a blender so that it can mix with the "brown" materials going into your pile. The problem with meat is that it is a very dense source of nitrogen and can't combine with the carbon unless it is in small pieces.

It helps to turn or stir up your compost materials from time to time. It is not necessary to do this every day or even weekly if you maintain the 3-1 ratio, but it helps add air and shortens the decomposition process. The more air added to the pile, the livelier the microbes and the faster things break down.

clearing snow

It also helps to have two bins or piles so that you can leave the first and let it decompose while adding to the second. However, it is possible to have only one and to remove the finished compost that accumulates at the bottom of the pile as you go along. Moisture – not wringing wetness – is important to your pile. If rain cannot reach your materials, you will need to water it lightly occasionally. Adding earthworms to you pile can also be helpful. When the aerobic microorganisms that do most of the work are done, the larger decomposers, like earthworms, take over and finish off the job.

Compost is done when it is dark and crumbly and looks like rich soil. You can apply compost to your vegetable or flower garden or landscaping. Compost is one of the best ways to maintain health and fertility in your garden. It is alive with microorganisms that help feed your plants and reduce disease problems in your soil and plants – a great way to prevent problems in the garden before they start. Compost-fertilized plants also tend to have fewer insect pests because they are healthy, just as properly-nourished people get fewer diseases or recover from them more quickly.

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