Thursday, April 16, 2009

Drops of Water in A Water Jar Part 1 - Composting

The title of this post was inspired from a verse from the Buddhist text The Dhammapada, which reads in full, "Hold not a deed of little worth, thinking 'this is little to me.' The falling of drops of water will in time fill a water-jar. Even so the wise man becomes full of good although he gather it little by little."

Likewise, when many individuals each do a small amount of good they can together accomplish a great deal of good. In the first of what I hope will be a regular series of posts on this blog, I want to discuss the benefits of composting and how it applies to this philosophy.

This past summer, I decided to start composting my lawn and leaf waste. When I thought about it, I realized it was extremely wasteful to spend money on several boxes of plastic lawn and leaf bags to bag grass clippings and leaves, haul them to the curb for trash collection and have them take up space in landfills. So, with a quick trip to a nearby Home Depot, I obtained the basic supplies needed for under $20 and went about setting aside a corner in my backyard for the compost bin. Above is a picture of the bin I shot today.

What are the practical benefits of composting? Well, for starters, I am looking forward to starting a vegetable garden this spring, so I hope to be able to generate enough useable compost to mix with top soil. By composting my grass and leaf cuttings, I am also saving some money that would be spent on lawn and leaf bags. But the benefits extend beyond that.

As I wrote in the paragraph above, composting yard waste means less of it takes up space in our landfills. If more people with available yard space for a compost bin did the same, it would have a multiplier effect. From the Environmental Protection Agency's web site on composting, "Yard trimmings and food residuals together constitute 23 percent of the U.S. waste stream."

Mass composting of yard waste could also help reduce fossil fuel use. When homeowners leave upwards of a dozen bags of raked leaves by the curb during the height of the autumn season, garbage collection trucks have to stop and idle while the workers pick up the bags and toss them into the back of the truck. While we are probably talking maybe a matter of a few seconds of idle time, when you multiply that amount by the hundreds of homes on each truck's collection route, the amount of fuel wasted really starts to add up.

In addition to composting grass clippings and leaves, table scraps also make a valuable component of a compost pile. I started adding things like banana peels, apple cores and other fruit and vegetable scraps several months ago. Instead of tossing in the items individually, I purchased a small pail with a lid that pops open when you step on the foot pedal and a supply of bags made from biodegradable cornstarch. Above is a picture of one of the bags filled with banana peels and such.

Another thing I did late last autumn after doing some research about composting was to toss in some worms that I came across when I was raking and vacuuming. Recently, when I have been churning around the pile after receiving rainfall, I was surprised to see that at least several of the worms in the pile were still alive after so many months had passed.

As I am still quite the novice when it comes to composting, it remains to be seen how successful it will turn out with my planned vegetable garden. Regardless of that, I can at least take some satisfaction in knowing that I am doing a little bit of good by adding less waste to our landfills and helping to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. If you believe that these are worthwhile goals and you are able to compost your yard waste and table scraps, then I hope you will help fill up that water-jar.


Sparrowhawk said...

Well done, we compost at our house as well. Anything plant-y that we don't eat goes on. One year we even put old pumpkins from Halloween out, and a few months later pumpkin plants started growing. Didn't yield anything, but we were still surprised.

Tommykey said...

Hey Sparrowhawk.

Last autumn, I also tossed our pumpkins into the pile and buried them in there. Every now and then I still find rotting pieces of pumpkin when I stir the pile. I have also been finding lots of sprouting seedlings. I am not sure what they are, but I find it encouraging in that it means that the material in the pile makes for a good growth medium.

Tommykey said...

Further to my last, I found a mother lode of sprouted pumpkin seeds. I will see if I can get some of them to survive and hopefully bear fruit later this year.

tina FCD said...

Great ideas! My daughter has a big yard plus a vacant lot turned into yard also. When I mow, I just leave the clippings in the yard, I mow enough times that the grass never gets real long, so it doesn't leave unsightly clippings.
The leaves too. I mow em'.
Now, when spring comes around and we do the yard work, we fill up the wheel barrow or small trailer and tote the yard waste into her very back yard of the lot. There are very prickly bushes back there and we just dump the leaves and spread them out over those.