Education & Outreach

Is Homemade Compost better for growing healthier plants than plant food from a store?

We asked our “Compost Expert” and Audubon New Mexico’s education director, Scot Pipkin.

In the far reaches of our state office’s small kitchen corner sits a box clearly marked, “COMPOST” in black-inked letters. Daily, Audubon New Mexico staffers fill the box up with any compostable food stuff: eggshells, coffee grounds, leftover salad remnants, and orange peels; sometimes someone will even spot a sparse half-eaten tortilla.

Like a wizard, Scot fills up a bag and transports these ingredients to his home, 7 miles away, pedaling on his bicycle, to make a magical potion. Scot is a bicycle commuter, but that’s a story for another day. We often wonder what happens to all those pungent smelling items. Does Scot brew up a concoction to deliver a vitamin filled shot of garbage goodness to his garden? How does he work it into the soil? How long does he let it ferment?

Scot shares with us his composting secrets.

Secret 1:  “Although I do not consider myself a compost expert or wizard, I do think composting is one of the most important ways we can be stewards of the land. By taking scraps from plant-based foods and products and composting them, we can keep those items out of landfills and create nutritious soil for supporting food and habitat plants in our communities. It also encourages us to be outside and observe the incredible natural processes that surround us all of the time.”

Secret 2:  “My compost bin is a 3’ x3’ x3’ box that I made from scrap wood. One of the most important parts of composting is ensuring that you have the right mixture of “greens” to “browns.” Greens are primarily the food scraps and fresh plant cuttings, which represent the nitrogen that goes into the compost. I try to avoid placing too many items with seeds in the compost unless I would like those plants to grow in my garden. Browns are the dry compost elements—shredded newspaper, cardboard, and straw. These represent the carbon in the mixture. It’s important to have a good mix of greens and browns so that the compost isn’t too wet/stinky (too many greens) or too dry/slow (too much carbon).”

Secret 3:  “I’ve added a lot of red wriggler worms to my compost, which I think makes the process easier. I simply keep 3-4 inches of browns on top of my pile and every time I have scraps to add, I’ll dig below that layer and add my scraps. This layer also keeps any smelly decomposition from filling the neighborhood. Every once in a while, I try to mix some browns into the active compost area so that things do not get too swampy in there. I also add a bit of water every couple of weeks to ensure that the worms do not dry out. They like a damp habitat!”

Secret 4:  “I haven’t tried timing my process, but the rule of thumb is that fruits/vegetables decompose in 1 week to 1 month. Orange peels decompose in about 6 months (I try to limit my use of citrus in compost partly for this reason. They can also get a bit stinky). Items like dry leaves can take a year or more to decompose.”

If you haven’t already, give composting a try and see what your leftovers and worms can do for you and your garden.

Resources:                                                                                                                        

Our partner, the Santa Fe Master Gardeners Association provides free Compost Clinics. You’ll be sure to learn how to compost yard and food waste from the Santa Fe Master Gardener Association. Once a month classes cover how to build, maintain and harvest a compost pile. These lectures detail how composting works, red worm composting, and bokashi—a method for fermenting all food wastes. Click here for the COMPOST CLINICS calendar.

All clinics held at the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens, County Fairgrounds, 3229 Rodeo Rd., Santa Fe.

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Audubon Arizona and Audubon New Mexico have joined forces to become Audubon Southwest.