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Feature Stories

Making The Good Earth Better

The secret to a great garden is no secret: compost

“I want to feed my vegetable garden so my vegetables can feed me,” says Janet Stewart of Levittown. “Eat more fruits and vegetables, and compost the rest. It’s a perfect circle.”

Stewart is one of several Long Islanders who are promoting composting at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, having built a simple composter of sticks and plastic wire at their demonstration farm in East Meadow that would be easy to replicate at home.

When we compost we’re doing several good things that include keeping waste material out of our overburdened landfills and improving plant growth and quality. For some, such as members of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in East Williston, composting takes on a spiritual significance and is seen as part of their philosophy to coexist with the earth and utilize practical, hands-on approaches to environmental protection.

Thus, on May 25 the foundation is offering a free workshop on composting led by Diane Chang, who attained master composter status through the NYC Compost Project at Queens Botanical Garden.

When we compost — combining household and garden waste such as leaves, grass and kitchen scraps — we are creating the ideal conditions for rapid decomposition of organic materials. Helpful bacteria and other micro-organisms break down the waste, turning it into a rich fertilizer and soil amendment to be incorporated into your garden to make everything grow better.

Chang advises novice composters to start small. “Don’t overthink it, and don’t make it too big to handle,” she says. “Use anything, such as a wire cage or garbage can.”

Sheila Leonard of Westbury, one the Cornell Cooperative composters, recalls how, after returning to a garbage pail of chopped-up leaves and grass over a year later, she found it had turned into rich compost.

Don’t worry if your compost pile feels warm.

“A good compost pile will actually generate a mild amount of heat,” says Felix Cutrone of Hicks Nurseries in Westbury. “This tells us that the microorganisms are working. And just to speed up the process, there is compost starter available to jump-start your compost pile bacteria.”

Chang says there should be a balance of green (kitchens scraps and fresh cut grass) and brown (dry cut grass and shredded office paper and newspaper). No dairy, meat or oil. Those items will make it smell and attract small animals and rodents. Cutrone suggests turning the future compost over once a week, taking what is on the bottom and placing it on top, to speed up the breakdown process.

Cutrone prefers to use composted material that is at least two years old.

“This is the benchmark I use to be sure that the material is completely changed into humus.”

So what are you waiting for? Start today! Your flowers and vegetables will thank you.

Resources

• Environmental Horticulture Office

Cornell Cooperative Extension

832 Merrick Ave., East Meadow

Phone/Fax:  516-565-5265

• NYC Compost Project in Queens

http://www.queensbotanical.org/Education/compost

Free Compost Workshop

Saturday, May 25; 10:30 a.m. to noon

“How to Make Compost–Black Gold for Your Garden”

Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, 60 E. Williston Ave., E. Williston.

Call Pauline Chun at 917-364-0782 for reservation and details.