With worms, as lasagna layers, or processed at a municipal or community facility, “the beauty of composting is there’s no one way to do it,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reports.
And as the state’s annual compost awareness week gets underway Sunday and continues through May 9, those interested in beginning compost projects at home will have access to several virtual resources launching this week.
After the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse and Recycling canceled its 2020 Organics Summit in Albany, due to novel coronavirus-related health directives and social distancing guidelines, the annual Summit’s programming shifted to virtual formats in honor of compost awareness week.
The free DEC- and NYSARRR-sponsored programming will begin Monday, May 4, with the webinar “Bringing Food Scraps Drop-Off Programs to your Community.” Programming continues Thursday, May 7, with “Incorporating Food Scraps into your Yard Waste Composting Facility.”
Following each of those sessions, webinar speakers will host a 30-minute compost chat to facilitate discussion, answer questions and share resources.
A final webinar, originally slated as an in-person seminar for the Summit, will take place Tuesday, May 19, and cover “Managing Wasted Food: Lessons Learned Nationally and New York State’s Plan of Action.”
Existing composting resources and information about how to get started for gardeners or houseplant caregivers are posted to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County website.
“The reason most people are afraid of composting or have trouble composting is because they don’t follow composting rules,” CCE’s Sue Gwise said. “They try to scrape the dinner plate in there.”
CCE consumer horticulture educator and master gardener coordinator, Ms. Gwise said four basic components fuel an effective composting process: egg shells, coffee grounds and tea bags, produce peels and yard waste.
“But no cooked materials,” she said, adding that cooked fruit and vegetable waste will often contain remnants of unwanted materials like butter and other fats. “Compost is not just a garbage dump.”
For those with outdoor space, a simple composting method, called lasagna composting or lasagna gardening, involves building up thick layers of brown, carbon-rich material and thin layers of green, nitrogen-rich material in a bin with a base layer of sticks and small branches.
The carbon-rich browns — dried leaves, wood chips and sawdust, for instance — balance the moisture provided by the greens — food scraps and grass clippings — and promote air circulation and decomposition within the bin.
Depending on the size of the bin and the amount of composting greens a household produces, finished compost from lasagna layering is produced in about eight to 12 months.
For indoor composters, vermicomposting is the most common method of generating nutrient-rich material, “and you can do that right under your kitchen sink,” Ms. Gwise said.
Vermicomposting, a decomposition process facilitated by worms, requires an enclosed bin with air holes and bedding — CCE recommends damp, shredded newspaper — food waste and the star of the show, red wigglers.
California wigglers, which can be ordered online, are one of the most efficient indoor composting varieties, Ms. Gwise said, though worms can be particular about what they eat and should be kept on a vegetarian diet with few oils.
Recommendations for lasagna layer depth, vermicomposting, illustrations and videos are all available on the CCE Jefferson compost resources webpage.
Ms. Gwise said she fields questions about community composting all the time — questions from people who want to have access to public composting sites.
Few municipal compost programs exist in the north country, according to the Cornell Waste Management Institute, but several school districts, including Gouverneur Central, South Jefferson, South Lewis and Colton-Pierrepont, maintain in-house composting. Correctional facilities in Ogdensburg, Watertown and Cape Vincent also manage internal composting, and farms across the region have varying methods of producing an applying compost material.
At Sheland Farms, on County Route 79 in Adams, dairyman and owner Douglas W. Shelmidine offers uncomposted manure product, available for people to use for their own composting processes. Mr. Shelmidine’s line, 315-846-5640, is open to arrange pick-ups.
In St. Lawrence County, Canton’s municipal compost pilot program continues to operate through the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Funded by the village and launched last spring by the Sustainability Committee and the Department of Public Works, the short term goals of the program involve evaluating how often and how much the program is used by residents and businesses, and addressing the question: What is the most efficient way for Canton to compost?
The drop-off and pick-up site for residents’ compost materials is on Outer Lincoln Street next to the Canton Pavilion. DPW crews typically transport waste from the collection point a few times a week, to the composting site on village property on Route 11.
The DPW has continued to monitor the compost program through the winter, and village Superintendent Brien Hallahan said crews have transported waste from the drop-off site about once a week since COVID-19 gained traction in St. Lawrence County in March.
A statewide map of composting facilities can be found on the Cornell Waste Management Institute’s website.