Photo: FAQs about composting

Compost your food waste to decrease your weekly garbage output by about 40 per cent. (Credit: Paula Colvin)

Each Monday, the Metro News features David Suzuki's Queen of Green column where Canadians pose questions on green living. Below are previous questions about composting.

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1. I've recently started composting but ran into a bit of a nuisance — fruit flies. How do I get rid of them in my kitchen and compost bin?

Brad of Ottawa, O.N.

Fruit flies are attracted to organic matter. The obvious culprits are fresh fruits and vegetables stored on countertops and rotting kitchen scraps or "greens" headed for the compost pile, as well as organic debris in garbage cans or kitchen drains.

I hope that besides the annoying fruit flies you've also noticed the upside of composting — a 40 per cent decrease in your weekly garbage.

Here are some simple troubleshooting tips to prevent a fruit fly population explosion.

Control fruit flies in the kitchen:

  1. Use a glass or metal container for collecting kitchen waste. These won't hang onto odours (like plastics do) and a tight-fitting lid will keep fruit flies out.
  2. Store your kitchen food scraps in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer.

Control fruit flies outdoors:

  1. They're attracted to exposed food scraps, so each time you add greens, top them off with brown material like dry grass and leaves. Collect dry leaves and grass in a separate container to use year-round.
  2. Put kitchen scraps in the centre of your compost pile, and then cover with browns.

Composting is easier than most people think, whether you have a backyard bin, municipal curbside pick-up or indoor worm bin. Check your city's website for more troubleshooting tips and advice, especially if you have curbside pick-up.

2. I would love to compost, but I am not sure how to manage it in an apartment. What are the options? It seems that the city of Montreal is not really as compost-friendly as other Canadian cities.

Erika of Montreal, Quebec

I have one word for you: worms. Just because you don't have yard space doesn't mean you can't join the growing number of Canadians who are composting. Statistics Canada's research from 2006, albeit dated, showed 27 per cent of households nationwide composted. And, Quebec households have steadily been increasing their rates of composting too.

You need to try vermicomposting! It's ideal for small spaces and can be done indoors, which makes it perfect for apartment dwellers. It means you discard organic matter generated in your kitchen — like banana peels — by feeding it to worms. But not just any worms; you're going to need some red wrigglers. The result is a very fertile mixture of decomposed food scraps and worm poop.

Vermiculture is a great way to reduce the organic matter otherwise destined for the landfill. The process takes three to six months and depending on how much you feed your worms, you'll need to harvest the vermicompost two to four times a year. It's excellent fertilizer for gardens, laws, or potted plants on balconies and even indoor plants. Fans of worm farms claim they're much easier to care for than a dog or a cat and they don't smell. There are many great on-line resources to help you source and set up your very own worm bin. Check out City Farmer's resources listed by province, or Worm Girl Montreal, who sells worm bins and worms.

3. We have a garburator in our kitchen but we're thinking about composting in our backyard. What's the eco-friendlier option?

Steve of St. Albert, Alberta

Popularized in the '70s and '80s, garburators are starting to go out of style. A banana peel or last night's dinner can increase the load on city sewage systems, putting an extra strain on treatment plants. Some cities have banned garburators for this very reason.

Retiring your kitchen garburator means you won't waste energy every time you flip that switch and you won't waste a huge amount of perfectly good drinking water either. Backyard composting is a much better solution from an environmental perspective, and it will save you money on your utility bills. Of course, either option is preferable to throwing organic waste into the landfill.

3. The other day I noticed that a friend of mine puts paper towels and facial tissue into her compost. Are you really allowed to add these?

Carly of Vancouver, B.C.

Paper products can be a welcome addition to any compost pile. The goal is to alternate layers of nitrogen-rich greens (yard trimmings and vegetable peels) and carbon-rich browns. You see, backyard composting is really a colour-coordination project.

Other types of "browns" include leaves, twigs, straw, corn cobs and stalks, brown paper bags, newsprint and even the inside cylinders of empty toilet paper rolls. A simple trick is to chop, shred or tear your browns — greens too — to speed up decomposition.

What you shouldn't add are any greasy paper towels or napkins — they might attract unwelcome visitors. And, if you plan to put your compost in your garden, don't add bleached paper towels or napkins. Instead, purchase 100 per cent post-consumer waste-paper products processed chlorine-free. Better yet, switch to reusable cloth napkins and hankies to cut down on the waste leaving your home, even if it is compostable. Learn more about Composting Do's and Don'ts in my fact sheet (PDF file).

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