When I first heard this word being applied to areas other than agriculture, I wasn't quite sure what it meant. I had visions of citizens not only planting vegetable gardens and raising chickens in their back yards, but building windmills and adding solar panels to provide their own electricity, and spinning wool to make their own clothing. Obviously, in our urban society all these measures aren't very feasible. I had misinterpreted the term to mean "self-sufficiency." Sustainability doesn't mean individuals isolating themselves, but rather a collaborative effort to achieve a worthy goal. The mission of sustainability, as the U of I's website states, is "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." "Going green," "reducing our carbon footprint," "being environmentally responsible"--whatever you want to call it, it all boils down to making sure that we leave this earth as good a place (or better) than we found it.
While the premise of the Sustainability movement sounds very noble, I don't usually get involved with causes like this, especially if there are political overtones. However, I do think individuals can take actions in their own lives that can effect positive change in the future of our planet. Last year for Jan's Earth Day project I wrote about small steps that I had taken or planned to take. But this year I would like to focus on just one aspect, one that involves getting down and dirty--composting.
|Our Master Gardeners' Idea Garden has an endless supply of compost available to add to the garden.|
Since I live outside the city limits, this service is not available to me, but I do my own recycling of yard waste. After raking leaves last fall, I added a layer of leaves as a base for my new garden area, spread some over existing flower beds as protection for the winter, and added the rest to the compost bin or piled next to it. This spring I raked those big leaves back off the flowerbeds, and as I trimmed perennials and emptied old potting soil from containers, the compost pile grew even higher.
I don't pay much attention to the science of composting; in fact, I would call myself a "lazy composter." I don't add worms to the compost pile to speed up the decomposition process, and I rarely think to stir the pile to aerate it. I don't worry about the percentage of "brown" and "green"--I just add yard debris and kitchen scraps as I accumulate them. Unlike the fictional Maggie in my last post, I don't feel any guilt about all the coffee grounds I throw out, because they all get added to the compost. So does the produce that somehow gets lost in the back of my refrigerator until it turns into unrecognizable mush. Last fall I did construct a flimsy cage out of chicken wire and stakes to contain the pile a little better, but my dream is to one day have a wooden three-compartment bin, making it easier to get at the finished "black gold" whenever I want.
Taking this lazy approach does help to cut down waste, but it means the process of converting it to usable compost takes much longer. Last year I wanted more compost than I had available. That is when I discovered a gold mine--the local Landscape Recycling Center. The LRC has been taking in yard waste and selling the recycled products for several years, but I had never visited it until a Master Gardener classmate mentioned that she had gotten a pick-up load of compost for her garden at a very reasonable cost.
My first trip to the LRC was an interesting one. I envisioned placing my order and then someone handing me several bags of compost all neatly tied up. But no, . . . while they will load up a truck bed, if you want a smaller amount you need to bag it yourself. I found myself driving into a field filled with hills of mounded dirt and mulch and then scrabbling the compost with my bare hands into my containers. As the dirt began sliding down, I couldn't help but picture myself being suddenly covered with an avalanche of compost, never to be seen again. Fortunately, I survived and learned from the experience--from then on, I always wore old clothes and my garden shoes and brought along a scoop or shovel.
You can't beat the LRC's price for compost either. On that first trip I learned of a special deal they offered--for $10 I purchased a 7-gallon pail from them, which I could then refill for free for the rest of the year. And they don't care if you bring along other containers and fill them as well. All this means unlimited compost for only $10 a year! The LRC also offers different grades of mulch, also made from local materials, at a reasonable cost as well.
Last summer I made many trips to the Landscape Center, and I plan to go back again this year. I might add, as another environmental note, that the center is about 8 miles from my house, so I never made a special trip into town just for compost or mulch--using up extra gas--but always planned my stop there after I had already been in town for some other activity.
Anyone can compost, especially with the products available today that can contain a pile of debris so it won't offend your neighbors or violate local codes. But if you can't compost or need more than your pile produces, be sure to check to see if you also have a local landscape recycling center. It may be the best dirty little secret in town!
Be sure to check out posts from other garden bloggers participating in the Sustainability Project at Jan's Thanks For Today. And why not join in this worthwhile project? Jan is giving away lots of cool prizes to participants, but you need to have your post up by April 15.