Photo by Tim Jewett.


Use all that you can in the kitchen and save the scraps for the compost pile 

Story by Stephanie Fenton

On the right side of the middle shelf in my refrigerator sits a tattered green Tupperware container. If you take the time to cipher the scribble written in faded magic maker you might make out the word “poison” under a poorly drawn skull and crossbones. While what I store in that container is not technically poison, the looks of it could be enough to turn your stomach inside out – a mishmash of moldy, biodegrading kitchen scraps. 

The reason for the dire warning on the Tupperware container goes back several years, to a night when my myopic husband attempted to satisfy a late night case of the munchies. Finding nothing snack on, he opened the container. Did I mention he wasn’t wearing his glasses? “Salad,” he told me later. “I thought it was leftover dinner salad.” What he ate was a concoction of wilted romaine lettuce, carrot tops over a bed of eggshells, and two days’ worth of used coffee grounds.

My mother, who grew up during the Depression, lived by the adage, “Waste not, want not,” and I have taken that philosophy to heart. It is amazing how much goes in the garbage can that could be put in a compost pile instead. Not only will your discarded fruits and vegetables break down into organic amendments, but you might be surprised at what pops up.

One spring, I was so obsessed with riding my ponies I neglected the compost pile. Every good composter knows there are rules that must be followed. Start with coarser materials at the bottom of the pile, then 8-10 inches of organic waste – such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, or plant trimmings – on top of the coarse stuff. Water thoroughly. Next sprinkle approximately ¼-inch of soil or well-composted material, which will add needed microorganisms to help decomposition. Top the pile with several inches of manure or nitrogen fertilizer. To maintain the pile, turn it every seven to 10 days and keep it moist, but not soggy. 

While I started out with good intentions that spring, the best I could muster was walking out to the pile every evening with my Tupperware bowl of kitchen scraps that I dumped on top. Spring rains kept the pile moist, but other than that, the compost pile was on its own. By midsummer I started noticing things sprouting. Some I recognized, like a clump of tiny tomato seedlings, no doubt from a discarded rotten tomato. The bulb end of a celery bunch was sprouting new leaves, and the avocado seed that I had tried to grow in a glass of water and gave up on had developed into a small, but healthy plant. My compost was producing better than my tended vegetable garden, so I left it alone. The little tomato seedlings grew into prolific cherry tomato plants; the rabbits ate the celery, but another seed produced a very interesting flowering vine. What could it be? The possibilities include squash, cucumber, watermelon, pumpkin, or some other seed dropped by a passing bird. When a round fruit appeared on the vine, I decided it must be a melon of some kind. With my limited knowledge of plant genetics I assumed it wasn’t true to whatever seed produced it, so I labeled it a “cucasquashomelon,” and waited for it to ripen. When I was satisfied that it was ready to eat, I plucked it, washed it, and served it to my husband for breakfast. “Cantaloupe, my favorite,” he remarked and quickly ate his half. He was right, it looked exactly like a cantaloupe, but eating those kitchen scraps must have destroyed his taste buds. My half tasted just like a “cucasquashomelon.”

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