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I Know What You Ate Last Night

Composting kitchen scraps collectively with neighbors is a way to make friends, reduce waste and improve your garden soil.

When Kim King moved to Belmont Shore and gave up her large private backyard, she refused to let our small spaces stop her from composting her kitchen and garden scraps. In fact, she placed her big black composting bin directly outside of neighbor Mary Lou Fulton’s bedroom window and invited her to join in the waste-saving project. And while that arrangement may sound like Judge Judy material, both the bin and the friendship have blossomed.  

King is a self-taught composter. She purchased a bin through Long Beach’s composting program, read a few articles and jumped in. King and Fulton add all of their fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells and garden clippings to the bin.

In composting-speak, these are the nitrogen-rich green materials that should make up half of your composting mix. Then, King adds dead leaves from her backyard trees. The leaves are part of the carbon-rich brown materials that should make up the other half of your composting mix (other possible brown materials include shredded newspaper or junk mail, twigs, cardboard and sawdust). King keeps a pitchfork nearby and stirs the bin once or twice a week and adds water if the mix looks dry (but with the amount of kitchen scraps in the mix, moisture doesn’t seem to be an issue).

The result is a lush, thick, crumbly soil amendment that King adds to her potted plants and garden beds.

“It's remarkable how much we have reduced our non-recyclable trash since we started using Kim's composting bin,” says Fulton. “I just keep a small bowl on the kitchen counter where I place coffee filters and grounds, apple cores, banana peels and the like. I empty the bowl into the bin every day or two and the composting magic happens.” And she hasn’t been bothered by smells at all.

King and Fulton are three years into their composting co-op.  There have been surprisingly few setbacks. (Just a disturbing episode where a dozen Japanese beetles erupted from the bin like a buzzing tornado.) But King has learned a few helpful things through trial and error. Her tips include:

  • Keep your bin open to the dirt to help with drainage and allow worms and other beneficial organisms access to your scraps. Kim removed a few bricks from a pathway and placed her bin beside her home.
  • Keep your scraps small (less than 3 inches in length) to speed decomposition.
  • Keep an airtight canister on your kitchen counter to store your scraps.  “Keep it small and shallow so you have to empty it a lot. It helps stave off that temptation to just throw things away” when a walk to the side yard seems like too much trouble.
  • Keep your bin short and wide, which Kim claims is “easier for stirring and harvesting.” Kim uses only two of her bin’s four tiers to keep it low to the ground.
  • Keep a pitchfork nearby and turn your pile once or twice a week.

Kim seems pretty fearless when it comes to composting, but for those of us who need a little more instruction, Long Beach provides a fantastic workshop on the third Saturday of every month. Taught by Lisa Harris, official city Recycling Specialist and composting guru, these two-hour workshops teach you everything you need to know to start your own composting project. According to Harris, composting is easy and has after all been “happening in mother nature for years.”  Her classes are designed to teach the basics of bin maintenance and tips for avoiding common pitfalls. To register, call her directly at 562-570-4694 or by email at lisa.harris@longbeach.gov. The next workshop is Saturday, March 19, 2011 from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 2929 E. Willow St. (see the map at right).

Harris loves the idea of composting cooperatively with neighbors. She points out that in Long Beach, kitchen and garden waste accounts for 25 percent of the trash hauled away from our houses. Size constraints in the Shore and Naples keep some folks from trying composting. Add in the fact that the composting process happens more quickly with a full bin and sharing the resource seems like a great solution.

Subsidized bins are available to all Long Beach residents.  You can purchase these bins at a workshop or by calling 562-570-2876. The bins are added to your refuse bill and delivered directly to your house. It’s that simple! 

We may measure our lots in square feet and watch our neighbor’s TV from our kitchens, but sometimes the close quarters in Belmont Shore offer us unique ways to build community and work together. So grab a neighbor, order a bin and see who eats the most eggplant.

Mike King March 02, 2011 at 01:17 AM
Tip #6: Make sure your clueless spouse understands the nuances of what to add or not add to the bin. We too can learn to embrace the process! Thus we avoid CTSD (Compost Traumatic Stress Disorder). And the Japanese beetle phenomena, while I assume rare, was mesmerizing.
Rose Morimoto March 14, 2011 at 07:52 PM
Hi Holland, You are very, very right that our worms know what we had for dinner! Keep writing!! Keep composting everyone!

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