I was just discussing this the other night. We had some people over for a bbq and I was scooping up the leftovers and deciding what to do with them. Personally, I don’t mind leftovers because I can live on them for days afterwards. Everything except the meat stuff, of course. But I live with people who never touch a Tupperware container, are not curious about the bottom shelf and won’t eat anything that isn’t in a can, bag or box. I don’t know why, this is a mystery to me, that someone wouldn’t eat something because it’s “day old”. I have always prepared food in advance, kept it in Tupperware and heated it up until it was all gone. But there is a fetish, it seems, with a lot of Americans about eating anything that isn’t cooked “fresh”. And so food waste becomes a problem for a lot of us.
The biggest concern I have is the meat leftovers in our household. I don’t eat them, my house mates won’t touch them the next day or any other day, for that matter and they end up in the trash. One solution is to cook just enough, or even short the needed amount, to eliminate waste. But this doesn’t always work. Some of the leftovers end up on the cat’s plate and some of these my hungry toms will wolf down anytime. But there are others that they tire of quickly or won’t touch at all. And meat is not known to be a good contribution to the compost pile. As a matter of fact, greasy products like meat and cheese will rot and attract bugs. So uneaten meat, cheese, chicken or pork should be reused as food; freeze, grind, add to soups and other meal components but DO NOT add these items to the compost pile.
On the order of fish, things are slightly different. Burying a fish under the root spread of a plant or tree feeds the soil and the plant. Fish heads are commonly used in Rose gardens. But I would resist tossing in a whole fish, especially large ones. I would gut the fish first and feed the neighborhood cats the entrails and bury only flesh, bone, scales and the whole head. This adds nitrogen, calcium, iron and other mineral nutrients to the plant. But, again, DO NOT add fish to a compost pile. The flesh breaks down rapidly, gets greasy, generates a disgusting odor and in the state of decomposition attracts flies, grubs and other garden horrors. So bury your leftover fish under your plants in the soil but don’t do it too much. One fish per plant over a 3 month period. Otherwise, everything else you have not eaten can be added to compost. Here are some great guidelines to follow when choosing and adding food waste to the compost pile:
When adding weeds, herbs and other discarded garden debris, do not add the entire plant to the compost pile. When pulling up weeds, herbs and other self sowing plants, be careful not to carry seeds to the pile. You will end up with more plants growing in the compost that compost itself if you are not careful. Also, the seeds of undesirable weeds (the kind you can’t eat or use as medicine) will simply redistribute these weeds to the garden, where they will multiply like a scourge in the new, mineral rich soil! So be careful to shake off seeds before adding weeds, and to keep these same seeds out of the grass where they will just grow back, shake the seeds off over a concrete patio or driveway and vacuum or sweep them up. These little devils you are allowed to send off to the landfill!
Herbs are the very best plants to add to any compost pile. Herbs, and lawn clippings. Lawn clippings are rich in nitrogen and make the pile “hot”. You may also add animal manure. In fact, DO NOT dress your plants with animal manure, it is way too rich and will burn a lot of plants. You may have greedy plants that are hungry for this kind of nutrient and if so, then have at it. But, for the most part, manure is best added to the compost heap where it will blend with plant and food waste to produce an ideal material for improving soil and feeding hungry plants. But rather than turn this into a teaching lesson on how to build a compost heap, a post I may address later, I want to discuss what food waste can be used and how.
Keep a large can, bucket or box in your kitchen into which you can toss food scraps. Try to focus on organic food scraps, but of course this is only possible if you eat organically. You have to realize that when you compost inorganic food waste you contribute fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals to your pile. They may be only in trace amounts per pound of material but over the long run there is enough to make a difference. And, remember, this stuff doesn’t melt down. It will probably be here, in trace amounts or more, after man has become extinct. But don’t let this discourage you from composting. It is much worse to put this waste in the landfill, where the only thing it feeds is worms and flies. All plant materials, from carrots to brussel sprouts can be added to the compost. Whether it’s cooked or not, rotten or not, dried out or not.
