Composting is easy, even in the mountains | VailDaily.com
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Composting is easy, even in the mountains

Caramie Schnell
Vail, CO, Colorado
Preston Utley/Vail DailyDiana Scherr and her son Duncan, 1, throw pieces of an egg carton into their compost bin in Minturn. The Alliance for Sustainability will be holding a class called "Learn to Compost " Backyard Composting Workshop," on Saturday at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail.
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An oatmeal container sits next to the sink at the Scherr home in Minturn. But it’s not filled with breakfast cereal of any sort. Every day Matt Scherr and his wife, Diana, toss in vegetable peelings, egg shells, coffee filters, even used tea bags. Every couple of days the container fills up ” this is when 3-year-old Piper steps in.

“She loves to go to ‘the dump’,” Matt said.

The dump, in this case, is a 50-gallon compost bin that sits in the Scherr’s back yard. Composting is a family affair, said Scherr, the head of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability. Piper, and sometimes her 1-year-old brother Duncan, dump the family’s biodegradable refuse into the barrel and spin it.

“(Piper) sees that it’s mush but she hasn’t seen the end product ” we haven’t taken it out to use as soil ammendment yet. Later on this summer she’ll see the fruits of her labor.”

Rather than sending your banana peels and other biodegradable garbage to the landfill, Scherr preaches three simple words: let it rot. Composting garbage ” from food scraps to garden debris ” recycles nutrients back into the earth, is good for the environment and saves landfill space, he said.

Better than Miracle Grow

The Scherrs, now in their third season composting, decided to start composting after learning that 25 percent of the landfill is made up of things that could have been composted, he said.

The family of four has a 60-gallon trash container like everyone else on their street, but between recycling and composting, they only drag the can to the curb once a month, rather than once a week.

“And that’s with two kids in diapers,” he said.

The family’s two composting bins are located in the backyard. Scherr bought a second one this year because the first bin was full and needed to “cook.” Cooking refers to the process where the compost heats up and breaks down, which is necessary before you can use it as soil ammendment in the garden and on your house plants. Active compost reaches temperatures ranging from 70 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the center of the compost, according to the CSU cooperative extension website (www.ext.colostate.edu). The cooking process takes about 4-8 weeks once you stop adding to the bin.

As horticulture manager for the Vail Golf Course, Debra Murphy is in charge of the composting operation. During the fall Murphy adds plant materials from the Town of Vail’s flower beds as well as from the Betty Ford Gardens. That, combined with the golf course’s compost, can result in a compost pile that’s 12 feet tall, 12 feet wide and up to 50 feet long. By springtime the compost has broken down, leaving a pile that’s 3 feet tall and 12 feet wide, she said.

“The compost is so good it cuts down on water use by 70 percent just because the organisms in the soil help feed and strengthen the plant,” Murphy said. “It’s really astonishing ” the plants (fertilized with compost) are twice the size they were using Miracle Grow.”

For more information on composting check out the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension website at http://www.ext.colostate.edu or the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service at http://www.attra.ncat.org.

Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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