By Sadie Ross
If you visit one of the 40,000 farms in New York State, chances are that you’ll be greeted by a smell that evokes pungent goodness. It is neither the scent of a fresh harvest nor the fragrance of bee and butterfly attracting flowers. Rather, it is compost, the rotting remains of yard waste, food scraps, and other foodstuffs that reside in heaps, barrels, or massive bins, breaking down slowly to produce new fertilizer for farmers to work into and revitalize their current topsoil.
This is compost, a mixture of decaying organic substances typically used to amend soil. When added to a garden, compost improves the organic matter content of the soil, leading to increased water and nutrient holding capacity.
The best news about compost is that it is easy to make in your own backyard. Compost comes in three varieties: yard waste, food scraps, and table scraps (which include such items as meat bones and leftovers that are heavy with oil, butter, or other additives.) While local farmers regularly incorporate table scraps into their compost piles, I advise that home composters stick to yard waste and food scraps. This is because home compost piles rarely get to a high enough temperature to guarantee that other table scraps will be effectively sterilized.
Yard waste – leaves, grass clippings, perennial cuttings – can be left to decompose quite simply in a heap. Chicken wire or wooden pallets placed on three sides keeps the heap contained so the center of the pile remains hot, allowing the material to decompose. One partition area can serve as the pile that is being left to “cook” and a second can be used for actively accepting materials. Both piles should be placed in the sun and turned with a pitchfork whenever the center has been hot enough long enough to decompose some of the core.
One of the best ways to compost food scraps is in a barrel, either homemade or purchased. Place such items as vegetable peels, fruit rinds and relatively clean napkins and paper plates into containers that have screens at the bottom to allow air to come into the container and lets the water created from decomposing materials out. The container should be easy to spin to allow for the materials to get turned over and mixed up but be sealed enough to keep animals out. Many people prefer to use a food grade container if their compost is going to be used in their vegetable garden.
Some rules for good compost are smell, color, and texture. Good compost should smell like the earth, be dark brown or black in color, and be somewhat clumpy in texture. Basically, to make good compost there should be more “brown stuff” than “green stuff”. But keep in mind that green stuff has a lot of water in it, so you can add a lot of cut leafy perennials and grass clippings compared to dry brown leaves. Food compost will almost always need additional materials. Paper towels, egg cartons, pizza boxes and other food grade “brown things” will add the carbon and structure necessary.
Kale Salad with Micro Greens
Adapted from Faring Well
• 1 bunch of Kale, stems removed and chopped
• 3 carrots, grated
• 1 bunch of radishes, tops and bottoms removed and thinly sliced
• 1 bunch of micro greens, (e.g. pea shoots, radish shoots)
• ¼ cup sunflower seeds
• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
• 1 cup tahini
• 1 ¼ cup water
• 1 green garlic, minced
• ¼ teaspoon cayenne
For dressing: Blend ingredients together and adjust to taste. Recipe will make 2 ½ cups. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in the refrigerator for up to one week.
For salad: Toss ingredients together. Plate servings and drizzle on dressing and top with sunflower seeds (or pepitas).
Options: add goat cheese, use favorite dressing.