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Keeping food out of the trash...What's the big deal?
Here are a few reasons why composting is positive for our communities, our environment, and our future generations.
- Food scraps and other organic matter make up as much as 25% of our household waste. When we throw organic material into the landfill, it decomposes without oxygen and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Therefore, composting conserves space in our landfills while decreasing our impact on the environment.
- Composting allows oxygen to assist in breaking down organic matter to creates a nutrient-rich humus that can be used in gardens, for landscaping, or general lawn application, and is a natural alternative to synthetic chemical fertilizers.
- Composting increases soil's organic matter content and introduces many benefiial microorgansms into the soil. Damages from conventional agriculatural practices can be mitigated by incorporating use of compost into farm management.
- By adding compost to our local lands, we promote soil health by increasing soil's moisture-retention and fertility.
We all know from observing our natural world that food scraps and leaf & yard waste decompose naturally without any help.
Composting provides us with a way to speed up the natural process of decomposition while ensuring minimal odors and nuisances during the process.The image above shows the beginning steps of prepping your compost site. You will need these important ingredients to start: The "Greens" - Food scraps from fruits & veggies, fresh grass clippings. These items provide Nitrogen to the compost pile. The "Browns" - Shredded paper, sawdust or woodships, dried leaves, hay, straw. These materials provide Carbon to the compost pile. Items you may want to avoid composting include meat, bones, dairy products, pet waste (from cats, dogs, or other carnivorous animals), fats, or greases. These items can decompose in a compost pile given ample time, but will certainly produce odors that attract animals long before they decompose!
Step 1: To start a new pile, find an area with well-drained soils and prep the space by mowing grass or removing leaves. Cover ground with hardware cloth (optional, but recommended) and place a Soil Saver (pictured, available at a discount through NEKWMD), or homemade bin on top of hardware cloth and begin to build pile. Piles do not need to be contained, however a plastic or wooden structure provides extra deterrents for animals. Cover hardware cloth (or bare ground) with a layer of dry carbon materials (12"-18" to start), like leaves, manures, wood chips, sawdust, and shredded paper. This is important to promote drainage and air flow throughout your compost pile.
Step 2: Begin collecting food scraps from your kitchen. Include fruit & veggie scraps, coffee grounds, egg shells, bread & grains. Some more-experienced composters also include meat, bones, and dairy into their compost, however this is not recommended for beginners. Meat, bones, and dairy can always be disposed of in the trash if you home compost.
Step 3: Begin creating your pile by placing food scraps on top of the initial "brown" material layer, and cover food scraps with another layer of brown, dry materials, such as manures, leaves, or sawdust. It is important to ensure no food scraps are visible in the compost. By ensuring all the food scraps are covered, you also ensure less odor will be produced from the pile.
Step 4: Continue adding food scraps and dry brown materials into your compost. Layering these materials at a ratio of 1part food scraps to 2-3parts brown material will provide our compost insects and microorganisms (bacteria, fungi) with the materials they need to decompose the material.
Step 5: Maintain your pile overtime. You will periodically (1-2x/month) want to mix your pile with a pitchfork to move any materials that are not fully decomposed into the center of the pile. Add water at this time if needed; compost should not be too wet or too dry, like a wrung-out sponge.
Step 6: After 6-8 months, food waste should be non-recognizable and compost mixture should resemble soil. At this time, you can remove the soil-like compost to a separate pile and cover with tarp or cloth to cure. Curing, or maturing, compost allows any excess nutrients to to be processed by bacteria and fungi before use in gardens and on lawns.
Step 7: After curing for 1-2 months, add small layer of compost to garden, lawns, as mulching around trees or shrubs. Sifting compost is recommended before use in gardens, any large chunks of woody material can be placed back into active compost mixture.
Vermicomposting: Using the Power of Worms to Break Down our Food!
Worms are great for composting your fruit & veggie scraps indoors! This method is ideal for anyone who has limited space and eats a lot of fresh fruits & veggies. After a few months of feeding your worms, you can harvest the nutrient-rich worm castings or compost tea for your indoor plants or garden.
There are many great websites with useful info, here are a few: