I have one new box-shaped gadget in my kitchen that takes the food you put in it and turns it into something that looks like dirt. It’s the Vitamix FoodCycler FC-50, a cubic foot machine with a cylindrical inner chamber the size of a beach bucket. Fill this bucket with leftover food, let it spin for several hours, and open it up to find something that looks like dirt, really large flakes of fish food, or a combination of these. My wife Elisabeth keeps a jar of yogurt labeled “Fresh Dirt” next to the FoodCycler to store its release. Sometimes the exit smells like the faint smell of rubbish in a city you’ve never visited. Sometimes it almost smells nice. Elisabeth, who’s been on a kombucha-brewing kick lately, made a batch using just the scobys and the exhausted tea leaves, and it all came out with an exotic scent that a perfumer could incorporate into a cologne.
I immediately got lost in determining the destination of this device. At Joe’s in Seattle, for example, we have an urban garbage can for garden and food waste. The garbage truck picks it up and drops it off every Thursday. I keep a compost bucket on the kitchen floor, with a mini version of it next to my prep area. I also have a bag in the freezer with some chicken bones and leftovers like leek leaves, onions and parmesan zest, and every few weeks when the bag fills up I turn its contents into a few liters. broth. Growing up in New Hampshire, we would send corn on the cob into the woods from the back deck, and all the other vegetable scraps went into the huge compost heap at the back of the yard. If mom and dad needed soil for their good sized garden, they would dig up just a little. Now when I need soil for my roof top planters, I buy a new bag at the hardware store.
In these cases, the FoodCycler would be of limited value. I don’t think there is no use for that, but once I got it in my kitchen I realized it would only serve a very small niche – and I can’t really figure out who fits that niche. Maybe you are in a suburb where there is no food waste recycling program and you are tired of throwing kitchen scraps in the trash. Maybe you want to experiment by making some sort of super compost, and the idea of a $ 300 gadget is more appealing than a $ 10 bag of dirt from Lowe’s. You may not have room for a compost pile, or you may want something to feed your indoor gardening project during a freezing winter.
Composting is a good thing. It doesn’t eliminate the problem of food waste, but it does something productive with what might otherwise end up fertilizing an old sofa in the landfill. It nourishes your soil by adding nutrients that make plants happy. Technically, the end product of composting is called a “soil amendment” or “nutrient source”, although Vitamix refers to the production of the FoodCycler as “fertilizer”.
I called Andy Bary, researcher in soil science at Washington State University. He is also the co-author of an excellent short film “Backyard composting“newsletter that I plan to share with every gardener in my life. It quickly came back to safety.
The end product of poorly done composting can transmit pathogens in the food you grow there – lettuce that you don’t want to eat. Regular garden compost goes through a phase where a well-maintained pile rises in low to mid-one hundred degrees Fahrenheit for several weeks, then “heals” at around 100 degrees for a few more months. If there are pathogens in the pile, they are cooked or dissipate within a few months. I went down into a rabbit hole to try to determine if cooking for several hours in the FoodCycler was enough to cook pathogens. According to the folks at Vitamix, each batch spends five to eight hours at or above 158 degrees Fahrenheit, which Bary says “looks good to me to cover pathogen reduction.”
Bary also pointed out that “very few” backyard compost heaps reach the correct temperatures (they are often too small to heat enough), but if you wait 60-90 days anything bad will dissipate and you can use the nutrient. worry-free source. Leaving meat products, especially chicken, out of your compost will save you headaches and stomach aches.
You can put animal products –like chicken bones and other leftovers– in the FoodCycler, but I learned to proceed with caution. I made the mistake of sprinkling it around my parsley, and the soil grew mold to highlight my mistake. These are the kinds of things you should turn into dirt.