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By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
“If it’s edible, it’s compostable.” – Almost anything you read about composting will say this phrase or something similar like, “compost any kitchen scraps.” But oftentimes, a few paragraphs later comes the contradictions such as don’t add meat, dairy, pickles, etc. to your compost pile. Well, aren’t meat and dairy products edible and common kitchen scraps, you may sarcastically question. While it is true that any edible kitchen scraps can be added to the compost pile, there are also logical reasons why some things shouldn’t be thrown on the pile in large amounts, like pickles. Continue reading to learn about safely composting pickles.
Can I Compost Pickles?
Certain items, like meat and dairy, can attract unwanted pests to compost piles. Other items, like pickles, can throw off the pH balance of compost. While the cucumbers and dill used in pickles can add great nutrients (potassium, magnesium, copper, and manganese) to a compost pile, the vinegar in pickles can add too much acid and kill beneficial bacteria.
Pickles also usually contain a lot of salt, which can be harmful to many plants in high concentrates. Store bought pickles are usually made with a lot of preservatives that can make them slow to breakdown in a compost pile.
On the other hand, vinegar can deter many pests. It is also a natural weed control because of its high acidity. Apple cider vinegar contains many valuable nutrients that can benefit the compost pile. Many pickles are also made with garlic, which also can deter pests and add value able nutrients.
So the answer to the question “can pickles go in compost” is yes, but in moderation. A good compost pile will contain a wide variety of compostable materials. While, I wouldn’t recommend dumping 10 full jars of pickles in a small compost pile, a few leftovers here or there is perfectly acceptable.
How to Compost Pickles
If you do put a large amount of pickles in compost, balance the pH by also adding lime or other matter that will add alkalinity. Compost with store bought pickles in it may also benefit from adding yarrow, which is a plant that can help speed up decomposition in compost piles. There are also store bought products you can buy specifically made to help compost break down.
Many people who add pickles to compost recommend removing the pickles from the pickle juice and rinsing them off before adding them to the compost pile. You can set this pickle juice aside to use as a natural weed killer, or keep it in the fridge as a remedy for leg cramps. Other experts on compost recommend putting the pickles, juice and all, in a blender to make a purée before adding them to the compost pile so they will break down faster and mix in better.
Just remember to use a variety of things in your compost pile and, when using highly acidic items, balance the pH with alkaline.
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Read more about Compost Ingredients
It's no surprise that Asians are comfortable with anaerobic microbes. After all the cornerstone of the asian diet, rice, is grown in flooded paddies in anaerobic conditions.
Most organic gardeners, including me until recently, subscribe to this conventional organic view of the world.
- Aerobic Soils are good. They contain beneficial organisms and are resistant to diseases.
- Anaerobic soils are bad. They contain putrefactive microorganisms and are susceptible to diseases.
Asian Nature Farmers Believe
The Japanese led Asian farmers see things a bit differently. They call their methods Nature Farming. They see three categories of soil life:
- Aerobic soils are naturally high in oxygen. This means the soil organisms can burn through their food quickly resulting in a rapid loss of organic matter. While nutrients are made available to plants in this process significant amounts of nutrients are released as gases - CO2 and some NOx. - greenhouse gases.
- Anaerobic soils which have high populations of putrefactive microbes are reductive and produce toxins. This group of organisms also produce methane and hydrogen sulfide gases, with the methane in particular being a tough greenhouse gas.
- Anaerobic soils which have high populations of fermentative microbes, for example the effective microorganisms found in em, produce sugars, alcohol and nutrients which remain in the soil as food. A big bonus is that greenhouse gas production is minimal.
What is a Pickling Cucumber?
If you are fan of Vlasic or Claussen pickles or, better yet, your Grandma’s homemade dills, then you’re already familiar with pickling cucumbers, at least from a culinary standpoint. Pickling cucumbers are not one specific variety but, rather, a class of cucumbers that meet certain criteria which makes them favorable candidates for becoming a taste-bud approved pickle.
Pickling cucumber varieties are typically high yielding over a short duration of time, have a flesh with great taste that retains its ‘crisp and crunch’ post-pickling (no one wants a soggy pickle) and are the right size (think shorter or blockier) to fit into a pickling jar. Their skins are a little thinner in order to absorb all that pickling solution goodness (brine, vinegar, spices, etc.). And, while there are exceptions to this rule, pickling cucumbers tend to be lighter green in appearance, sometimes with light-colored stripes running down the length of the fruit.
1. Supports home composting and community composting by rapid organic waste degradation.. 2. SoilMate contains facultative enzymes hence can be used for aerobic and anaerobic processes 3. Curb noxious odours from your compost pile. 4. Repels pathogens, flies and maggots helping your composting pile remain pest free and disease free and thereby supporting solid waste management.
Composting & Benefits
In a natural environment, organic material is subjected to decomposition with help of insects, worms and microorganisms to breakdown into smaller material and returned back to earth in the form of nutrients. Composting is an accelerated decomposition of organic material in a controlled environment with the help of microorganisms and worms to obtain a nutrient rich compost at the end of decomposition with various application. It is a key tool that is used for better management of biodegradable waste in solid waste management.
Firstly, the composting process produces a nutrient rich end product containing humus that can be used as soil conditioner in agriculture, horticulture, and gardening improving the organic content of the soil thus, reducing the use of chemical fertilizers. It improves moisture retaining capacity of the soil preventing soil erosion due to rainfall. Composting reduces the load on local municipal bodies to transport and decompose organic material in already exhausted dumping grounds and helps in building a much more efficient solid waste management system. Composting completes the natural cycle where the organic material (that is generated from the earth), eventually returns back to earth in accelerated conditions, as is naturally intended.
Role of microbes
What is the role of microbes in composting
Microbes are the ultimate mediators of biodegradable solid waste management on the planet. Their diversity makes them suitable for decomposing all types of organic waste. The composting process relies mainly on diverse group of microorganisms that decompose organic materials such as kitchen waste, farm waste, garden waste, animal waste, dead animals and plants. The microbes produce a wide range of enzymes that break down organic material and convert it to nutrient rich humus, carbon dioxide, water and heat. The humus thus produced is an excellent additive to the top soil and helps boost its fertility.
Microorganisms involved in composting
In the process of composting two classes of microorganisms contribute. First set of microorganisms that grow between 20 to 35ºC is called mesophiles. Mesophiles perform the initial degradation and perform curing of compost in final phase of the process. The mesophilic microbes grow and reproduce rapidly producing heat during initial whereas during final phase of composting they help in maturation of degraded organic material. Between the initial and final composting phase, there is an increase in core temperature of the composting mixture known as thermophilic phase where temperature can rise up to 55 to 70ºC. This is caused due to rapid heat production in the initial phase of composting .Thermophiles can grow at such high temperatures and help in break down complex organic material. The high temperature helps in killing of pathogens and weeds. Having the microbial ecosystem is key to ensuring composting is an efficient solid waste management process.
Aerobic and anaerobic composting
Both techniques of composting have their pros and cons when it comes to organic solid waste management. Some key differences are as follows:
The aerobic process of composting utilizes microbes which require oxygen and aerated systems for composting. The aerobic conditions can be maintained via variety of mechanism like turning the pile or organic material, adding vented pipes in the pile. The hardware required can range from simple bins to automated machinery.
Anaerobic system includes the use of anaerobic microbes and anaerobic conditions. The organic material added with anaerobic microorganisms are transferred in a pit and covered on top. The material is allowed to decompose anaerobically by microbes over long period of time, without any mixing. This technique does not require any additional infrastructure and manual intervention.
Conditions required for ideal composting
The parameters that favor the growth of microorganisms and help degrade the organic material are required for ideal composting. Some of these parameters include:
a) Particle size: A particle size of 2 to 5 cm provides a larger surface area for microbe and substrate interaction causing faster degradation of the material.
b) Moisture: Moisture content is an important factor that dictates microbial growth. Less moisture content slows down microbial growth whereas high moisture content creates anaerobic environment with the growth of undesirable microbes and generation of noxious odour.
c) Aeration: well aerated composting system helps in faster degradation of complex organic molecules ,
d) C:N ratio: an optimum balance between carbon and nitrogen availability is essential for good microbial growth and proper degradation of organic material.
Curing period in Composting
A curing period is the final stage in composting also known as maturation period where the composted material is stored in slightly moist condition for a long duration of time. Curing occurs at mesophilic temperature as there is no heat production due to microbial activity. Uncured compost can have phytotoxins present in it and can be harmful when applied to plants while presence of high organic acid content could reduce the oxygen and nitrogen from soil. A composting process for more efficient solid waste management must take into consideration the curing time for compost, as it requires both space and time to cure.
What is C: N ratio in composting?
