Compost Like a Pro with the City of Stuart

Kick off your composting practice with these seven tips from the city's utilities and engineering program manager, Anne Ellig

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Kids in the East Stuart Youth Initiative program learning about composting at the 10th Street Community Center. Photo courtesy of the City of Stuart
Kids in the East Stuart Youth Initiative program learning about composting at the 10th Street Community Center. Photo courtesy of the City of Stuart

According to the City of Stuart, 30 percent of waste collection in the city comprises food scraps that end up in a landfill. “People are sending extraordinary amounts of food waste to the landfill that could be repurposed,” says Anne Ellig, utilities and engineering program manager for the City of Stuart. “Residents can recover a substantial portion of that by composting.” To that end, the city hosts free one-hour workshops conducted by University of Florida IFAS Extension instructor Jennifer Pelham to teach the community how to compost. But if you want to get started now, just follow these steps provided by Ellig. 

Invest in a tumbler composter and thermometer. Composters come in a variety of sizes, so purchase one appropriate for your yard, patio, or balcony. The tumbler needs to heat up in order to break down the contents inside, with an ideal temperature of 122 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, so place it in direct sunlight. (To learn if you qualify for a free 34-gallon tumbler composter, contact Ellig at 772.600.1206.)

Collect your food “trash.” Put compostable food scraps like vegetable peelings, tea bags, and coffee grinds in a container with a lid (such as a coffee can) and dump the contents into the composter daily or weekly. Tip: Keep the container in the fridge to prevent odors in your home. 

Add carbon and nitrogen. Put a 30-to-1 ratio of carbon/nitrogen in the composter via the access door, which slides open. Carbons are your dry, brown products such as dried leaves, shredded palm fronds, paper, hay, straw, and sawdust. Nitrogen includes green or moist items like food scraps and grass clippings. 

Agitate away! Spin the unit at least once a week to rotate contents and increase the oxygen inside.

Wait. It takes six to eight weeks for the composting process to be complete. You’ll know it’s ready when it looks and feels like a fine, granular humus. If an item is larger than one inch, toss it back in to decompose further. Use a sifting screen to easily sort the dirt from larger pieces.

Disperse. Collect the soil in a bucket and distribute throughout your flower or vegetable garden. If you don’t have a garden, Ellig suggests sharing the soil with a neighbor or a community garden. The mulch created from composting helps retain moisture, so you don’t have to irrigate as much and can save on your water bill. “In Florida, more than half of your water bill can be due to irrigating lawns,” Ellig says. 

The next city composting workshop will take place October 11 at 6 p.m. For details, contact Anne Ellig at 772.600.1206.

Farm It Out!

Another way of composting is vermicomposting, which uses red wiggler and African night crawler worms to do the dirty work. Local company Let it Rot collects compostable
waste from residences, small businesses, and nonprofits from Stuart to Boynton Beach and brings it off-site for worm composting so you don’t have to think about it. There is a one-time supply fee of $52 (plus tax) for residents and $114 (plus tax) for small businesses. Monthly subscription cost is $16-$19 for residents, depending on pickup address, and $42 for businesses. For more information, visit letitrot.org.

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