Welcome to science. these posts explore the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Since moving to Brooklyn in 2008, I have always collected compost. Up until right before the global pandemic, I've kept it in my freezer. At first I would
go to the farmers market at Union Square (14th Street and Park Ave in Manhattan) on the weekends to drop it off. I'm the first to tell my friends (and patient roommates) the benefits of composting. The food we eat, especially in NYC, is grown with the best top soil in the country. When we throw our kitchen scraps into trash bags as waste, we're unnecessarily throwing away a valuable resource that will decompose back into very rich humus. It adds moisture and nutrients to the soil including beneficial bacteria and fungi and helps plants by suppressing diseases and pests. It's a free resource to anyone who gardens because otherwise, you would be paying for humus handsomely at a garden or hardware store.
It was a huge relief when the city started a beta compost curbside program where the city would pick up compost in certain neighborhoods. I was delighted. That meant that I didn't have to carry my compost all the way to Union Square on the weekends. It meant that I could drop it off in nearby neighborhoods on my way to work.
With the global pandemic in play, the curbside composting program in NYC was suspended from May 2020 until July 2021 because of budget cuts. There are a few alternatives similar to what I was doing when I first moved here but quite a few of them charge a fee.
My neighbors downstairs have the garden apartment in the building I live in and it comes with the back yard. They even started a fledgling garden. Seeing an opportunity I asked them if they would be interested in starting a compost system. They were and we installed a 65 gallon bin and I switched from leaving small bags of compost in my freezer to buying a five gallon bucket and putting it next to my waste system in my kitchen.
When doing your own compost, it's important to follow a few best practices like no meats and no oils. Egg shells are o.k. as well as all fruit and vegetable scraps, flours, grains, basically anything without meat and oil. Coffee grounds are also welcome and so are coffee filters as they are biodegradable.
A lot of people ask me why I don't use meat and oil in my compost. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, they decompose at a different rate than fruits and veggies. Secondly, they also tend to smell more during decomposition and lastly, they will attract critters like rats and raccoons. Definitely not something anyone wants to experience in NYC! So how long does it take for regular compost to break down?
Once the compost makes it outside to the bin, bacteria and microorganisms break down organic matter and produce carbon dioxide, water, heat, and humus, the organic end product which you can use for gardening. This happens in three phases: 1) the mesophilic, or moderate-temperature phase, which lasts for a couple of days, 2) the thermophilic, or high-temperature phase, which can last from a few days to several months, and finally, 3) a several-month cooling and maturation phase. Because higher temperatures can kill many forms of microbes and limit the rate of decomposition, the neighbors use 'aeration' by mixing it up to keep the temperature from getting too warm. This helps to reduce the compost by only a fraction of the total mass that is added. I'll be curious to see when the bin gets full.
The plus sides to this are many and outweigh the negative. I'll be discussing this in future posts.