Nutrients found in food waste are too valuable to just toss away. Small scale composting and vermicomposting provide opportunity to recycle food waste even in limited spaces. UF/IFAS Photo by Camila Guillen.
During the summer season, my house is filled with family and friends visiting on vacation or just hanging out on the weekends. The kitchen is a popular place while waiting on the next outdoor adventure. I enjoy working together to cook meals, bbq, or just make a few snacks. Despite the increased numbers of visitors during this time, some food is leftover and ultimately tossed away as waste. Food waste occurs every day in our homes, restaurants, and grocery stores and not just this time of year.
The United States Food and Drug Administration estimates that 30 to 40 percent of our food supply is wasted each year. The United States Department of Agriculture cites food waste as the largest type of solid waste at our landfills. This is a complex problem representing many issues that require our attention to be corrected. Moving food to those in need is the largest challenge being addressed by multiple agencies, companies, and local community action groups. Learn more about the Food Waste Alliance at https://foodwastealliance.org
According to the program website, the Food Waste Alliance has three major goals to help address food waste:
Goal #1 REDUCE THE AMOUNT OF FOOD WASTE GENERATED. An estimated 25-40% of food grown, processed, and transported in the U.S. will never be consumed.
Goal #2 DONATE MORE SAFE, NUTRITIOUS FOOD TO PEOPLE IN NEED. Some generated food waste is safe to eat and can be donated to food banks and anti-hunger organizations, providing nutrition to those in need.
Goal #3 RECYCLE UNAVOIDABLE FOOD WASTE, DIVERTING IT FROM LANDFILLS. For food waste, a landfill is the end of the line; but when composted, it can be recycled into soil or energy.
All these priorities are equally important and necessary to completely address our country’s food waste issues. However, goal three is where I would like to give some tips and insight. Composting food waste holds the promise of supplying recycled nutrients that can be used to grow new crops of food or for enhancing growth of ornamental plants. Composting occurs at different scales ranging from a few pounds to tons. All types of composting whether big or small are meaningful in addressing food waste issues and providing value to homeowners and farmers. A specialized type of composting known as vermicomposting uses red wiggler worms to accelerate the breakdown of vegetable and fruit waste into valuable soil amendments and liquid fertilizer. These products can be safely used in home gardens and landscapes, and on house plants.
Composting meat or animal waste is not recommended for home composting operations as it can potentially introduce sources of food borne illness into the fertilizer and the plants where it is used. Vegetable and Fruit wastes are perfect for composting and do not have these problems.
Composting worms help turn food waste into valuable fertilizer. UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
Detailed articles on how vermicomposting works are provided by Tia Silvasy, UF/IFAS Extension Orange County at https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/orangeco/2020/12/10/vermicomposting-using-worms-for-composting and https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/media/sfylifasufledu/orange/hort-res/docs/pdf/021-Vermicomposting—Cheap-and-Easy-Worm-Bin.pdf Supplies are readily available and relatively inexpensive. Please see the above links for details.
A small vermicomposting system would include:
• Red Wiggler worms (local vendors or internet)
• Two Plastic Storage Bins (approximately 30” L x 20” W x 17” H) with pieces of brick or stone
• Shredded Paper (newspaper or other suitable material)
• Vegetable and Fruit Scraps
Red Wiggler worms specialize in breaking down food scraps unlike earthworms which process organic matter in soil. Getting the correct worms for vermicomposting is an important step. Red Wigglers can consume as much as their weight in one day! Beginning with a small scale of 1 to 2 pounds of worms is a great way to start. Sources and suppliers can be readily located on the internet.
Worm “homes” can be constructed from two plastic storage bins with air holes drilled on the top. Additional holes put in the bottom of the inner bin to drain liquid nutrients. Pieces of stone or brick can be used to raise the inner bin slightly. Picture provided by UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, Molly Jameson
Once the worms and shredded paper media have been introduced into the bins, you are ready to process kitchen scraps and other plant-based leftovers. Food waste can be placed in the worm bins by moving along the bin in sections. Simply rotate the area where the next group of scraps are placed. See example diagram. For additional information or questions please contact our office at 850-784-6105.
Placing food scraps in a sequential order allows worms to find their new food easily. Contributed diagram by L. Scott Jackson
Portions of this article originally published in the Panama City News Herald
UF/IFAS is An Equal Opportunity Institution.
A Pond Management Field Day will be held May 11, 2022, at the North Florida Research and Education Center, in Quincy, Florida. The field day will include pond demonstrations and classroom workshops on weed prevention, sprayer calibrations, and fish stocking and management. There will also be a trade show with vendors as well as pond water testing and weed identification. The field day will also provide Pesticide CEU’s for natural areas. Registration for the Field Day is through Eventbrite and the cost for the day is $10, which includes lunch. For questions or more information, contact Robbie Jones at the UF/FAS Extension- Gadsden County Office – 850-875-7255.
