“It’s not about killing the bad guys,” says Phipps Master Gardener Keith McNeish, “It’s about out-competing them.” McNeish spoke about organic compost at the Homegrown workshop Thursday evening at the YMCA in Homewood. The Homegrown Edible Garden Program from Phipps Conservatory is a hands-on gardening project that engages the Homewood neighborhood with creating a solution to their lack of fresh food. The “bad guys” that McNeish is referring to are predatory insects, fungi, and other organisms that prey on fruits and vegetables.

Instead of putting down petrochemical-based liners and using synthetic fertilizers, the compost workshop taught a group of 25-30 residents of the Homewood neighborhood how to use compost to combat such issues. In addition to keeping plants healthy and strong, hence more resistant to infection, compost reduces the amount of organic material that is sent to landfills. “We only have so much landfill space,” McNeish warned.

Repair The World Compost
Three-stall Pallet Frame Compost at Repair The World garden in Squirrel Hill

Backyard Gardening

The Homegrown program managed by Charity Grimes Bauman is centered on the garden at the YMCA, which has been growing since 2011. The focus of the program is on growing fresh food in the neighborhood, but Thursday’s workshop was focused entirely on compost. DECO’s Green Team was there to learn from Master Gardener McNeish.

compost in Southside

Compost in Southside’s Einhorn Community Garden, managed by DECO Resources

home compost

A home compost pile, replete with coffee grounds, food and yard scraps, as well as other organic materials

How Compost Helps To Reduce Waste

With limited space on earth for landfills and the high cost of hauling waste, composting can be an effective way to reduce the amount of waste produced. Every pound of composted material equals one less pound of material that has to be taken away by a garbage truck. Organic waste, or any material that came from a living thing like a plant or animal, can typically be put into compost (with some exceptions) and turned back into soil. This compost material can then be used to fertilize a garden for vegetables, flowers, and other plants.

How It Works

McNeish explained that a compost pile, in its most basic form, consists of green and brown material. Green material can be grass, leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps, or anything that has a high moisture content. Brown material can be paper, cardboard, sawdust, twigs, or anything that is generally dry or burnable. These items are combined in a barrel, in a stall, or directly on the ground. When mixed with water (usually rain) and turned or raked to mix everything together to allow fresh air into the pile, the materials break down into compost. Compost can be used to improve soil for growing plants.

Foul odors indicate that the compost has turned anaerobic, which is not good. Properly maintained compost should have no offensive smells. Adding more brown material and turning the heap to get lots of air in will usually fix the problem. Other problems might come from adding the wrong waste into the pile. Among things that should be avoided are chemically treated products, pet or human wastes, and oily materials and raw meat.

DECO has developed a “simple” flow chart to help identify how to determine where waste should be disposed of:

DECO Waste Flow Chart

The DECO Waste Flow Chart

Don’t Let a Good Resource Waste Away

Some say that composting isn’t for everyone. False, we say! Besides great online resources, DECO can help make composting easy for your home or office. Contact us and let us design a sustainable solution to address your needs. Additionally, if you live in the Homewood neighborhood, you can still sign up for the Homegrown program. They will outfit your home with everything you could possibly need to start a garden, including plants!