Composting Turns Waste into Free Mulch

An easy alternative to all those brown bags on garbage pickup day is recycling with a compost bin, where yard waste breaks down naturally into free mulch for a healthy garden.

“If you’re carrying too many bags to the end of the curb, and carrying too many bags of mulch home from the store, composting is an easy solution,” said Kay McKeen, a member of the City’s Environmental Improvement Commission. “Composting is easy, and it’s a great way to get children involved in protecting the environment.”

Mulch from composting helps retain soil moisture, controls weeds, increases soil fertility and protects against erosion. Compost bins can be made easily with galvanized wire fence, boards, bricks or cement blocks. The key is having enough openings for adequate ventilation. A properly aerated bin will not omit offensive odors.

City Code requires that a compost bin be located in the backyard, at least 3 feet from the side yard line, 5 feet from the rear yard line, and at least 30 feet from neighboring residential dwellings. The bin should be at least 3 feet high and 3 feet wide, but no taller than 5 feet or greater than 100 square feet at its base.

Lots of yard waste can go in the bin: grass clippings, leaves, dead houseplants, weeds, hedge clippings, wood ash, sawdust, peat moss, firewood chips and garden soil. To speed the decomposition process, add a very small amount of 10-10-10 fertilizer, a little bit of water and manure.

“Much of the soil in this area is already acidic, so limestone or fertilizer may not be needed for activating the process,” McKeen said. “Coffee grounds make a great activator. Also, make sure wood products are free of petroleum chemicals such as paint or stain.”

Layering the compost material is vital. Alternate moist green materials with dry materials using an equal amount in each layer. Turn the pile every four weeks during the summer months but less frequently during cooler weather.

Do not compost diseased or chemically treated material, thick branches, animal waste, meat and dairy products. Also avoid adding excessive water.

The Secret to a Great Lawn

The best way to recycle grass clippings is the easiest – leave them on the lawn. A properly mowed lawn will not result in thatch buildup. The secrets:

  • Cut the grass when it is dry.
  • Cut it when it gets 3 to 4 inches tall.
  • Set the mower to cut at 2 inches.
  • Keep the mower blade sharp, and use a mulching mower if possible.

The sharper the mower blade, the finer the grass clippings and the faster the decomposition. This natural recycling also helps the yard retain moisture and returns nutrients to the soil. It reduces the need for fertilizer and reduces chemical runoff into waterways.