Charles Hensel has been composting for almost 60 years, and says the idea of composting being difficult and smelly is a misconception.
“The misconception is it stinks, but proper compost doesn’t smell bad,” says Hensel, who lives in the Glen Park section of Gary and is a charter member of the Miller Garden Club. “Good compost should be brown to black, and it will have a not unpleasant earthy odor. It will do dynomite things for your garden.”
Hensel uses the compost every year to enrich his soil, plants and vegetable garden.
“It’s a way of speeding up the natural decay process to release the elements that are necessary for plant life and plant growth,” he says.
He says proper composting can take only minutes at a time to maintain. He has four composters on his property.
“You fill the composter and turn it every three days. It only takes a couple of minutes, and you’re done,” he says.
Mark Kramer, a member of St. John Garden Club who now lives in Beecher, Ill., says the benefits of composting are numerous.
“It reduces waste, can conserve on water, energy and save money,” he says.
Organic waste makes up between 25 and 50 percent of what people throw away, he says. When that reaches the landfills, it breaks down and releases methane gasses into the landfills.
Composting also helps you conserve on water, because the compost helps hold water in the soil and releases water as plants need it.
“With enough compost, you don’t water as much, which can save you money,” he says.
Kramer suggests novice composters start with the “add as you go” method.
“Each day as you prepare foods, you separate the greens from your waste. You take that material, put it in a container, and put it on your property,” he says. “For every amount that is green, you mix in an equal amount that is brown.”
Browns include leaves, twigs and grasses. Greens provide nitrogen and browns provide carbon.
“You mix to create heat, and when we create that heat, that starts decomposition,” he says. You also need to add moisture so the compost doesn’t dry out, he says.
The St. John Garden Club will hold their annual “Springtime In the Park” event on May 11 beginning at 9 a.m., which will also provide information about composting. The event will be at Prairie West park until 3 p.m. Visitors will also have a chance to get plants, as well as get llama manure.
For more information about the garden club and the “Springtime in the Park event,” go to www.stjohngardenclub.com.
Kramer says composting gives him an immense sense of satisfaction.
“It’s amazing how you get caught up in it,” he says.
Composting is also finding its way into schools and education centers.
The Dunes Learning Center recently won a grant for $1,000 from the Awesome Foundation to improve composting at the facility.
Erin Crofton, the education director for the Dunes Learning Center, says the grant money will pay for two composters, a chopping tool and some educational components.
She says the center already has a program that talks about food waste, and this will be able to take that program one step further.
“We challenge our students to leave little to no food waste,” she says. “Composting is a natural extension of that.”
About 5,000 students come through the facility each year, and each day about 70 kids are served three meals. She says the facility currently does some composting, but will begin teaching it more extensively.
“We talk a lot about recycling, not wasting, conserving energy,” she says. “We talk about protecting the environment, and this is an extension of that.”
All of the food waste from the facility will go into the new equipment, and the compost it produces will be used around the center’s herb garden and native plant garden.
“We’re really excited about the opportunities to do this and the benefits this will have,” she says.