It was a crazy idea. I knew it even before my husband looked at me, raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes. But I just thought, there had to be something better than cramming orange peels down the disposal in the kitchen sink or letting the onion peels stink up my small garbage can. But in New York City, opportunities to compost kitchen scrap are limited. Most of us don’t have much outdoor space, if any. Community gardens might frown on dumping banana peels and melon rinds in their compost pile, if only because of the risk of attracting rats.
Still -- I was intent. My husband and I had just bought some land about two hours outside the city. My first task was to build a shed. My second was to build a compost bin.
Now I admit, my knowledge of composting was limited to what I had seen on a few cable TV home shows and an hour spent in Barnes & Noble, scanning through books on composting. I mean, a whole book on composting? It couldn’t be that hard.
I repurposed pallets to create a three-sided bin. I recycled the plastic wrap from the building kit for the shed to cover the structure. And so I began….
In New York City, when I cook, I put the celery bottoms and strawberry tops in a plastic shoebox. I add lint from the clothes dryer and even lemon and lime peels, though I’ve since learned that experts recommend limiting how much citrus gets added to your compost mixture. I keep my scraps in the freezer until I’m ready to head upstate, and then I pack the frozen shoebox. So far, no one on the train has noticed (or mentioned) an odor of rotting vegetables.
It’s not that I’m an expert. I ignore the advice about keeping my mixture no wetter than a damp sponge since I don’t have a hose and, really, how wet is a damp sponge anyway? I sometimes cover the pile with plastic. Other times, I leave it exposed. I found out the hard way, a stale baguette in a paper bag quickly becomes a meal for raccoons, who drag the package through the woods and leave the paper there, litterbugs. I encourage my husband to dump in wheelbarrows full of sawdust from his building projects, which compete with my measly contributions of “green waste.”
And last summer, I watched with wonder as small plants started growing out of my compost pile. I have no idea whether they were potatoes or celery or onions -- but they were growing. Too bad my husband buried them with his sawdust.
By the fall’s end, I took my pitchfork and turned the pile, which I rarely do. And to my utter delight, I saw rich, black soil underneath the top layer. So I took a couple more pallets, added a new bin and left the first one alone.
Now, this weekly haul of kitchen scraps from city to country has made me something of a newsroom joke. My coworkers offer me their leftover lunch to add to my collection. They cringe when Earth Day comes around, afraid I’ll insist on showing off my composting finesse on national television once again (been there, done that).
But I let their laughter and ribbing roll off my back. I’m starting my first vegetable garden this year. The tomato, ground cherry, spinach, kale, and pepper seedlings are all sprouted and growing on my Manhattan window sill. And when I add my compost fertilizer to those lovely little plants, I’m quite certain I’ll end up with the most amazing, fresh-grown gems. And when my co-workers ask for some of the bounty, I’ll laugh. The joke will be on them.
Watch Contessa show off her composting skills:
Contessa Brewer anchors the news on MSNBC weekdays at noon. Follow her on Twitter @ContessBrewer.
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