Welcome to a Monday morning. I am a little sore this morning from an unexpected opportunity to get out in the garden and lawn this weekend. It’s not too often that we get sunshine and 50+ degree weather in January in the mountains of East Tennessee.
This weekend I had the chance to compost and line out some of my flower beds, prune some bushes, etc. But it was the composting that I wanted to talk to you about.
Free compost My kids and I unloaded this weekend. It received about 1.5 inches of rain over the weekend
Many of you want to compost but you are afraid of the process, have heard horror stories or don’t have enough plant material to get your pile started. For me,these reasons and the fact that I live in a neighborhood and don’t really have a place to establish the size pile I would need got me searching and asking questions. The question I asked: What does the city/county do with all of those leaves and Christmas trees they collect throughout the year?
The answer: In many communities, they have established FREE compost areas. In my community, they have a location about 5-10 miles or so outside of town where they take dump-truck load after dump-truck load and pile up the leaves in long rows. The trees and limbs they pick up through the year are run through a chipper/shredder and blown onto the same piles.
There are rows that are three+ years old and some rows of fresh (this season) and everything in-between in various stage of decay. The only thing it cost me was the gas to travel out there, and a few hours of work loading and unloading this free source of good quality compost.
When I used to live in Frankfort, KY they had a similar program but it was located in the heart of town so it was more accessible. This brings me to a couple of points to consider. In many cases this is a ‘free’ or tax-subsidized program so its existence in your area may vary. I had to call several agencies from city hall, county government, park and recreation department, and sanitation until I found someone who could tell me about it. Strangely enough, none of these bureaucrats knew anything about it…they all told me that we did not have anything like that in our area. It was not until I met one of the truck drivers for a leaf collection crew at McDonald’s that I got the answer I was looking for. Point is, you are likely going to have to look for it to find it. I have also discovered that some cities charge a nominal fee for the compost while others operate it as a completely free service. Further, (especially in the free service areas) management of the piles can vary widely. So, know what you are looking for when you go pick it up so you can tell if it has been turned regularly, etc.
Like anything there are some things to consider:
Since these piles are created from leaf-collection services their focus is collection NOT creating perfect
This close-up of the compost after we had pile it around our dogwood tree shows the texture of the free compost and the fact that it was made of various materials which are in different stages of decay
mulch/compost. Therefore, I had to sort out some various bits of pop bottles, plastic, wires, small scrap metal. All in all though, I only sifted out enough garbage to fill a small plastic grocery bag so its a small price to pay.
The compost is made of various types of plant material with various acidic conditions like oak and pine so your pH levels can be all over the place. Therefore, I recommend testing it with a pH meter. I am taking mine to a friend this week to have it tested. I will update you once I have the numbers. Plus any info I have on amending it as needed.
Some areas will have staff on hand with a front-end loader, others will not and you will have to load it yourself. One area I am aware of, does not have a front end loader, but they don’t mind if you bring your own. For just a few dollars you could probably hire a farmer to meet you out there and load it for you. I used a pick-up truck to haul my mulch and it held three front-end loader scoops. It took far longer to unload it than it did to load it.
I used a standard shovel to unload it and it took approximately 20 heaping shovel loads to fill my wheel-barrow. That will give you an idea of the time and effort it will take if you are loading it by hand.
Bottom line, this is a good, though not perfect, system for many of you to be able to access compost in volumes that most home-owners/gardeners could not. This compost is similar to the quality you would have to pay $40+ per front-end loader scoopful at a retailer and it is free and readily available. Additionally, it is a good use of material that, ten years ago, would have simply ended up in our landfills. This is the essence of Reduce Reuse Recycle and is an example of where it works efficiently and effectively. For these reasons, and because I am always looking at ways to save money on my gardening projects, this is one I wholeheartedly support and recommend. If you’ve got the time and the labor available and you don’t mind waking up sore on a Monday morning, do the research find the location and go get yourself some good, free compost.
We were able to get most of the compost spread in our flowerbeds and around our trees before the rains began. This pile is adjacent to our garden we will get it spread when the soil is dry enough to walk on. Hopefully we will be adding to it with another load of free compost next weekend, if the dry weather continues.
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