Skip to main content
Compost bin. [CREDIT: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS]

Master Gardener Volunteers on… composting

By Gail Hendrickson
Master Gardener Volunteer Program team member

I like to cook and I like to eat a lot of fresh, locally grown vegetables. Consequently, I became a Community Supported Agricultural (CSA) farm subscriber a couple years ago, whereby I pay a yearly, one-time fee and pick up a box of organically grown vegetables at a local storefront on a weekly basis throughout the Florida growing season (November through April).

Since the weekly CSA box provides me with an abundance of veggies, I also thought I’d take a stab at composting the vegetable remnants.

What used to be considered “waste”&emdash;cucumber peels, zucchini stems, squash seeds, onion and garlic skins and potato eyes, along with other items like lemon and orange rinds, coffee grinds and tea bags&emdash;take on a whole new role as ingredients for compost.

Did you know that you can compost approximately 20 percent of your household waste? That’s quite a bit, and every item that is composted means that it stays out of a landfill, can be used as a soil amendment, and helps retain water (important for growing many plants in Florida’s sandy soil).[1]

In researching this blog, I’ve learned that there are three types of composting methods: hot/fast, slow/cold, and worm-based.[2] The hot/fast method yields the fastest rate of composting and best control of weed seeds and pathogens. It’s also the most intensive and requires a minimum of 1 cubic yard of material to start the pile; a blend of green (nitrogen-rich) material like my veggie box remnants and brown (carbon-rich) materials like leaves and sawdust; proper moisture content; frequent turning to provide aeration; and particle size of less than 2–3 inches.

Worm-based composting (also known as vermicomposting) is just what it sounds like: let the worms do the work and eat up your vegetable scraps. This method is great if you don’t have a yard, live in an apartment or condo, and aren’t freaked out by red wigglers or African night crawlers.

FUN FACT
One pound of worms
can turn 65 pounds of food scraps
into garden compost in 100 days

The slow/cold method is for individuals who have more brown (carbon) material than green (nitrogen) material, are less concerned about a slow composting rate, weed seed destruction or plant disease suppression. This method is easy to implement with low levels of management, but the rate of decomposition can be slow and, because the temperature of the materials may not get hot, weed seeds and/or plant pathogens may not be destroyed.

I’m practicing a couple of different composting methods. One is a lazy person’s hot/fast method and the other is a slow/cold method.

For my hot/fast approach I combine green, nitrogen-rich peels from vegetables and fruits with tea bags, banana peels and other items that I’ve stored in a small, refrigerated plastic carton, and drop the mix into my homemade compost receptacle, which is a container with a fitted lid that has small holes drilled into it. Raccoons are common in my area, so I wanted a container with a lid to deter these critters from rummaging through my pile of decomposing matter. Occasionally I’ll add landscape plant clippings, fallen oak leaves and other brown (carbon-rich) matter to the bin, as well as water, and let it “steep.”

Infrequently, I’ll mix up the items in the bin by taking a shovel or stick and stirring them or tipping the bin onto its side, rolling it on the ground for a short time, and then standing it back up. Over time, the items heat up and then break down, and I use this compost as a supplement to the soil when adding new plants in my landscape.

I’m also a fan of sheet composting, a definite slow/cold composting method and a great way to create your own mulch. I take the various fallen palm fronds and the leaf cuttings and stems of my green island ficus (Ficus macrocarpa), ixora (Ixora coccinea) and coleus, cut up these materials with my pruning shears, and leave them on the top of the soil to decompose. Over time, this compost filters slowly into the soil below, and this newly created mulch retains moisture for my landscape plants.

You can learn much more about composting, or join a “Let’s Make Some Black Gold!” webinar offered by UF/IFAS Extension Sarasota County, by following the links in the “Resources” section, below.

Whatever method(s) you decide to implement, you’ll keep waste out of landfills and waterways ANd improve the health of your soil and plants, too.

RESOURCES
SOURCES

[1] Composting – UF/IFAS Extension (ufl.edu)
[2] sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/sarasota/natural-resources/waste-reduction/composting/what-is-composting/methods/

About the Author
Gail Hendrickson is a UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Sarasota County. A graduate of the MGV Class of 2020, Gail moved to Venice five years ago from the greater Washington, D.C., area, where she worked for nonprofits promoting energy efficiency and electric vehicles. Gail enjoys spending her time cycling, hiking, kayaking, skiing, reading, gardening, cooking, and (pre-COVID) traveling and volunteering at the Francis T. Bourne Jacaranda Library in Venice.