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Green parenting: Compost 101

You won't see members of the Bejlovec-Wilschke household in Pompano Beach scraping their dinner plates into the garbage. The eco-friendly family recycles everything they can -- even their table scraps are fed to the dogs or pitched in a backyard composting bin.

Scott Bejlovec and Carole Wilschke have composted for more than 20 years. When Travis, 14, and Katie Rose, 10, were born, they learned at a young age how to reduce landfill waste by recycling leftover food.

Using a backyard composting bin to turn kitchen scraps into a nutrient-rich, garden fertilizer can be a snap, they say.

WHAT TO COLLECT

In the kitchen, save anything but meat, dairy products and fats. Good candidates are vegetable and fruit peelings, coffee grounds and egg shells. Used paper towels (without grease or chemical cleaner residue) and shredded newspaper are fine. From the garden, save grass clippings, leaves and small weeds.

"Not big, bulky stuff, like branches or corn cobs, because they take too long to break down," Bejlovec said.

HOW TO COLLECT IT

The Bejlovec-Wilschkes used to dump kitchen scraps into a covered plastic container they kept on a counter. When they moved to Pompano Beach 10 years ago, they cut a hole in their kitchen counter and dropped in a covered tub. With a stainless steel cover and handle, the bin is easy to lift and dump outside, Wilschke said.

"It's in my kitchen prep area, so it's easy to remember," she said.

CHOOSING A COMPOST BIN

Composting can take place in an open pile, in a gated open area or in a closed container. When the Bejlovec-Wilschkes started composting, they used a ring of chicken wire held by wooden stakes. They moved on to a closed plastic container, which has the advantage of being mobile, Wilschke said.

Adrian Hunsberger, urban horticulture agent for Miami-Dade County, said a compost pile should be at least three feet wide by three feet deep. An old garbage can works great, she said. Just drill some holes in the side to let air in.

WHERE TO COMPOST

"In the sun, close to your garden and near a water source," Wilschke advises.

HOW TO COMPOST

The secret is a good mix, Wilschke said.

Start with layers of green materials such as kitchen scraps, grass clippings and plants and brown materials such as leaves, shredded newspaper/cardboard, paper towels/tea bags and coffee grounds. Moisten the pile as you layer. Use a shovel to turn the mixture every couple of weeks. Throw in new scraps as you get them. Keep the pile moist, but not soggy.

Composted material is ready when it is earthy, dark and crumbly. You can produce some in about three to four weeks if you turn your pile once a week, Hunsberger said.

HOW TO USE COMPOST

Master Gardener Joan Vigil of West Kendall said composting provides a chemical-free, organic way to fertilize vegetable and flower gardens.

"In Florida, our soil does not have a lot of nutrients," Vigil said. "This would be an organic way of fertilizing your plants."

Just mix it in with your soil when putting down new plants, or add it periodically as a fertilizer, she said.

Wilschke said her family has enjoyed higher yield from her vegetable garden because of compost. She feels good about reducing waste in a way that helps her family.

"We have to take care of the earth," she said. "When you throw away garbage, it doesn't go off into space, it goes somewhere on the earth. I want my kids to have a clean earth and clean water, all the things I had growing up."

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