If each of us does our own small part, it adds up to making a big difference.

Agriculture is at the forefront of recycling. The residue of corn and soybeans—such as the stalks, leaves, husks, pods and cobs—from the previous year's harvest are broken down by the sun, rain, freezing, thawing, earthworms and lots of microorganisms to make fresh soil containing the nutrients needed for the next year’s crops to feed on.

Animal waste is another excellent source of nutrients for plants. Cow, pig, chicken, sheep and horse manure add nutrients and organic matter to the soil. It is not necessary for farmers to apply as much commercial fertilizer on their land if animal waste is available and can be applied, as it contains nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus—the three primary elements needed by crops and plants.

Paul Rosenbohm of rural Peoria County has taken recycling to another level. He has a business called LHF Compost and is gathering yard waste from local individuals and municipalities, pumpkin waste from our two local processors, food scraps from area restaurants and grocery stores, and spoiled distillers grain to make a nutrient-rich product labeled BetterEarth Compost, which is available at many retail outlets.

At the Farm Bureau's “Farmer’s Share of the Food Dollar” breakfast on March 10th at Expo Gardens, all of the tableware was collected and taken to LHF Compost to be recycled into a soil amendment. This was the third year the Farm Bureau has used compostable tableware (plates, napkins, cups, placemats, knives, forks, spoons and garbage bags). I'm sure the previous two years’ knives, forks and spoons are growing some beautiful plants around Peoria homes, as well as delicious garden produce.

What exactly is composting? It is recycling. Composting turns food and yard materials into a nutrient-rich natural amendment to the soil. The National Composting Council estimates the average U.S. household generates 650 pounds of compostable items every year. It is estimated that 34 percent of our municipal waste stream could be composted. Composting is a great way to deal with leaves, grass clippings and food waste (banana peels, carrot tops, broccoli stems, apple cores, eggs shells, tea bags, etc). Backyard compost systems reduce the amount of waste going to a landfill and help prevent garbage odor.

Here are a few more tidbits. Compost is made when bacteria, fungi, mites, worms, sow bugs, centipedes and all the other little organisms I'm sure you love to see… outside… eat the organic matter and break it down. These organisms need a balanced diet of carbon and nitrogen—commonly known as browns and greens. Brown items add carbon to the pile and include leaves, straw, paper, sawdust, wood chips and animal manure mixed with straw. Green items are nitrogen-rich and include vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and grass clippings. When added to a pile of two or three browns for every green (by volume) organisms flourish, and compost is quickly made.

It is important for the backyard composter to remember that compost piles need oxygen. If a compost pile is starved of air, all activity stops and it may start to smell. Turning the pile occasionally ensures enough oxygen is reaching the compost. You will also want to keep the pile moist, but not wet, for optimum compost making. The approximate texture of a wrung-out sponge would be ideal. It's similar for corn and soybeans in the thousands of acres of farmland surrounding Peoria. Farmers would like moist soil (but not too wet or too dry) to produce maximum yields. If the soil is too wet, it will lose air, which leads to anaerobic (no oxygen) conditions.

When it comes to composting and recycling, nobody has to change the world on their own. But if each of us does our own small part, it adds up to making a big difference. iBi