The Trash That's a Treasure
Photo: Jessica Sain-Baird
She's never even planted a seed before, but new homeowner and eco-friendly journalist Simran Sethi finally is ready to put down some roots in her garden. Before planting any seeds, she gets a lesson in composting. Here's the wrong way to compost: Just toss your fruit and veggie peels in the yard. Yet, until I moved into my own home, this was my tactic of choice. I am not proud of my sloppy plan, but I will say I did have a very lush yard. I lived in a carriage house behind a mansion on what was affectionately known as "the compound." It was so easy to tuck banana peels and decaying tomatoes under the bushes. Now? Not so much.
I now live on what is affectionately known as a double lot. It is both exciting and daunting to grapple with this soil, sod and space. Exciting, because I will finally have the opportunity to actualize my own suburban oasis and grow food—instead of grass. Daunting, because my skills in the yard start and end with raking. I have never mowed a lawn or planted a seed but am up for the challenge...I think.
My coming posts will be dedicated to getting my hands in the dirt with the help of beloved local farmers with whom I am doing a yard-share, and committed local citizens intent on populating our town with fruit trees. But first, I'm starting with something each and every one of us can manage solo: composting the correct way.
In gardening circles, compost is often referred to as black gold. It's a rich, dark, earthy substance that's created when organic matter such as yard trimmings, coffee grounds and select food scraps break down. Compost nourishes the soil, improves water infiltration and increases crop yields. Roughly one-third of what ends up in landfills—more than 30 million tons of organic waste—can actually be composted if the material returns to the earth. But most landfill waste decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen), breaks down at glacial pace and generates the highly concentrated greenhouse gas methane in the process. In waste management circles, you hear of "mummified" orange peels and hot dog buns.
If we divert these materials, we can generate amazing nutrients for our gardens, reduce some of the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and save landfill space. California's leading the pack in terms of mandating composting, but you can turn trash into treasure no matter where you live.