The University of Florida IFAS Extension and the Beekeeping in the Panhandle Working Group has once again teamed up to offer the 9th Annual Beekeeping in the Panhandle Conference on Friday May 6th and Saturday May 7th 2022 at the Washington County Ag Center Auditorium.
This year’s event will feature: Hands-on open hive experiences, presentations on the latest in research-based beekeeping management practices, interaction with expert beekeepers, vendors with beekeeping equipment, and hive products. Door prizes will be available as well!
The registration fee for the event will be $35 for one day or $55 for both days per person over 12, and $15 per day for kids 12 and under.
The activities will take place from 8:00 am – 5:00 pm Central each day and will include catered lunch.
Location: 1424 Jackson Avenue, Chipley, FL
Ways to register:
Registration link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/9th-annual-beekeeping-in-the-panhandle-conference-trade-show-tickets-269199873067
Or, drop by the Washington County Extension Office in Chipley.
For more information contact Washington County Extension Office at (850) 638-6180
We’re waging war on an invasive weed, Cogongrass. Cogongrass was accidently brought into Mobile, Alabama in the early 1900’s as packing material. It was later planted in Florida and other states as a potential forage and soil stabilizer. It has low forage value and is on the Federal Noxious Weed List.
This weed can spread through both creeping rhizomes and seeds. It quickly displaces desirable grasses and plants. The roots of Cogongrass may produce allelopathic chemicals helping it out-compete other plants for space. It is drought and shade tolerant. A single plant can produce 3,000 seeds. Cogongrass is yellow/green in color with an off-set midrib and a fluffy white seed head and it grows in circular colonies.
Mowing and burning will not eradicate Cogongrass instead doing so while the plants are flowering can cause spread of seeds. Herbicide options are non-selective and kill most native ground cover such as grasses. Ridding an area of a Cogongrass infestation requires intensive management. For small infestations (less than 20-30 feet in diameter), treat the area with glyphosate once in the fall and once in the spring for 3 years (or until eradicated). For larger infestations, a more integrated approach may be necessary. Deep tilling of the soil may help in some cases.
Cogongrass is not easy to control. It takes a coordinated effort from government agencies and private landowners to work together to rid an area of this invasive weed. For more information, you can go to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/wg202 or contact your local extension agent.
Six Rivers “Dirty Dozen” Invasive Species
Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica)
A relatively new patch of cogongrass recently found in Washington County.
Photo Credit: Mark Mauldin
Define Invasive Species: must have all of the following –
- Is non-native to the area, in our case northwest Florida
- Introduced by humans, whether intentional or accidental
- Causing either an environmental or economic problem, possibly both
Define “Dirty Dozen” Species:
These are species that are well established within the CISMA and are considered, by members of the CISMA, to be one of the top 12 worst problems in our area.
Cogongrass is from southeast Asia.
It was accidentally introduced as an “escapee” from satsuma crates brought to Grand Bay, Alabama in 1912. It was later intentionally introduced into Mississippi in the 1920s as a forage crop and then to Florida in the 1930s for both forage and soil stabilization.
EDDMapS currently list 79,134 records of this plant. All are listed in the southeastern U.S. Most are in Florida and Alabama, but there are records from Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, North and South Carolina.
Within our CISMA there are 13,279 records. This is probably underreported.
Cogongrass is a perennial grass that can vary in color from a bright-light green when young to a brown-orange when older. It does die back in areas with cold winters and heavy frost and becomes brown. The leaves emerge from the ground in clumps and can reach four feet in height. The blades are 0.5-0.75 inches wide and the light-colored midline is off center. The blades are serrated along the edge. In the spring the grass produces large white colored fluffs of seeds extending above the leaves to be carried by the wind. There are numerous small seeds joined on long hairs of these structures. There is an extensive rhizome system beneath the ground that can contribute to short distance spread.
Issues and Impacts:
The plant spreads aggressively and has been found in ditches, along roadsides, in pastures, timberlands, golf courses, empty lots, and even on barrier islands. It spreads both by seed wind dispersal and rhizome fragmentation. The plant is known to be allelopathic, desiccating neighboring plants and moving in. It can form dense monocultures in many areas.
The serrated edges of the leaves make it undesirable as a livestock forage, a fact not detected until the plant was established. It can cover large areas of pasture making it unusable. In the winter the plant becomes brown and can burn very hot. Timberland that has been infested with cogongrass can burn too hot during prescribed burns actually killing the trees.
It is currently listed as one of the most invasive plants in the United States. It is a federal and state noxious weed, it is prohibited all across Florida and has a high invasion risk.
