South Okanagan residents get the dirt on composting

Regional district workshop offers residents the chance to become master composters

Lynn Wells (left) Jenny Hunt and coordinator Cameron Baughen of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen solid waste program dig into some composting material at a seminar Saturday at the Vancouver Avenue community gardens.

Lynn Wells (left) Jenny Hunt and coordinator Cameron Baughen of the Regional District Okanagan Similkameen solid waste program dig into some composting material at a seminar Saturday at the Vancouver Avenue community gardens.

It’s hoped a weekend workshop on the finer points of composting will help the practice go viral.

Nine people earned the right to call themselves master composters after completing the two-day seminar offered by the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen to ultimately help divert more organic waste from area landfills.

Instructor Cameron Baughen expects his students will now share their knowledge with others who might find the art of controlled decomposition a little yucky.

“Sometimes people are afraid of composting for the wrong reasons: they think it has to be smelly or gross,” said Baughen, also the RDOS solid waste management co-ordinator. “So by training a small group of people each year, it’s the nucleus for bigger change.”

The key, he said, is to bury food waste — like uncooked vegetable parts, but never cheese or meat — under other organic matter like leaves, to keep away flies and eliminate odours. Then the pile just needs to be occasionally watered and aerated, which is as easy as poking it with a stick.

“This is what master composters are trying to do: help people that are already composting get a bit better, help people that haven’t composted before to learn more; and to maybe talk to people who are scared of composting and explain that it’s really easy,” Baughen said.

The weekend seminar consisted of a day-long classroom session that covered basics like the chemistry of decomposition, followed by a half-day at a Penticton community garden where students built a composter.

Part-time Hedley resident Bill Day was among the learners, and said he’ll use his newfound knowledge to help the community’s super-sized compost pile continue its slow rot.

In May, locals began building a raised garden called a hugelbeet, which is now a windrow of organic material that’s about three metres high, 10 metres wide and 50 metres long, according to Day.

“It’s a way of dealing with the problem of large volumes of yard waste, which used to be just dumped around the community, which was unsightly and unhealthy and dangerous.”

Besides getting rid of the waste, Day continued, the hugelbeet is expected to one day be planted with decorative vegetation that cover the former mine tailings meadow upon which it was built.

This past weekend’s seminar was the fourth annual event offered by the RDOS, and two former students were honoured this week by the regional district for sharing their skills with the greater community.

The hounourees are Philip Watson, who took the class in 2010 and helped educate people on composting equipment in the Summerland area; and Elisabeth Rettke, who attended the workshop in 2011 and has since played a key role in maintaining the composting program at the Keremeos-area Sunkatchers RV Park where she lives.