Most of you may be unsure of what items are good to add to this pile and what items are not. For this reason I have compiled two lists for your use.
Good Stuff You Can Add:
Rice, Barley, Oats, Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, Bran, all of it cooked or not
Dry Cereals (excluding that leftover which is mixed with milk)
Potatoes, dried, fresh, mashed, frozen or canned, made into french fries, tater tots, etc, all of it ok
Packaged Salad mixes, including the croutons (but no dressing, bacon bits or cheese)
Fresh Lettuce, Spinach, Cucumber, Celery or Carrots
Tomatoes, fresh, dried or canned
Cans of Vegetable based Soups, including premixed and prepared (no Beef or Chicken soups)
Dried Soup mixes, boxed or packaged, including Noodles but no Meat or Chicken
Egg shells, any kind of Egg
Shrimp shells, without shrimp meat or legs
Coffee grounds, Coffee filters, but not Coffee mixed in a cup with milk or sugar
Tea bags, used or not (just remove the staple!)
Newspapers, any and all, preferably damp when added
Fresh or frozen Vegetables, including Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Corn, Zucchini, Squash ANY & ALL
Fruits with or without skin, cooked, dried or canned (no added sugar- just discard the sugar syrup first)
Herbs, fresh, frozen, dried, in bulk or pulled out the ground (the best of which is Comfrey!)
Bread, moldy or fresh, in bags, bins, boxes or frozen in any form including flour, dough and pie shells
Pastries without cheese, sugar or cream (croissants & bagels, for instance)
Leaves and other debris from trimmed trees and hedges
Entire plants including roots (those that don’t have seeds like Roses and Hibiscus)
Houseplants, healthy or dieing, those that aren’t doing well, etc..
Sawdust, crumbling wood, workshop shavings and debris
Big hunks and other pieces of solid wood if you plan to keep the pile going for years
Lint, dust and fluff from the vacuum cleaner
Soil from any source: the garden, dead houseplants, left over in a bag from the store, etc..
Animal manure in small amounts (don’t dump the doggie doo every day! A little now and then…)
Bones, dried is best, from any animal or fish source, as long as the meat is stripped & the bone is clean
Sugar, white or brown, dry in the bag or box (not mixed as a liquid)
Seasonings (dry in the bag or shaker)
Sweet Candy (without milk or cream or chocolate)
Popsicles if made with fruits
Pasta, including macaroni (without cheese) and spaghetti (without meatballs)
Tomato based sauces
Paper products, including bags, processed paper, cups, plates and all of it
Incense sticks, cones or powder
Potpourri and the contents of Sachets
Dried out Wreaths (without the wire frame.. but you can toss in the grapevine base if you want)
Crushed shells (like sea shells and coquina rock)
Bad Stuff you should never add:
Animal Meats, fresh, dried, cooked or raw
Chicken in any form, even soup
Whole Fish including guts
Animal fat based Soups
Fruit Juices or soda pops
Liquid Coffee or Tea w/ milk or sugar
Condiments like catsup or mustard
Milk or Milk based foods like Ice Cream, Yogurt, Cottage Cheese, etc..
Cheese or cheese foods
Cream or Cream based foods like Salad Dressings, Cream Cheese, Dips, etc…
Sauces of any kind, sweet or fatty
Liquid sweets or artificial sweeteners
Cream based sauces
Canned Fish like Sardines, Salmon or Tuna
Seeds, fresh or in the bag, including Sunflower and Poppy
Plastic of any kind, no bags, utensils, packaging of any kind
Clothing or cotton items
Steel or other metal items
Glass, crushed, whole or otherwise
Whole pieces of furniture (only the rotting or crushed wood pieces)
All else that is not included on the first list!
In a future post I will tackle the actual building of a compost pile and then another post on maintaining one over a season. This is a great solution to food waste that ends up in the landfill, fattening the flies! It is also a fantastic resource for your garden, which in the future will be a mainstay for your family during trying times.