‘Cook up some healthy soil’ | ParkRecord.com

‘Cook up some healthy soil’

MATT JAMES, Of the Record staff

While in Park City and much of Summit County, snow covers almost everything in sight, spring is, in fact, on the way. In recognition the impending but not yet occurring warmth and growth, the Park City Library is hosting a pair of events in March and April.

The first, coming up Wednesday, will feature a class on composting with Insa Riepen, executive director of Recycle Utah; the second, on April 12, will include Park City Municipal landscaper and gardener Maria Barndt’s course on high altitude gardening.

"We do an adult program every single month, so we try to do something a little bit different each time," said Teresa Ferguson, the adult services librarian at the Park City Library.

She said the composting class was scheduled at the request of Riepen.

"Insa contacted me, and it seems like a good thing for spring," Ferguson noted.

Riepen said she is just spreading the gospel of decomposition.

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"Composting, above all, is no chic new idea," said Riepen. "It’s something that’s been done for ages."

The process, she said, is completely natural, and can take care of a significant portion of a household’s waste. Compostable items can include banana peels and other fruit rinds, coffee grounds, teabags, brown paper, old flowers and grass clippings.

Conservatively, Riepen said, those types of materials make up a quarter of a home’s refuse; more realistically, they can be an even greater portion.

"It’s one third of our waste," said Riepen. "It’s a huge amount."

But she did have a whole collection of suggestions and guidelines, along with a small traveling classroom of composting guides, suggestions and examples.

Making a compost heap, she said, is simple. Just take either some chicken wire, a few old wooden palettes, or any number of pre-made forms, and fashion them into an open topped box or cylinder. Put a pile of sticks or twigs at the bottom to promote air circulation, add a few shovels full of natural top soil and layer in the compostables.

"The surest recipe is one part green, two parts brown," said Riepen.

First comes the layer of green, which includes any green plant materials, along with fruit and vegetable scraps, then the brown, which is anything from a tree, including wood pieces, newspaper (preferably without color), brown paper, and other darkly-colored organic materials. Otherwise, she said just to mix in other compostable materials.

The woodchips and the paper, Riepen noted, help keep the mixture from becoming smelly. A compost heap, she added, should be turned so air can circulate, promoting decomposition every once in a while. Otherwise, add enough water to keep the mixture moist, and nature should take care of the rest.

"You want work with it," she said. "You can turn it once a day; you can turn it once a year."

The result should be dark, broken-down plant material full of soil-nutrients and ideal for holding moisture.

Riepen noted that with Utah’s generally poor soil quality the material can be an important addition to a garden or yard.

"We need to home compost more than just about anyone in the U.S.," she said. "By doing this we are generating an incredible soil amendment."

The process even works in the winter, when snow rules and bare ground is an afterthought.

"I have two families that compost in Summit Park, and it works just fine," Riepen reported.

She said to simply pile the compostables on. The water and freezing actions will help break things down and promote decomposition in the spring.

So the process, said Riepen, is fairly simple. She did note, however, a few things to avoid in compost piles, including fat, bones, fish, diary products, oils, animal feces, thick layers of wet grass and chemicals. All of those things will either prevent decomposition, stink, or both.

Otherwise, most natural materials will work.

"Why throw a good thing away," said Riepen. "Our motto is, ‘Feed the Earth, compost.’"

The class at the library, she said, would cover all of the basics of outdoor composting, along with some other more specialized methods such as vermicompositing, a way of using a box-full of paper and worms to dispose of kitchen scraps.

All of the methods though, will help the dirt.

"It all starts with the soil," said Riepen.

Ultimately, she said, the action is so simple and beneficial, there are few reasons not to.

"It’s perfectly easy," she concluded, "doable for everyone."

For more information about composting, visit the Recycle Utah facility on Woodbine Way or attend the class at the Park City Library Wednesday, March 29, at 5:30 p.m. The class is free and open to the public. For more information about that event, call the library at 615-5600 or e-mail tferguson@parkcity.org .

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