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One man’s trash is this woman’s compost

May 8, 2011

May 8, 2011


An Open Letter to my neighbors in the Edgecliff Village area:

I picked these bags up a few weeks ago. I typically mix them in with my own weeds from the garden.
If you haven’t given any consideration to the nutrients that are in your lawn clippings, preferring to bag them and send them to the landfill, I have a request. I do value them, but some of you are making rather a mess of the process.

In the spring, usually when you start “thatching” or cleaning up your yards and mowing that first mass of tender weeds and winter grass, this organic material is really great for making the compost cook. So when you bag it and put it at the curb, understand that I may drive by in the evening and look into or at least give the bags a few tentative pokes to guess the contents, and then load them up to take home to my compost. Try to follow these simple rules:

Don’t tie the bags so tightly shut that I can’t untie them. A simple granny knot or square knot will do, so I don’t have to rip it open. That way I can reuse your old trash bag for hauling compost from the city’s free compost bunker or put my own trash in it. (I rarely have enough for a trash bag, but that is another blog entry.)

Don’t commingle tough branches in with your lawn clippings, and though it may seem funny to visualize my pain, PLEASE put the holly in its own bag. It really hurts to grab those leaves.

Don’t commingle your garbage into the lawn clippings. No plastic pop bottles, shingles that slid off of the roof, or other chunks of stuff that I’ll have to sort and throw away later. You have your regular trash can for that.

Do please included shredded leaves in with your lawn clippings, they are wonderful for adding micronutrients.

Please bag the good clippings, then I can carry them
home. I won’t disturb your trash can if you fill it with yard waste.

Once trash is at the curb, it goes somewhere. Efficient men come by in the morning and toss these bags into a compactor truck and take it to the landfill where it is buried away from sun and air and where it doesn’t break down or do much good for the environment.

You may have an inkling of proprietary fondness for your trash – it’s yours, you can do what you want with it, but in a lot of places, a growing number of places, that isn’t the case. One of these days, I hope, you’ll have to sort your trash and recycle the glass, plastics, and metal, and you’ll have to put yard waste in a decomposable bag. Until then, have pity on those of us who sort and recycle voluntarily and who keep an active compost system going in our yards with your lawn waste.

Thank you.

Your neighbor with the white pickup truck.

Did you know that when I pick up your bags of grass clippings that they smell of compost already, and are warm to the touch because the composting is beginning in the bag? I leave these bags in my back yard and every time I have a wheelbarrow full of my own yard clippings or weeds from digging the vegetable garden, I mix in at least one of these bags of yours, pouring it out over the existing pile then put my weeds on top to hold yours down (especially if it is loose leaves – I want them to stay put). Your clippings help kick start the next cooking phase in my compost.

Looking toward the next door yard last fall, you can see the site I dug last year and two working piles.
I tend to pile it and work these layers, the pile gets so big that I don’t try to turn it much. Two years will pass before I sieve then shovel this fine dark brown compost into my garden. There are composting hot shots with thermometers who are going for heat records as it cooks, I prefer to let time do it’s job, and I keep three piles going. The one I’m digging from this year, last year’s garden waste is nearby, and the stack from two years ago is waiting to be used next year. In this photo from last summer, you can see two stacks and the bare area left from where the oldest one was completely used that season.

It takes a surprisingly long time to fill this, but beware, it is really heavy if you fill it up. I'm switching to worm composting to use this bin less.
As mentioned in the last blog post, I also put kitchen waste in the compost, but because I have dogs who think all food is interesting, I let it break down in a bin first, then pour the soupy mix into the middle of the compost. It still smells pretty interesting to them, but I have started with Howard Garrett’s suggestion of mixing up a bucket of dog poop tea (just what it sounds like) to pour over the compost once I’ve poured in the liquid and covered it over. The poop smell repels the dogs, who under most circumstances, leave their own droppings alone.

I know one argument I’ll hear already: what if those people use chemicals on their lawns? I can’t help that, though I push the organic message pretty hard in the village. I get the earliest clippings, before folks fertilize. I figure it’s the least I can do, to recycle those nutrients before chemicals kick in this year to replace what they threw away.

As mentioned last time, I am adding a worm bin. I completed my research and am now in the design phase, but it should be up and running by late June. I have the parts and now I need to build the bin and get the bedding started before adding worms.

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