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Using Food Scraps In Your Garden

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Using food scraps to grow your garden is the sensible thing to do on two different levels:

  1. Scraps can be composted (decomposed) into rich soil full of nutrients.
  2. Scraps can be used as soil fertilizer, pest repellent, and to give plants a boost of vital nutrients.

First we will take a look at how composting works and how you can make composting work for your garden’s growing potential.

What Is Composting?

Composting is the process of decomposing organic matter (food scraps and yard wastes) for the purpose of recycling it into fertilizer for gardening purposes (flowers, fruits, and vegetables). The decomposed scraps, when broken down, turn into a rich, black, nutrient-packed soil. Composting will occur anywhere a plant grows and dies. When the plant dies, microorganisms in the soil take up residence in the dead plant matter and break it down into particles that feed the soil, which makes for better re-growth of new plants. From there, on and on the cycle goes.

The Composting Process

Composting is a natural occurrence that happens whenever plant matter dies. But the process can take time – months, even years – if the conditions aren’t optimal. These conditions are air, moisture, heat, and food. A compost area needs good airflow to get oxygen to the composting materials, especially in the center where oxygen is lacking. It is also necessary to turn the compost pile regularly; sifting the material ensures even oxygenation. Moisture is necessary to allow the microorganisms to break down the organic matter. If the matter is too dry, it cannot be used. Too wet and the nutrients will leak out, making the process of decomposition stop as well. To test the moisture levels of your compost pile, press a handful of it together. If it holds together like a damp sponge, you’re in great shape. But if it drips or is standing in water, it is too wet. Mix in dry leaves, grass clippings, or more scraps to soak up the moisture. If it is crumbly, you’ll need to add a bit of water to it. The heat happens naturally when the air and moisture contents are right and when the proper amounts of carbon and nitrogen (food) are present. Carbon is the food needed for composting; leaves are the best source. Nitrogen can be considered the digestive enzymes. Nitrogen is readily found in manure and grass clippings or even powdered blood meal.

Turn household food waste, yard clippings, and more into free compost and mulch that’s chock-full of nutrients.

How To Build Your Own Compost Pile

To build a compost pile, there are a number of things to consider. Will you build a slow or rapid compost system? Are you going to use only yard waste or will you be adding food scraps, worms, and other organic matter to the composition?  Will you need to adhere to local or municipal restrictions regarding the building of such bins in regards to critter invasions? There are numerous websites that provide instructions for building and maintaining a compost bin or pile. The Missouri Extension website offers helpful information.

What To Compost

Besides yard waste (leaves and grass clippings), you can compost most of your food scraps. These include coffee grounds, egg shells, vegetable and fruit peelings, leftovers, spoiled milk, stale or left over cereals and breads, out of date spices, tea bags, pizza crust, and donuts.

What NOT To Compost

Never, ever put meat, fish, grease, oil, or cheeses in your compost. These items disrupt the ecosystem of decomposition and attract rodents and other critters more so than other scraps.

But what about using scraps to help your garden grow WITHOUT going through the composting system? Is it possible? What can be used? And how do you do it?

Most of the time, using food scraps to fertilize and feed your plants is done by either scattering the scraps directly on the ground around the base of the plants or by digging a hole in the soil near the plants and burying the scraps in the ground. Either method puts the nutrients directly into the ground.

The following is a list of scraps that can be used as mentioned above, the best method for using them and their benefit(s).

  • Coffee grounds: An excellent source of nitrogen. You can either scatter your coffee grounds on the ground around the base of your plants or mix them into the soil.
  • Eggshells: Give plants their protein, helping them to grow big and strong. Crush your eggshells into tiny pieces and scatter around your plants. Eggshells have an additional benefit, too: they are excellent pest repellents. Slugs and snails have difficulty climbing over the shells (even tiny pieces) and onto the plants.
  • Banana peels: Packed with potassium, banana peels are one of soil’s best friends when it comes to helping our plants bloom profusely. And like eggshells, banana peels have a dual purpose. Aphids detest them! You can cut your banana peels into small pieces and bury them two to three inches deep to deter the little pests as well as rubbing the leaves of your plants with the inside of the peeling as a pesticide.
  • Orange peels: Chopped up orange peels scattered in the flower and vegetable gardens keeps them free of kitty cats using them as their own giant litter boxes.
  • Garlic: Burying garlic around your plants wards off all sorts of garden pests.
  • Scraps: Whole grain cereals and bread and fruit and vegetable peels and pulp can be buried directly in the ground near plants or between the rows of your garden. Doing so will work to keep soil rich, plants healthy, and pests at bay. The scraps will also feed any earthworms you have living in your garden. Be sure you buy the scraps deep enough so as not to attract critters. You need to be the only one digging in the dirt.

Like composting, you should never add meats, grease, oil, or dairy products to your soil. These disrupt the soil in a negative way. The one exception to the dairy products mentioned here is milk. Milk, when mixed with water, is a wonderful leaf wash to repel pests that can harm plants.

Using scraps to grow your garden is a win-win situation. It enriches the soil, grows healthier, hardier plants, and helps in the disposing of your garbage.

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