by Emily Kloeblen

I met Stewart Martin of Providence Gardenworks last summer when he came to prune my trees. He noticed my compost bin and inquired about my experience composting. I admitted that I had taken on composting as a pandemic project and was not very confident in my composting abilities, as evidenced by the flies swarming around my bin. After spending an hour with Stewart for a dedicated composting consultation, I realized that my setup needed an overhaul. I contracted with Stewart to install my animal-proof system last Fall and became a student of his composting process. 

Stewart has become a trusted resource that is fully committed to my composting success, often stopping by on his walks around the neighborhood to check on my compost and to give it an extra mix. Following his guidance has greatly improved my results and sparked my passion for reducing my environmental footprint through composting. If you are interested in composting, I highly recommend a consult with our neighborhood composting guru!

What motivated you to master the art and science of composting?

I have been composting and gardening for years at home. The realization gradually dawned on me that this process was so important for our environment I began to refine it and put a business together. I’ve stuck with it all these years –19 and counting– because it’s so necessary environmentally and so darn satisfying. I feel like I’m making a positive difference in the world. In the twenty years that we’ve lived on the East Side, we haven’t contributed so much as a scrap of food waste to the Providence waste stream. Just our efforts alone –one household– has diverted 14 tons of food waste from the landfill and created 20 cubic yards of compost, for our local gardens. Both our vegetable and perennial gardens are thriving.

Why should anyone consider composting?

Anyone who gives a wit about the environment should be thinking about composting. The impact of methane produced by food waste putrefying in our landfill is staggering. Many people don’t realize that methane is 30x stronger than CO2 as a heat-trapping gas and that the average American family wastes nearly one-third of all the food they buy. Composting is well within the realm of ‘I can do this.’ It’s a simple, yet powerful way we can take action to reduce our environmental impact and produce a useful substance, technically referred to as a ’soil amendment’, for our gardens.

What are the most important considerations when starting to compost in an urban environment like Providence?

Having the right setup and learning how to do it correctly are the most important considerations. I’ve seen many failed composters littering the urban landscape because people get information from the internet that doesn’t thoroughly explain the involved how-tos of the process. They gave up in frustration. This does not need to be the case.

How difficult is it for someone to get started?

It’s relatively easy to get started once you have the right setup and begin to understand the process. It is, however, a process that needs to be followed. Like anything else one may care about, composting requires one’s focus and attention.

What are typical misconceptions about composting?

It smells and attracts animals. It’s hard to do during the winter months. Too much compost will be created to actually use.

These issues are easy to avoid. More brown matter and adequate aeration/mixing alleviates the formation of volatile compounds, which produces unwanted odors. Composting during the winter months is also an easy affair. Where you place the bin is key. As far as making too much compost; everyone has a few shrubs, trees, and neighbors to give any extra compost to. I have yet to meet anyone who could not find a use for their compost.

Three key tips:

  1. Make sure you have enough brown/carbon on hand. The process depends on it. The general ratio is 3 parts brown (leaves) to 1 part green (food scraps).
  2. Mix/aerate regularly. This is an aerobic process. The bacteria depend on this to thrive.
  3. Cut food into pieces which; promotes quicker composting. Doing this also provides more surface area for the bacteria.

Why did you start Providence Gardenworks?

Because I realized my experience composting in an urban environment was of real value to our community, city, and environment, and wanted to share it. Unfortunately, our city and the state government have failed to address this critically important, burgeoning problem. However, the good news is solutions are well within the abilities of all Rhode Island residents and municipalities. 

What types of services do you provide?

We teach, train, and inspire urban dwellers to compost all their food waste on-site and garden in any full sun space they may have. We provide consultative services to existing composters to improve their process and turnkey services installing new composters, which includes on-going training and technical support. We also provide pruning services for ornamental and fruit trees.

If someone wants to consult with you, how should they get in touch?

For more information please go to our website or contact me directly. Thank you so much.

www.providencegardenworks.com

Stewart Martin- providencegardenworks@icloud.com


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