Four years ago, Oksana Kovtun started a quiet revolution in condo living.
She, along with other green-minded residents in her building, started an outdoor compost at 18 Sommerset Way, near Yonge St. and Finch Ave. W.
"She was the driving force behind the composting effort," says the building's manager, Ken Mak.
The residents' zeal for recycling and reducing waste didn't go unnoticed by the city. Last year, 18 Sommerset Way was selected for the city's green bin pilot program for condos and apartments.
Composting drastically reduces the volume of waste sent to landfills and the city tentatively plans to roll out green bins to condos and apartment buildings by the middle of next year.
But until then, even if a building lacks green space for a communal composter, kitchen scraps can still be diverted from the garbage chute using worm bins and automatic composters. And the payoff from composting is worth its weight in gold – gardener's gold.
Compost enriches garden beds and enhances balcony containers or indoor houseplants. It improves soil structure, slowly adds nutrients (non-burning fertilizer), suppresses fungal diseases (when used as a dilute "tea"), curbs weeds and reduces water loss (when used as a mulch). And less garbage ends up in landfills.
Leaf decomposition in woodlands takes years, but composting methods accelerate the process. Micro-organisms are critical in waste breakdown in outdoor bins, automatic composters and in vermicomposting (using worms).
Composting is simple and odour-free if you give micro-organisms water, air and food (nitrogen and carbon). With optimum conditions, the compost will be ready in two to three months.
Just as carbohydrates provide people with energy, carbon materials (shredded paper and newspaper, peanut shells, dried leaves and flowers) do the same for micro-organisms. Nitrogen materials (fruit and vegetable peelings, coffee grounds, tea bags, green plants, blood meal and kelp meal) provide the protein that micro-organisms use to break down carbon.
Too much nitrogenous material leads to a smelly, slimy mess, so give micro-organisms more carbon than nitrogen for clean-smelling compost (ratio of 4:1). Don't add dairy products, fats, meat, fish or bones. They may attract pests and create unpleasant smells.
Stir often – the composting micro-organisms need oxygen. Otherwise, anaerobic bacteria will take over, and create some nasty smells.
Composting micro-organisms need between 45 and 50 per cent moisture. Less slows decomposition; too much forces out air, letting the smelly bacteria take over.
Cathy Nesbitt, owner of Cathy's Crawly Composters (cathyscomposters.com), says half of her clients live in condos. She recommends using red wigglers, worms that love to eat kitchen scraps and paper. Worm castings are higher in nutrients than compost, and the worm bins require less stirring.
Once established, 230 grams of worms can go through 1.81 kilograms of kitchen scraps per week. Place the worm bin in a shady spot on the balcony in warm weather; bring it inside during the winter.
Another alternative for condo dwellers is a product called the Automatic Composter. This small machine (55 by 55 by 29 centimetres) composts up to seven kilograms per week and keeps the temperature, moisture and air at optimum levels to produce up to 4.5 kg of compost every two weeks. It's about $450 Canadian, plus shipping and taxes, through naturemill.com
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