St. John Tradewinds News

Workshop Demonstrates that “Everyone Can Compost”

Pictured above: Lillian Nabwiiri and Dr. Dave Minner demonstrate the Ugandan Keyhole composting system.
Photos provided by Amy Roberts.
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Governor Kenneth Mapp has proclaimed November as Virgin Island Recycles Month, and in keeping with the proclamation, the VI Waste Management Authority sponsored a free composting workshop at the Gifft Hill School on Sunday, November 6.

“The goal is to get everyone to do home composting which would reduce the amount of waste at our Susannaberg Transfer Station,” said Harith Wickrema, chairman of the VIWMA and a homeowner on St. John.

The transfer station is where solid waste is collected before being transported to the Bovoni landfill on St. Thomas. More than 80% of the material there can be composted or recycled, said Dr. Dave Minner, who heads up the Gifft Hill School’s Education and Resiliency through Horticulture (EARTH) Program.

Minner took workshop participants through the basics of composting.  “Anybody can do this,” he said, explaining that the simplest way is to collect sources of nitrogen—what he calls “Greens” (basically fresh vegetable scraps, yard clippings, coffee grounds) in a five-gallon bucket; put them in a pile in the back yard; mix them with a source of carbon –what he calls “Browns” (dead leaves, old newspapers, sawdust, wood chips); cover them with dirt, and let it all heat up.

Harith Wickrema, chairman of VIWMA, looks on as Dr. Dave Minner (of GHS’s EARTH program ) shows lettuce growing on the school’s deck.

Once the inner temperature of the pile reaches around 160 degrees for a couple of days, stir up the pile with a pitchfork to bring in oxygen, and let it sit again.  Add more raw materials, or not, and repeat.

There are a number of caveats.  You have to keep the proper moisture balance in the compost pile.  You shouldn’t use treated wood, cooked food, dairy products, meat, bones, and pet or human waste. And ideally, the ratio of “Greens” to “Browns” should be 30:1.

Composting in compost tumbler.

Minner showed a number of techniques to enhance the process.  You can cover the pile with a tarp to promote heating and limit moisture.  You can insert a pipe to introduce more oxygen. You can cover the pile with chicken wire to keep out foraging animals.

The Gifft Hill School has experimented with many methods of composting, including the Ugandan keyhole method introduced by Lillian Nabwiire.  She works with the Iowa State University Uganda program, an NGO which sponsors programs to enhance food security in Kamuli, Uganda, “one of the poorest areas,” she said.

Composting in backyard pile.

Minner said that Gifft Hill School uses food scraps donated by the Westin resort and wood chips from Asplundh (the company on St. John that cuts the trees to keep utility wires free) to produce $6,000 worth of composted material.

The compost is used to enhance the soil in the school’s 2,400 square-foot fenced garden as well as multiple planters. The vegetables they grow are used to provide daily snacks for the GHS students and to supplement meals for the homeless prepared by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church.

Some of the gardens’ produce is on sale to the public at the GHS on Wednesdays from 3:15 pm till 4:00 pm.

To entice participation in the workshop, VIWMA raffled off a composter. The lucky winner was Peter Alter, an avid composter and gardener.

Peter Alter shows how he recycles beer kegs by converting them to planters.

St. John’s Island Green Living Association is teaming up with the Environmental Protection Agency to hold the “2016 Caribbean Recycling Summit,” a two-day conference on December 1 and 2 in Puerto Rico.

According to IGLA, the Caribbean Recycling Summit is designed to gather broad representation from all sectors working on waste reduction, reuse, recycling and composting to come together to address solid waste management issues in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and in the Caribbean region.

The Summit free and open to the public. Businesses, recycling coordinators, local government, students, elected officials, teachers, media, artists, farmers, and anyone else with an interest in promoting recycling and protecting the environment in the ecologically sensitive Caribbean region are encouraged to attend.

To learn more and register for the event, click here.