Just when I was mourning the fact that our household didn’t create enough food waste to generate lots of compost, I received an email from a former visitor to Finch Frolic Garden. She volunteers at the Fallbrook Food Pantry, where they distribute balanced food supplements to over 800 families a week who earn less than the US poverty limit. They receive raw, outdated fruit and vegetables from grocery stores and other sources, sort through it and have to discard what isn’t safe to hand out. The volunteer knew that I composted and wondered if I’d like to pick up the residue so that they wouldn’t have to throw it out. She and the director had been taking it home, but it was too much for them. Four times a week I’ve been picking up buckets of smuck, or what I call the rotting fruit and vegetables, and often its too much for me as well.
There has been a grace period where my daughter and I nearly broke our backs picking up cardboard boxes sodden with fruit juice that stained our clothes and our car, and spent lots of time cutting produce out of plastic bags and containers, but the Food Pantry staff have been wonderful about usually opening the packages and using only old pool buckets.
My back, my clothes and my car thank them. Fortunately others have been picking some smuck up. The man in my life happily takes lots of it to feed to his compost worms. We’re a great match.
My daughter and I empty the buckets into the chicken coop.
The girls love it. I make sure they eat lay crumble and calcium as well to keep laying, but with the smuck they’ve reduced their intake of crumble and hence have lowered my expense.
I pitchfork straw and weeds over the top and within a few days most of it except some citrus and a coconut or two is pretty much gone. There is a fly problem, but with the flies there have come more flycatchers and lizards, and the hens eat the insect larvae that emerges in the compost.
The picking up of smuck, hauling it down the hill and into the coop, de-packaging, cleaning buckets and fighting flies and ants, three – to -four times a week has been a time-consuming and very, very icky job, but the thought of all that free waste going into the dumpster keeps me at it. This is bacteria-heavy compost material, which is excellent for growing non-woody herbaceous plants such as our own vegetables and herbs.
I’ve also layered the smuck with cardboard, paper waste from the house (tissues, paper towels, cotton balls, Q-tips, junk mail, shredded paper, etc.) under the bananas.
Bananas love lots of food in the form of moist compost around their roots; in fact, they are commonly planted in banana circles with understory plants and the center of the circle is a place for waste products to deteriorate. In our dry San Diego climate we don’t have that kind of tropical moisture to help it rot, but the compost does become a sheet mulch and really helps create soil.
One inch of compost reduces watering needs by ten percent, so a pile of wet smuck layered with carbon items such as dry cuttings and cardboard is excellent. I throw cuttings and pine needles over the top to keep down the rotty fruit smell, which doesn’t last long anyway.
When creating new impromptu trellises for melons and squash in unimproved soil, Miranda and I dug trenches, threw in wet wood and dumped buckets of smuck right on top then covered the trench with dirt. We planted seeds in handfuls of good compost and away they went. We also used some of the mostly composted soil from the Fowl Fortress directly into the kitchen garden .
Due to the wide variety of fruit and vegetables in the smuck buckets we’ve had some interesting volunteer plants. Tiny tear-shaped tomatoes that had been sold in plastic containers for natural snacks, a sweet potato, other tomatoes, and melons. At least we thought they were melons.
Miranda was wondering about pulling them out of the kitchen garden because they were taking over without apparently producing a flower. A couple of days ago she investigated further and found a real surprise. We have about thirty kiwanos growing under the foliage!
I’ve never eaten a kiwano. Wikipedia says: Cucumis metuliferus, horned melon or kiwano, also African horned cucumber or melon, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, in the southeastern United States, blowfish fruit, is an annual vine in the cucumber and melon family, Cucurbitaceae. I’ve seen them in the smuck buckets, and it just figures that of all the green melons and orange melons that we’ve thrown in there, something like these would grow! None have ripened to the light orange color as yet, which is good because it gives us time to figure out what to do with them.