For those of you following this series, we’ve already covered 4 of the 5Rs — refuse, reduce, reuse, and repurpose. You might be thinking that the last one of the 5 will be Recycling. However, so many of us are familiar with recycling that I’m only going to quickly go over this one at the bottom of the post, and instead we’re going to focus on a lesser known part of the cycle: rot.
“Rot?” you say?” “That sounds…unappetizing.” Stay with me here. Rot is the natural result of all of the delicious fruits, vegetables and related foods you’ve been growing, buying, and cooking. Waste of these items began when they were harvested, and leaves or stems — parts of the fruit and veggie plant that aren’t edible, are composted or left on the soil to breakdown and return the nutrients to where they came from.
More rot naturally happens as items intended for sale don’t survive the trip to market, or waste on the shelves before they sell. Grocers and markets may toss these in the trash, or, if they’re smart, they have a composter pick them up.
You usually join the cycle when you plunk down payment for your produce, and head home with it. You process the goodies, removing outer leaves, peeling, and trimming off stalks or less appealing/edible parts. Most people throw these in the trash. What’s the problem with that? They’re biodegradable, no harm no foul. Right?
Ahem. Not really. Most trash dumps don’t reach appropriate temperatures or have the right environment for effective breaking down of vegetable matter. There are much, much better ways to make use of them.
For example, some folks will keep all of these scraps in a container in their freezer and when they need a good vegetable stock, they boil them down. (You may also find your dog enjoys the woody ends of asparagus, broccoli, carrots, etc. you trim off.)
If you don’t have a dog or don’t make your own stock, it’s going to be you and that veggie, alone in the kitchen, looking at each other, and you control its fate. Give it a hero’s burial, by starting a backyard compost heap.
This can be as simple as a pile of vegetable matter rotting away under a tarp. You could get fancier and use a bit of wire fencing to create a circular container, or find a composting bin built for the purpose from your local Freecycle or Nextdoor group. The container matters little as long as it has lots of air holes to allow your compost to breathe and let off some steam. I prefer one that’s in full contact with the ground (vs. a tumbler style that stands above the ground level) to allow worms to get up inside and add those super beneficial castings (poop) that are amazing fertilizer. Every couple of weeks, stir that baby around. It’s going to be a bit stinky, but nothing crazy. You’re going to see bugs and worms and that’s okay. Give them a little blessing and appreciate the magic they’re doing. If you’re lucky, a neighborhood Garter Snake will take up residence on the warm heap and you’ll often get a glimpse of her yellow or red stripe before she quickly scoots off to hide. The compost is going to break down a lot faster in warmer weather and won’t do much in the winter. Just give it time.
You can put in pretty much any type of vegetable matter including small sticks, leaves, mowed grass, fruit and vegetable scraps from the house, coffee grounds, and crushed up eggshells. Don’t put any other type of animal products in there, including dairy products, meat, fish, bones, or fats. These will draw rodents and other pests and are a big no-no. Also avoid putting weed seeds in there. Home compost rarely gets hot enough to kill seeds and you’ll just be spreading weed seeds around your yard and garden next spring. You can also compost your recycled paper towels, cardboard, pet hair, and dryer lint (only from natural fibers such as cotton, linen or wool.)
You can find tons of composting container ideas and tips for success online. I like this page from EarthEasy.
Let’s get the recycling bit I mentioned earlier out of the way. It’s simple:
If you’re counting, this comes to 6, 6 Rs ah, ah ahhh! (Sorry, The Count from my childhood days of Sesame Street refuses to stop counting in my head.) You’re correct, you all received an extra “r” from me. That’s how much I love you. Refuse, reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, rot. You’ve got this!