C:N ratio is described as carbon to nitrogen ratio. It is the ratio of mass of carbon to mass of nitrogen in any substance. Microbes require carbon, nitrogen, potassium, sulfur and other elements for their growth, maintenance and reproduction. For every 8 units of carbon consumed by microbe it requires 1 unit of nitrogen. The some carbon used by microbe is used as energy source and some is lost as CO 2 during respiration. Hence microbes require an optimal amount of available carbon and nitrogen ratio to perform their metabolic functions. An ideal C:N for microbes is found to be 24:1.
If the C: N ratio is higher, microbes will not have enough nitrogen to consume all the carbon, resulting in incomplete decomposition whereas a lesser C: N ratio will cause rapid utilization of carbon generating ammonia from the excessive nitrogen in the system.
How do I choose the right compost maker for my home composting process?
Any compost maker worth its salt must contain a mixture of mesophilic and thermophilic high enzyme producing facultative microbes. One must note that, with even the best compost maker, it is still important to perfect your composting method as well.
Why does my compost stink like rotten eggs?
A rotting egg smell is an indicator of a failing composting process. Due to high moisture in the composting mixture, it cuts off the oxygen making the system anaerobic (depleted of oxygen). Aerobic composting microbes require oxygen to carry out the composting process properly.
A completely depleted oxygen environment causes certain bacteria to produce hydrogen sulphide (H2S) gas in the system. H2S gas has a typical odor of rotten eggs. Your compost will not undergo the thermophilic phase of composting in this state. You can correct this by adding more dry waste like dead leaves, coconut husk etc. to reduce the moisture and aerate the mixture well.
While making compost, a smelly brow liquid keeps oozing out of my compost bin. What is it?
During the process of making compost, the waste is broken down into humus, carbon dioxide and water. The water released during the process mixes with high concentration of nutrients produced during the process and carries it to the bottom of the bin. This brown liquid is known as leachate or ‘compost tea’ and it can be used as fertilizer in diluted form. It is important that the leachate is let out during the composting process. If this does not happen, it could cause the composting mixture to turn anaerobic.
Why does my compost bin turn hot while making compost?
This is a positive sign of a good composting process. In the initial phase of composting there is rapid microbial growth and reproduction of the mesophilic bacteria. This microbial activity leads to rise in temperature where the temperature can reach from 55 to 70ºC. and also heating your compost bin in process. This indicates an ideal composting process where mesophilic phase is followed by thermophilic phase.
Can I try home composting in a simple bin? What are the different types of systems available for composting?
Depending on the type and volume of waste you generate at home, there are various systems available for composting. Even a simple bin can be used for composting but it should allow the turning of pile and circulation of air. Some of the composting systems include:
a) In-Vessel composting: Waste material and compost maker is added to a covered bin facilitated with a proper aeration or mixing system.
b) Bokashi composting: It is an anaerobic home composting process where the waste and compost maker is added to the bin and allowed to pickle anaerobically for two weeks and then buried in earth for further degradation.
c) Vermicomposting: This composting process uses earthworm and microorganisms to convert organic waste into compost. It is highly sensitive process where change in temperature, pH, or moisture can affect the composting process.
How do I control flies and worms in my composting mixture while making compost at home?
Kitchen waste in any home composting system naturally attract flies and other insects, so it requires added effort to control continuous emergence of flies from the system. Make sure the system is enclosed as an open system attracts the flies to lay eggs. Organic waste naturally contains eggs laid by worms and insects naturally associated with food waste. Ensure ideal condition are maintained while making compost, as increased temperature of the system during the thermophilic phase kills the eggs and larvae. Turning the pile at regular intervals aids the destruction of eggs and larvae.
Why is my compost bin not heating up while making compost?
There can be multiple reasons that your bin is not hot. The waste may contain high amount of moisture due which the heat produced due to microbial activity is reduced. A smaller pile of waste material inside your bin can cause easy heat exchange between waste and air not allowing the rise of temperature. It may also be because your home composting mixture does not have enough green matter, making it difficult for the microbes to degrade the waste owing to a sub-optimal C:N ratio. The thermophilic phase starts after 3 to 4 days of initiating the home composting process and continues for a week to 10 days. You can experience reduced temperature when you observe the bin prior to or post thermophilic phase.
My waste mixture has too wet and sticky while home composting. What do I do?
Moisture content of the compost mix is a crucial factor while making compost at home. It is essential to maintain moisture content to 50 – 60 % to achieve good composting conditions. High moisture during home composting can lead to anaerobic condition inside the bin. To counter the issue of high moisture organic material with high moisture absorbing capacity such as cocopeat, sawdust, chopped cardboard pieces etc. can be added to the bin that will help in proper distribution of moisture.
