Feed Your Plants with Kitchen Scraps and Yard Trimmings

Would you like to waste less, eat healthier food, and grow thriving plants in your home and landscape?  With just a few small steps and habit changes, you can do this!  Take advantage of these ideas for thinking outside the box. 

According to a new report, “Food Waste in America”, by Recycle Track Systems 

  • Food takes up more space in US landfills than any other material. 
  • On average, each American can save one pound of food per day with a few simple steps. 
  • By simply putting our food to good use (consuming or composting) we will reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 11%. In fact, it’s one of the easiest things we can do to fight climate change.  
  • Food-saving planning, shopping and storage strategies prevent most produce waste and save households an average of $1,600 each year. That’s enough to pay for more than an entire month’s worth of groceries for a family of four. 

What can you do to reduce food waste in your own home?  The organization “Stop Food Waste” suggests putting this cycle into action: 

Plan 

  • Before shopping, take inventory of your home food supply 
  • Create a weekly menu plan using the food in your refrigerator and pantry. 
  • Take advantage of the “Save the Food” Guestimator and Meal Prep Mate
  • Base your shopping list based on needed items. 

Store 

Eat 

  • Start 2022 with a “New Year’s Fridge Clean-Out”. Make a resolution to eat down your food before the next big shopping trip.  
  • Take advantage of “Save the Food’s” recipes for creative and tasty ways to make use of those odds and ends in your refrigerator or pantry. 
  • Check out these handy resources from “Stop Food Waste” like the “10-Minute Fridge Reality Check” and the “Food Shift Kitchen Guide” 

Compost 

  • Save vegetable and fruit trimmings, cores, peelings, eggshells, coffee grounds, tea bags and other compostable items. 
  • Start a compost bin in your backyard. 
  • Make backyard composting part of your food preparation routine. 
  • Place your grass clippings and leaves in your compost bin rather than curbside. Sure, yard trimmings collected curbside in The Woodlands are composted commercially, but why not save the good stuff for yourself? You’ll also reduce hauling and the green house gases that come with it.  

Create Compost in Your Own Backyard 

Let’s talk more about compost. Because, while we can all do better at reducing waste, there’s still going to be some great resources coming out of your kitchen. I’m looking at you carrot ends and egg shells. Don’t look a resource in the mouth, compost it! It’s easier than you think, and your plants will LOVE it. Backyard composting is the process of combining dry leaves, brown pine needles, green plant trimmings, and kitchen scraps to create a rich, slow-release fertilizer for your plants. 

Adding compost to soil is one of the best ways to improve soil quality and texture.  Here’s why. Compost contains nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium – primary nutrients  gardens and landscape plants need. It also includes traces of other essential elements like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. These nutrients are released slowly, as opposed to fast-release synthetic fertilizers, and far healthier for your plants. Compost improves drainage and helps the soil retain moisture – less irrigating for you. In short, you’ll have healthier plants with less work, water, and money. 

Creating compost requires a few weeks to a year depending on how often you turn (or mix up) your pile. The more often you turn it, the faster the rate of decomposition. This is because the microbes that are the workhorses of decomposition need air to live. The more often the pile is turned, the more air is delivered to the microbes and the harder they work. I usually turn my pile about every two weeks. But, again, it’s up to you how often you choose to do it. I have some friends who are proud lazy composters and never turn their pile. They still create compost; it just takes longer.  

How can you tell when your compost is finished?  The material at the bottom of your compost bin turns a rich, dark brown color and smells and looks like fresh earth. 

Now comes the most gratifying part – using your compost!   

  • Sprinkle ½”-1” over your backyard vegetable garden and around your planting beds.   
  • Add 1/4” to the surface of indoor and outdoor potted plants.  
  • Make your own potting soil with one of these recipes from University of Florida soil experts.  
  • Or even brew a potent “compost tea” for container plants by steeping homemade finished compost in a five-gallon bucket of water for 1-3 days.  Strain the liquid and apply it to your plants. While research is ongoing, it is thought that compost tea not only provides nutrients but a host of microorganisms that boost plant health.   

Resolve now to reduce food waste, give our climate a hand, and help your landscape thrive in 2022. Learn more about backyard composting with our free, hands-on, backyard composting class on Saturday, January 8 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at The Woodlands Township Parks, Recreation and Environmental Services campus, 8203 Millennium Forest.  Experts from Montgomery County Master Gardeners Association will show you all you need to know. High quality C.E. Shepherd collapsible compost bins will be for sale for only $50 each.  Drop in – no registration required. See you there! 

Fall in Love with Leaves

Its Fall! Time for cool mornings and pumpkin spice everything. And, while nothing says fall like fallen leaves, sometimes they can feel like a barrage.  If you’re thinking there’s got to be a better way to deal with those leaves than hauling bag after bag to the curb, you’re right. Here are three things to consider as you tackle the autumnal abundance.

Rake Into Beds

The best place for leaves is right on the ground – raked under your trees and shrubs or mowed into the lawn. This returns nutrients back to the soil and provides shelter to caterpillars and other overwintering insects. Come spring these insects will get to work as natural pest control in the garden, and they in turn will feed new clutches of baby birds. This native mulch also suppresses weeds and holds in soil moisture. A great return for “leaving the leaves”.

If all your landscape beds have a 3-4″ layer and you still have leaves here are some good options:

  • Start or feed a compost pile (scroll to the end for a downloadable manual)
  • Heap up 6-8″ in a corner along with branches and hollow stems for a simple insect hotel
  • Stockpile to put around tender shrubs as insulation over the winter

If you regularly contend with a lot of leaves, consider sucking instead of blowing. Units that vacuum and shred leaves as you go really help reduce the volume and small pieces break down faster into rich compost wherever they end up.

Out of Drains & Gutters

One place leaves don’t belong is in the stormwater system. Don’t blow leaves into the drain, its illegal! Stormwater flows untreated into local waterways and all that extra debris depletes oxygen, reducing water quality for fish, dragonfly naiads and a host of other aquatic organisms.

After a rain check for needles, sticks and other debris that may be lodged in driveway culverts and drain inlets near your house. Keeping the stormwater system clear reduces flooding. It also prevents formation of small, stagnant puddles ripe for mosquito breeding.

Fall is a great time to check those gutters, too. Pay special attention to sections under trees as well as roof valleys (where two sections of roof join). As these areas fill with debris you risk damage to the roof and you create more ideal mosquito breeding sites, right at your doorstep.

Fun with Leaves

Albert Camus wrote “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.” There are 168 words to describe leaf shape, arrangement, venation, and edges; take some time to delight in the variety. Have a leaf scavenger hunt or make a leaf print bookmark. Learn the language of leaves.

Leaf Print Bookmark

  1. Collect leaves from the neighborhood that have interesting shapes or vein patterns
  2. Use a brayer, roller, or brush to apply paint to the underside of a leaf. Do it sparingly so that the texture appears
  3. Place painted side down on a heavy sheet of paper or cardstock
  4. Cover with a scrap piece of paper and use a rolling pin or straight-sided can to press the leaf down evenly
  5. Remove the scrap paper and peel the leaf back gently from the stem end
  6. Let the print dry and embellish with doodles, stickers, glitter or stamps
  7. Punch a hole at one end and loop through a piece of ribbon or yard to complete the bookmark

Other ways to use the leaf print technique:

  • Decorate brown kraft paper for a tablecloth or placemats
  • Stamp over newsprint for recycled wrapping paper

Check out the Texas A&M Forest service for help identifying native trees.

Questions or comments? Email enviro@thewoodlandstownship-tx.gov