Waste Less, Grow More: A Guide to Compost Gardening
By Tripp and Carmen Eldridge
Are you trying to live a life with less waste? As more people are becoming aware of the effects of pollution and climate change on our planet, many are trying to make lasting changes in their everyday habits. As a result, composting is gaining popularity among sustainability-minded homeowners as a way to reduce both their carbon footprint and the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
In Palm Beach County alone, about 1.5 million tons of trash were thrown away in the past year, showing the growing need for South Floridians to do their part in limiting our accumulation of waste – and composting is a great place to start.
Many small-scale and organic farmers successfully utilize composting to enrich their soil, and it can be just as effective for recreational gardeners. In addition to helping the environment by using less water and recycling your own food waste, composting can also benefit your garden, keeping it lush and growing.
The best way to get into composting is by simply holding onto some of the everyday waste you go through in your kitchen. To help get you started, here are five common kitchen toss-outs that can benefit your garden:
- Used tea bags
Used tea bags are a great kitchen scrap to use as a compost fertilizer or planted directly into soil to help a garden grow dense and lush. Just be sure to only compost tea bags that are 100% plastic free. Some are made of nylon, which is a form of plastic.
To use tea bags as a compost fertilizer, add cooled-off tea bags to a compost bin balanced with water and carbon-rich materials like leaves or paper. Once the pile is dark in color, cool, and crumbles easily, the compost is ready for use. For best results, mix the compost into the top inches of garden soil or use as mulch around trees and shrubs.
Tea bags can also be planted directly in soil near the root of the plant. As the tea bag decomposes, it will nourish the plant with moisture and help with weed repression.
Used tea bags are effective in gardens because they are nitrogen-rich, and nitrogen is a key element in plant development for growth and color. In particular, tea bags help plants maintain moisture, promote earthworms that allow plant roots to penetrate deeper and grow bigger and healthier.
Since tea bags are high in acid, they are most effective on acid-loving plants like ferns, azalea bushes, and hydrangeas.
- Used coffee grounds
Like tea bags, coffee grounds are another food scrap that can play a key role in plant health.
Used coffee grounds can be used as a fertilizer mixed into the top inches of soil or just sprinkled on the top layer of soil to help with moisture retention and aeration. Coffee grounds can also act as a pest and cat repellent because of its caffeine content and smell.
Fresh coffee grounds are highly acidic but used coffee grounds are more neutral and work best on moisture-loving plants like hibiscus, iris, and marigold.
- Banana peels
Banana peels are an easy solution to help strengthen plants’ stems and fight off diseases due to their high potassium content.
To use banana peels in your garden, just bury them close to your plants so they can release their nutrients as they decompose. Bananas are great for plants like tomatoes, peppers, or flowers because their high potassium content helps flowers, seeds, and fruits develop.
- Egg shells
Using eggshells in your garden is a great way to reduce kitchen waste and help introduce calcium from the eggshells into your garden soil.
Simply grind up the used eggshells and till them into the soil. As they break down, the eggshell will help aerate the soil and reduce its acidity. Eggshell fertilizer is most effective in plants like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants because its high-calcium content helps prevent blossom-end rot.
- Pasta water
Instead of dumping leftover pasta water down the drain, you can use that leftover water to water plants in your garden. Not only is using pasta water in your garden eco-friendly because you’re conserving water, but it also can help plants grow by nourishing them with its starchy nutrient-rich content.
However, do make sure that the pasta water is unsalted and cooled down before using it to water plants. Just pour it into a watering can and water any plant in your garden or home.
Sometimes going green is all about stepping just a little bit outside of your comfort zone. So, hold on to those extra scraps of kitchen waste and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box in your garden!
About the Authors
Carmen and Tripp Eldridge are small-scale farming experts and the current Farm Directors at Arden, an award-winning residential agrihood in Palm Beach County, FL. Managing the community’s five-acre farm, Tripp and Carmen are pioneering innovative farm-to-table living in South Florida.