My compost mix in my home composting set up is too dry. What do I do?
A dry compost mix can lead to reduced microbial activity as microbes prefer a moist yet aerated for their growth. To compensate for dryness, you can slowly add water or green waste to the compost mix until a balance is struck. You can use hand pressing process to understand moisture content of compost mix. Hold the compost mix in your hand and press it. Make sure that the material sticks to each other but there is no water seepage upon pressing or the mix doesn’t separates when you open your palm. Moisture is the most critical component while home composting, so regular monitoring is important.
Is it necessary to overturn my compost mix during the home composting process everyday?
No, it is not necessary to overturn your compost mix every day. The composting process produces heat due to microbial activity that breaks complex organic material, kills pathogens and destroys harmful weed. Overturning of compost mix everyday will lead to the heat loss and also requires manual labour. Turning after every 3 to 4 days will serve the purpose of agitation and aeration in a home composting process.
Straw Bale Gardening Pros
Straw bale gardening is just that, planting your seedlings into bales of straw. They function essentially as a raised bed (each bale is 14–16 inches high) and a container garden in one. As the straw breaks down over the course of the summer, it turns into compost that feeds your plants. Advantages to the method include:
- Easy on Your Back: Straw bale gardening is one of the easiest and least physically taxing kinds of gardening. After you get your straw bales in place, you don’t even have to bend down to the ground pick your veggies or pull out any weeds.
- Garden Anywhere: You can put a straw bale garden anywhere sunny. That said, it's not a good idea to put bales on any wood you care about, such as a deck, because their constant dampness could cause it to rot. But you can garden in a driveway, empty lot, or rooftop, provided the roof can handle the weight. The bales hold a lot of water and get heavy.
- Economical: You can get straw bales at nurseries, feed stores, or even from some farms for less than $10 per bale, maybe even less than $5, depending on the size, whom you buy from, and the going price where you live.
- They Work: You can have huge success with growing vegetables in straw bales. Although you have to stay on top of watering, compared to other container gardens, the bales do retain water pretty well.
Because the straw bales decompose over the season, it's not a crisp and neat way to garden, even at the outset, so most of the cons are about the garden's look.
Maintaining a Hot Compost Pile
The two keys to success with hot composting are monitoring soil temperature and moisture and turning regularly.
The optimal temperature for microbial activity is 130 to 140 degrees. You can measure this with a soil/compost thermometer, or by simply sticking your hand into the pile. If it's uncomfortably hot, it's at the right temperature. At 130 to 140 degrees, microbes are breaking down organic matter and reproducing at high rates. This temperature is also hot enough to kill most weed seeds and harmful bacteria in the pile. Monitor the temperature regularly, preferably daily. Once the pile starts to cool down below 130 degrees, it's time to turn the pile. Turning the pile aerates it, which will kickstart microbial activity again.
Moisture is also essential. The contents of your compost pile should feel like a sponge that has been wrung out well. Too dry, and microbial activity will be diminished. Too wet, and the microbes that thrive in anaerobic conditions will take over––this often results in bad odors in the pile and an almost complete stoppage of decomposition. If you find that your pile is too dry, give it a watering with the hose, even digging down a bit into the pile to ensure that you're moistening it all the way through. If it's too wet, turn it, adding shredded newspaper or another high-carbon material as you do so to help soak up excess moisture. Cover with a tarp if rain is keeping the pile waterlogged.
this is a key way to reduce the quantity of waste that is set out for curbside pickup. Install a backyard composter if you can, or look into getting a solar composter, which accepts meat and dairy scraps. Put a box of red wiggler worms on your balcony or back deck to consume food scraps. Store fruit and vegetable scraps in a freezer or unheated garage in a paper yard waste bag and transport to a municipal compost yard.
The key is not to get hung up on perfection when striving to reduce household waste, but rather do what you can with what you have access to. Where you live will affect what you're able to do. For example, urban dwellers will likely have greater access to cool bulk stores and zero waste shops (such as Lauren Singer's Brooklyn store Package Free), whereas rural residents have direct access to farmers and shorter food supply chains. There are pros and cons to both.
Zero waste living takes a bit more work and planning to execute, but it pays back in money saved and waste eliminated. It's deeply satisfying to see your trash bin shrinking (and your compost heap growing) and to know that you're doing your part to keep the Earth clean and healthy.