Musings on Earth Day

Published April 18 2017

To the Editor

Whenever astronauts comment on their experience viewing our planet from space their description of the sight of planet Earth borders on spiritual. There is a sense of wonder and awe. The little blue dot that is Earth has a living breathing jewel-like quality and it inspires a feeling of connection between the astronaut and the planet and also with all humanity. Retired astronaut Nicole Stott was recently interviewed on CBC about her life-altering experience and how she and other astronauts are forever changed when they return to earth. She commented that the earth provides everything we need to live but sadly we humans don’t return the favour. The United Nations has identified our little corner of the planet here in Haliburton and Kawartha Lakes as being one of the most environmentally well educated in the whole world. That is quite an honour. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Haliburton Highlands could be an example to the rest of the world in the proper stewardship of our natural environment?

In 2016 thanks to the efforts of members of Environment Haliburton! our county became a “Blue Dot Community.” The Blue Dot initiative is a grassroots movement that aims to claim that the right to a healthy environment including the rights to fresh air clean water and safe food be enshrined in our Canadian constitution. This growing movement of Canadians is calling upon their local communities to pass municipal declarations respecting peoples’ right to live in a healthy environment. Haliburton has a lot to celebrate this Earth Day but there is still much work to be done. One example of improving our impact on the environment is to re-evaluate our methods of food waste disposal. A small group of EH! volunteers has formed a Food Waste Working Group to address Haliburton’s unique challenges for disposing of food waste in an environmentally friendly manner. Wasted food produces three per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions especially methane which is one of the most powerful gases in causing climate change. Why should Haliburton worry about food waste? Because if we want to create change in the world we must start in our own backyard.
Haliburton is a large county but we have a small population and our villages and hamlets are quite isolated from one another. We do not have sufficient revenue to incorporate expensive composting technologies such as the in-vessel biodigesters that are used in larger urban centres.It is not possible to have these composting facilities at our local landfill sites because people tend to bring materials that are not appropriate for composting and they would need full-time workers monitoring them. Because of our abundance of wildlife backyard composting here can be a little more challenging than in other areas. However this is still our best option to dispose of vegetable wastes.
I would like to share with you the comments of several people who have been composting successfully in the Haliburton area for many years.

Joan Grant is well known in our community as a veterinarian and she has learned how to overcome the challenges of composting in our neighbourhood. No meat dairy products or egg shells become part of Joan’s compost pile. She has placed cement patio slabs under the pile and reinforced the exterior to keep out animals. She layers food waste with leaves wood shavings grass cuttings and ashes from her fireplace. Ideally a bin with this carboniferous type of material would be kept near the composter to make layering more convenient. Joan mentioned that over many years as a vet she has treated many dogs who have ingested toxic compost. She suggests fencing off composting heaps that are not animal proof so that dogs don’t ingest the scraps and become sick.

Eric Lilius has been composting for at least 30 years and has experience with several different types of composting systems. He has two vermicomposters or worm composter units in his home that he constructed himself for vegetable and fruit waste. He has also wired together wooden pallets to form bins for composting plant material and he uses plastic composters as well. He says layering shredded dry leaves or other types of material is important in producing good compost. Eric currently is composting less during the gardening season using a “chop and drop” system to use plant material immediately as mulch to shade and enrich the soil. He mentioned the importance of leaving fallen leaves to decompose where they fall wherever possible in order to return nutrients drawn from the soil by the trees back to where they came from.

Keith Hay (my husband) is another committed composter who is having great success with a vermicomposter in his insulated garage. When the topic of composting came up at our house about a year ago Keith googled “vermicomposting” and found a business called Cathy’s Crawlers online. Through its website this small Canadian business sells everything you need to start worm composting. The plastic multi-drawered unit with bedding and red wiggler worms is sent to you through Canada Post. “Within a short period of time the worms were taking care of almost all of our compost” says Keith. “We collect our compost in a pottery container on our countertop in the kitchen and when that’s full it gets transferred to a larger plastic pail with a tight fitting lid which we keep in the garage. About every three days I scoop out a handful of decomposing food scraps and place them into the bedding with the worms. The trick is to keep the containers tightly covered so that you don’t attract fruit flies or other unwelcome pests. Periodically you have to add a little water to keep the bedding moist. The worms are hungrier when the weather is warmer however they are doing just fine out in the garage” says Keith. “Although vermicomposting takes a little work you don’t have to worry about attracting animals.”

Gloria McPhail is a Haliburton resident who has made composting her mission and even composts food waste from her community. She states that you really need to have two composters going as it may take longer with our cold Haliburton winters to produce the rich humus you want to put into your garden. She uses plastic composters that were provided by the municipality a few years ago. She says that layering and turning is key and to also avoid fragrant fruit waste such as pineapples or apples which are the kinds of waste that might attract bears. She did have a bear visit her composter a few years ago but she didn’t let that worry her. She took some pots and pans and scared the bear away and when he came back she used an air horn from their boat to scare the bear again and he finally got the message. The trick is not to attract bears in the first place. Gloria says that everybody should be composting. If you are in an apartment find somebody to take your compost. Every business every school and every neighbourhood should form a group to collect food waste and to compost properly.
Composting is one small way that we can respect our beautiful planet and celebrate Earth Day this April 22.

Susan Hay
EH and FWWG member