Laurie Evans –Director of Westchester SAFE (Seeking Alternatives for the Environment)


 Why compost?


As an environmental health advocate, I often ask myself, what can I do personally to conserve resources? What daily actions can we easily implement into our life style?


The Green Living Handbook: saving the planet…one household at a time, by David Gershon, details many actions which can be implemented to reduce, reuse & recycle. He includes the categories of garbage, water, energy, consumption and transportation.


One of the goals Mr. Gershon mentions is to reduce garbage – the ultimate goal is zero waste – so it mimics nature – where everything gets broken down & reused.  Food waste comprises about 25 to 35% of household garbage. It requires energy to haul it away where it is either burned or buried. Buried waste does not readily decompose. Composting enables individuals to turn food & yard waste into valuable soil. This can be used for gardening for food and ornamentals – either in the ground or in pots. This has further ecological benefits as it cuts down on the purchase of soil and soil amendments.


Most people think of composting outdoors, however, a simple container enables people who live in apartments to compost indoors. I have been at several apartments where people have indoor compost bins & they were not smelly. For indoor composting, red wiggler worms are usually used (source below). I never purchased worms for my outdoor compost pile, as the soil was full of worms and other microorganisms.


There are a variety of organisms that help to decompose the pile. Two types of decomposition are possible– thermophilic (reaches about 150 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit (needs specific conditions) or vermicomposting (using worms). Some systems incorporate both types. Many home systems do not reach such high temperatures.


Items that can be composted are divided into two categories – greens and browns.


Greens include: vegetable and fruit wastes, grass clippings, weeds (without seeds), seaweed, eggshells, coffee grounds & filters, tea bags (remove the staple), manure: horse, cow, rabbit, chicken, goat.

Browns include: fall leaves, straw, shredded paper & cardboard (newspaper, paper towels, paper bags, sawdust), pine needles (not more than 10%).


Items that SHOULD NOT be composted: meat, bones, grease, oils, peanut butter, dairy products, DOG & CAT manure (as they can spread disease), diseased plants, weeds gone to seed or that spread by roots & runners.


It is necessary to use a ratio of about 3 parts browns to one part greens. The pile needs to be kept moist, but not saturated. It also needs to be aerated.



There are different bins that can be used – wire, wood or plastic bins. I do not recommend the tumbler. DO NOT USE PRESSURE TREATED WOOD as it contains chemicals. If animals might be a nuisance a closed bin is preferable. Plus, it keeps excess rain out.


Personal note: I have been composting for about 15 years. While there is a lot of information to read, the process is simple. My compost bins were built from pallets which were free. Someone hinged them together. I’ve been told that locust is a good wood to use, as it’s local and hard. You can also use wire.


I collect my food scraps in a bowl which I cover with a plate and take them to the compost pile every other day. 


I prefer a 3 bin system as I rotate which one I am using. It takes time for the food & yard waste to decompose. About every 4 months, I change bins so the old waste has time to finish.


In the fall, I pile my bins full of leaves. After the winter they are very compressed. When I compost, I add some leaves on top of the food scraps. I also add some dirt to the scraps so that there are more microorganisms touching them.


Although it was about 45 years ago, I remember distinctly that when my father took me fishing he encouraged me to add the worm to the hook. I was terrified of worms – yuck!!

Today, when the ground is not frozen, I delight in the multitude of worms in my compost pile & if I find a worm on the road at risk of drying out, I will even pick up a worm with my bare hands to place it in soil.


For me, composting is not a chore; it is a joyful experience where I delight in seeing how many worms I can find in the pile. I am in awe of the worms & the other microorganisms that convert my kitchen scraps & yard waste into sweet smelling nutrient dense soil.





Information and Classes:



1. Composting books available from the Westchester Library System


Let it Rot! Stu Campbell. 3rd ed. 1998, Storey Publishing, N. Adams, MA.


Worms Eat My Garbage, Mary Appelhof. 2nd ed. 1997. Flower Press, MI.


2. Websites:

Home composting: – extensive info – many topics – see heading small scale composting – bins, indoor & outdoor, uses of compost, care of worms, troubleshooting… – A simple guide to Backyard composting


3. Buy red wiggler worms (excellent quality) to use in an indoor bin system  Rhode Island


4. Composting Workshop: Free – Apr. 17 10:30am

The Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester (351 Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549)


Events – Pam Davis from the Cornell Cooperative Extension will teach you one of the easiest ways to make a positive impact on the environment- come learn the ins and outs of composting! 


Mt. Kisco Indoor Farmers’ Market 9:00 AM-1:00PM

5. Master Composting & Recycling class: Sheldrake Center – Larchmont, NY


 page 3 Spring 2009 newsletter  describes the class & fees Contact: Amy 914-834-1443   [email protected] or the instructor, Jennifer Jensen at <[email protected]>


The next MCRP starts May 4th, 2010 and goes through June 8th. Class meets once a week.




Acres U.S.A. is the only national magazine that offers a comprehensive guide to sustainable agriculture: eco-agriculture because it’s both ecological and economical. Comprehensive resource for books and they also do an annual conference.