Yard Composting

Tennessee has such interesting weather. Being a Michigan girl, I’m used to eight inches of snow and frozen mud, ice on the windshield every morning and extra layers. This weekend I mowed the yard in sweatpants, a light fleece, and flip flops! It felt more like mid march to me, but not as shocking as two years ago when I moved here (that year I was wearing shorts, a bikini top, and flip flops because 60 degrees was still beach weather in my mind!).

I have an acre sized yard with tons of really old trees, so it takes me nearly three hours to pick up all the limbs and twigs, then ride the mower around the whole yard. Other neighbors hire help, so their yard is clean within a half hour or so. I noticed that they bag up all of their yard scraps and carry it off to a dump somewhere, to be preserved there for all time. Did you know that nothing decomposes at the dump? Item on top of item on top of item restricts the necessary oxygen flow and sunlight needed for organisms to break down the materials. Therefore, your grass and leaves, which will decompose in less than a week if mulched in the yard instead fill up space at the dump and never make its natural cycle back into the earth.

Lawn care specialists claim that it’s best for the grass to remove decomposing debri. This may be true. Your yard most likely will be greener, and the reason for this is because decomposing grass and leaves release nitrogen into the ground, which (for some reason) is not good for plant life. However, this is only temporary. Once all of the nitrogen is released, the material is broken down by worms and insects to become rich soil, which then feeds the plant life and fertilizes the ground. This is known as “yard composting.”

I learned about it at the Team Green Recycling seminar during the summer, but the first time I realized it was when I moved to Tennessee. My roommate and I had mowed all of the leaves into several large piles, raked up the piles into smaller piles, then filled WHO KNOWS how many trash bags with the leaves and cut grass. It took us FOREVER! Not knowing where to put the bags, I tossed them ontop of my grandmothers former garden and sort of forgot about them. Meanwhile, my neighbor simply mowed their leaves into strip piles in their yard and by the end of the winter all of the leaves were gone and their yard looked effortlessly clean. This summer, deciding to make my own garden, I started to rip up the ground tarps that my grandmother had placed ontop of the soil to keep it from eroding and realized that all of the old leaf bags had busted open over the years and a very rich dark material was in its place. I saved probably a hundred dollars on fertilizers because the decomposing material contained more nutrients than any store bought, pesticide filled, hormone induced cow manure.

As for the branches, sticks and twigs, I pile them up near my bonfire pit and every so often invite friends over to help burn the wood. Although I may be emitting carbons into the atmosphere by burning the wood, it’s far less than the methane that would be emitted from the dump. Plus the ash left over from the wood is great in the garden especially around tomato plants. So, the circle of life and death repeat itself over and over… and as an added bonus, I spend a little extra time outdoors helping it all along.

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