The key to controlling this plant is destroying the extensive rhizome system. Simple disking has been shown to be effective if you dig during the dry season, when the rhizomes can dry out, and if you disk deep enough to get all of the rhizomes. Though the rhizomes can be found as deep as four feet, most are within six inches and at least a six-inch disking is recommended.
Chemical treatments have had some success. Prometon (Pramitol), tebuthurion (Spike), and imazapyr have all had some success along roadsides and in ditches. However, the strength of these chemicals will impede new growth, or plantings of new plants, for up to six months. This can lead to erosion issues that are undesirable. Glyphosate has been somewhat successful, and its short soil life will allow the planting of new plants immediately. Due to this however, it may take multiple treatments over multiple years to keep cogongrass under control and it will kill other plants if sprayed during treatment.
Most recommend a mixture of burning, disking, and chemical treatment. Disking and burning should be conducted in the summer to remove thatch and all older and dead cogongrass. As new shoots emerge in late summer and early fall herbicides can then be used to kill the young plants. Studies and practice have found complete eradication is difficult. It is also recommended not to attempt any management while in seed (in spring). Tractors, mowers, etc. can collect the seeds and, when the mowers are moved to new locations, spread the problem. If all mowing/disking equipment can be cleaned after treatment – this is highly recommended.
For more information on this Dirty Dozen species, contact your local extension office.
Cogongrass, University of Florida IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
Imperata cylindrica. University of Florida IFAS Assessment.
Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS)
Six Rivers CISMA
Senate Bill 712 ‘The Clean Waterways Act’ was signed into Florida law on June 30, 2020. The purpose of the bill is to better protect Florida’s water resources and focuses on minimizing the impact of known sources of nutrient pollution. These sources include septic systems, wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff as well as fertilizer used in agricultural production.
Senate Bill 712 focuses on protecting Florida’s water resources such as Jackson Blue Springs/Merritt’s Mill Pond, pictured here. Credit: Doug Mayo, UF/IFAS.
What major provisions are included in SB 712?
Primary actions required by SB712 were listed in a news release by Governor Desantis’ staff in June 2020 as:
- Regulation of septic systems as a source of nutrients and transfer of oversight from the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
- Contingency plans for power outages to minimize discharges of untreated wastewater for all sewage disposal facilities.
- Provision of financial records from all sanitary sewage disposal facilities so that DEP can ensure funds are being allocated to infrastructure upgrades, repairs, and maintenance that prevent systems from falling into states of disrepair.
- Detailed documentation of fertilizer use by agricultural operations to ensure compliance with Best Management Practices (BMPs) and aid in evaluation of their effectiveness.
- Updated stormwater rules and design criteria to improve the performance of stormwater systems statewide to specifically address nutrients.
How does the bill impact septic system regulation?
The transfer of the Onsite Sewage Program (OSP) (commonly known as the septic system program) from DOH to DEP becomes effective on July 1, 2021. So far, DOH and DEP submitted a report to the Governor and Legislature at the end of 2020 with recommendations on how this transfer should take place. They recommend that county DOH employees working in the OSP continue implementing the program as DOH-employees, but that the onsite sewage program office in the State Health Office transfer to DEP and continue working from there. DOH created an OSP Transfer web page where updates and documents related to the transfer are posted.
How does the bill impact agricultural operations?
SB 712 affects all landowners and producers enrolled in the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) BMP Program. Under this bill:
- Every two years FDACS will make an onsite implementation verification (IV) visit to land enrolled in the BMP program to ensure that BMPs are properly implemented. These visits will be coordinated between the producer and field staff from FDACS Office of Agriculture and Water Policy (OAWP).
- During these visits (and as they have done in the past), field staff will review records that producers are required to keep under the BMP program.
- Field staff will also collect information on nitrogen and phosphorus application. FDACS has created a specific form, the Nutrient Application Record Keeping Form or NARF where producers will record quantities of N and P applied. FDACS field staff will retain a copy of the NARF during the IV visit.
FDACS-OAWP prepared a thorough document with responses to SB 712 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s). It includes responses to questions about site visits, the NARF and record keeping, why FDACS is collecting nutrient records and what will be done with this information. The fertilizer records collected are not public information, and are protected under the public records exemption (Section 403.067 Florida Statutes). For areas that fall under a Basin Management Action Plan (like the Jackson Blue and Wakulla Springs Basins in the Florida Panhandle), FDACS will combine the nitrogen and phosphorus application data from all enrolled properties (total pounds of N and P applied within the BMAP). It will then send the aggregated nutrient application information to FDEP.
Details of how all aspects of SB 712 will be implemented are still being worked out and we should continue to hear more in the coming months.