The Cayman Reporter shares tips and ideas to help you save the planet with suggestions on how to go greener every day. In the last couple of articles we’ve focused on ways to help you grow your own fresh fruit and vegetables. But growing your own really begins with great soil. So how do you achieve great soil and at the same time do your bit to help the planet? The answer is composting.
Composting is a great way to recycle kitchen waste, it creates a nutrient-rich product to the soil, it’s dead simple to do and, best of all, it’s free!
Tom Balon of Vigoro Nursery says there are some obvious reasons to compost.
“By composting kitchen waste, it reduces landfill waste and, by this material not ending up in the landfill, it actually reduces overall greenhouse emissions as well,” he said. “In addition, it gives you new, nutrient-rich soil for free.”
Tom said other benefits include the fact that composting betters overall air quality; it is great natural fertiliser and deters garden pests.
“Composting helps balance soils, because either alkaline or acid soils can be better balanced with compost. It also creates more biodiversity in the soil and is just better for plants,” he confirmed.
Giles Smith, nursery and landscape operations manager with Dart Real Estate, runs an impressive composting set up for his employer that includes two different composting techniques utilising static piles for items that are slow to break down and aerated windrows for finer softer materials.
He agrees with Tom that compost is a great soil amendment and natural fertiliser.
“When used as a soil amendment, compost will aid water retention in sandy soils and increase aeration and drainage in heavy clay soils. When using compost as fertiliser it is important to apply regularly and often as the available nutrients are quite low compared to processed fertilisers,” he said.
How to begin the process
“Just start somewhere in your garden, large or small,” Tom said. “Compost your vegetative waste, including trimmings from your garden, as well as vegetable/kitchen scraps. Do it to whatever scale suits you.”
Giles warns against certain items being included: “Items to avoid in a compost bin are any form of meats and dairy, dog and cat waste, as back yard compost piles/bins don’t generate much heat, so pathogens, parasites and bacteria that come along with these items will not be killed during the composting process. Also, avoid paper high in ink or glossy sheets as that will impact the composting process,” he said.
Specialist equipment is unnecessary. “You can buy a composter or just find a vacant corner in the garden you don’t have to look at,” Tom explained. “The latter however may attract some unwanted rodents, depending on what you put in it.”
Tom said almost all vegetative matter and kitchen scraps can be composted.
“Some things do not break down as quickly as others, such as palm fronds and obviously heavier, coarser materials. Most people stick with the lighter grass cutting, leaves, light/soft plant material and kitchen scraps, paper, etc.” he stated.
Giles said that for the home composter there are many options available.
“A back yard set up can be as simple as constructing bins out of chicken wire or similar mesh or they can utilise one of many available types of composting units available from retail vendors. These can vary in style, size and function with the most efficient units being those which can rotate to aid in mixing of materials and facilitate quicker break down.”
Giles said depending on the process used it can take anywhere from four months up to two years to produce useable compost.
“The softer the material the faster you can use it,” Tom explained. “If it’s all soft matter, and you keep it moist and turn it as is proper, you can begin using some in just a couple months.”
As an added benefit to composting in Cayman, Tom said Cayman’s hot and humid climate accelerates the composting process.
Giles added that he doesn’t think there are any challenges that are unique to Cayman when it comes to composting.
“The principles are the same no matter where the operation is. Depending an area’s local climate, you will have to modify the process slightly, for example areas with high rainfall might need to employ fabric covers to prevent water logging of the compost which will stop the composting process.”
Tom said when it comes to composting it is best not to complicate it.
“There’s a lot of information out there on it, but just take the basics, use what you have and what is convenient for you.”