Grandma was a Recycler and Composter

by Cindy Pantea

I thought it was crazy at the time. Grandma washing out bread bags to reuse for lunchbox sandwiches, washing tin foil for reuse, and that smelly metal Maxwell House recycling can under the kitchen sink housing rotten, fermenting food scraps for her garden.

If you had grandparents or parents who lived through the depression era of the 30s, this may sound familiar. Now, we have been experiencing tough economic times, and you are hearing more and more about recycling and sustainable gardening — actions we should have been borrowing from our recycling, composting grandparents and then perfecting and showing our kids how to do.

We Became Wasteful

There’s no denying it…we were wasteful. And guess what? Now we are experiencing hard times economically. History sure has a way of repeating itself it seems.

Plus, our wastefulness has put our planet in jeopardy. So many of us are just now reusing glass or plastic containers, or at least putting them in our City of Akron recycling bins.

But when it comes to gardening, we are having a tough time getting things to grow or having to spend a lot of money on good soil just to get the $4.00 quarter grown tomato plant to make its fruit. So we think it is easier to just buy the food we need. Until that grocery bill climbs as high as the scraps of food we send to the landfill.

We could just compost, of course.  Ewww…but the contents of that coffee can smelled awful.

On the other hand, I will say this about the contents of that smelly coffee can: Grandma had a great berry patch and vegetable/fruit garden (as well as flowerbed), and she certainly shared with us the fruits and vegetables of her extra effort.

Composting Doesn’t Have to Stink

Grandma obviously did her own type of composting. She was saving scraps and rotting them down to throw right in the garden soil. It worked for her, but Polly, our Flowerscape Director, doesn’t recommend it, as you run the risk of the fermenting scraps being too acidic for your garden plants.

But Grandma was on the right track. For indoor composting, she should have:

  1. Poked some holes in the bottom and top sides of a larger metal or plastic container.
  2. Sat the container on a brick (or something to keep the bottom from touching the floor) and also sit the brick in/on a flat container or something to catch leakage or spills. Note: Steps 1 and 2 give the compost pile air, which is necessary to the composting process.
  3. Layered the food scraps with dirt then dried, dying plant material (leaves from outside, leaves from an inside plant), and then adding water. Note: This layering step is really what helps eliminates the smell.
  4. Stirred the composting material regularly. Note: You can actually speed up the composting process by stirring more often.

Of course, she also could have just taken her scraps outside more often to an outdoor compost bin and done the same process. As long as you are layering with dirt and yard material (grass, leaves, small twigs) you’re good to go.

Here’s something else to remember: Don’t add oils, bones, meat or fish to your compost pile.

The compost is ready when it looks like soil that is consistent in texture, without any recognizable organic materials like your food scraps and leaves. Sometimes you’ll see a tiny twig or wood bit which is okay, but the rest should be unrecognizable. Also, the compost should not stink but rather have a pleasant and earthy scent.