Compost: Waste not, want not.
January 1, 2007
Right next to the kitchen sink is my compost bucket. It is plastic, light weight, it has a nice tight lid, a hefty handle and it holds about 1 gallon of scraps; all good things in a compost bucket! About once a day I empty the bucket into my compost bin outside, cover the days scraps with leaves, straw or peat, and I am done until the next day. Layering like this is a great way to build a compost pile to make composted soil for your garden.
The leftover soil from the soil-sprouts, and the mass of roots in it, goes right into the compost bucket after I harvest. The composted soil and the soil mix in the seed starting kit is a perfect addition to the compost bin because it both adds humus and absorbs excess liquids in the compost bucket. I put leftover OJ, milk, and vegetable water into the bucket with the other scraps so there can be a lot of liquid on some days. Not only does the peat soak up the liquids but the vast root system of the soil-sprouts is loaded with good stuff for the garden, sort of like a cover crop of rye or buckwheat is good for the garden.
This composted soil can be used for future crops of soil-sprouts and growing sunflower seeds for fresh gourmet greens. I usually add the compost to my garden beds and use new soil mix for each new crop. I find there can be trouble with damping off and mold with the composted soil so I stick with what I know works and greedily (and gratefully) add the compost to my garden. Compost is gardeners gold. It is a real sign of gardening enthusiasm when digging into the compost pile you unearth a mass of earthworms and see it as beautiful! Most people might say ugh or be repulsed, but many gardeners jump for joy. Seeing these hard working earthworms turning the soil, making it into rich, friable, sweet smelling earth (called castings) is a thing of beauty.
So if you can, use the leftover soil mix and the mass of roots for your compost bin. For city gardeners composting is a different challenge. If you have even a small yard I still recommend using the compost bin, one of the plastic ones with a good lid on it. A bin layered with scraps and peat never smells bad and is hard for animals to get into. But if you’re in an apartment, condo or dorm room and there is no yard available, you still have other options. One is to simply find a gardener who has a bin and would be willing to take the leftover soil mix; most gardeners would, with a smile. Many cities have public and community gardens so check out those for compost bins. I have reused the soil by letting it dry out, then crumple up the soil and sift it to get rid of the roots. The used soil mix will dry out just by leaving them in a tray for several days. This works surprising well, and I mostly reused the soil for potting plants and growing salad mixes but it can be used with the gardening seeds to plant more soil sprouts.
Another option for the city gardener is to compost the soil in a 5 gallon bucket, just keep adding the leftover soil to the bucket until it is full. Cover it with the tight plastic lid for a few weeks. And a last option is to just throw it in the garbage, but even this has a new twist. Today, in Vermont we are mining our landfills for methane gas to run generators for electricity so even our garbage is being reused. Did I say last option? Well I forgot about a worm farm, this is a bin with 3 or more trays for maintaining a small community of earthworms. These little buggers can eat and digest a pound of food scraps a day. These bins can be kept indoors, they are fascinating and very productive. They can be used for veggie food scraps as well as the leftover soil mix. Oh did I mention that earthworm castings are a rich soil additive for your house plants and can replace the compost in your organic indoor garden.
So there you have a wide range of options for reusing the leftover soil from your soil-sprout garden. Let me know how you are reusing your soil mix.
Next Newsletter: Soil Mix, the Old is New again.