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Here’s the dirt on composting: If you’ve been reluctant to try it, hesitate no longer! “Composting is a great thing to do,” says Casey Sclar, Plant Health Care Division Leader. “Just get started and learn along the way. Stick with the basics and you’ll do fine.”
Composting is a process in which organic materials are broken down and transformed into a nutritive soil amendment. What we think of as waste is transformed into an ideal soil enhancer. And if you need another nudge, consider the fact that about one-third of what you’re putting in the trash now could probably be composted instead. Sclar’s own family experienced that first-hand. “Once we started composting and recycling, we went from four bags of trash a week to one.”
Sclar suggests a simple color-coded system to help identify what to put in the compost pile. Use four parts brown (brush, wood chips, leaves, and old chopped-up bark mulch) to one part green (fresh lawn clippings, food residuals, and spent garden plants).
It’s equally important to know what to omit. “You don’t want to put in meat, cheese, sauce, fish, or dairy products,” Sclar explains, “and don’t use a lot of liquids. Compost needs moisture, but only a little. You don’t want to create a condition that’s attractive to rodents.”
A variety of bins and tumblers are available for storing and mixing compost. Stop by the Example Garden in the Idea Garden to see some examples. Longwood also offers great classes and literature with step-by-step composting guidelines. There is plenty of helpful information online as well. The basics are easy and inexpensive—don’t be scared off by fancy machines or phrases like “compost tea.” A storage bin can be as simple as a few pallets screwed together. There is plenty of helpful information online.
“Out back of my house I keep my raw materials in one spot, make a layer of food scraps and put a big heap of brown material over, turn it, and let it heat up,” Sclar says. “It takes three to four months to build up a pile, and maybe six months total to come up with a nice compost product.”
Once your compost is ready, you’ll have ample opportunity to use it. “It can replace peat moss, which is great because peat moss is not renewable,” says Sclar. “Start off amending a bed or using it on your lawn. Those are good starter partners for compost. I wish people would use it around trees and shrubs more. If you’re making a new flowerbed or vegetable garden, till in about ten percent compost.”
Turning trash into garden treasure is easy, economical, and ecologically sound. There is, however, one danger that you should be aware of. “Once you start doing it, you’ll get hooked!” says Sclar. “You won’t be satisfied until you make the Neiman-Marcus of compost.”
For information about how to start a compost pile, visit http://www.longwoodgardens.org/docs/educationalresources/composting.pdf
During his twenty-two years at Longwood, Senior Auto Mechanic Tom Wollaston has seen big changes in the way industrial waste is handled. “I’m on the Recycle Committee,” he says. “It’s a way to get input and feedback, and find out what’s going on. In our shop, the four main kinds of industrial waste we deal with are tires, batteries, oil, and absorbent pads called `pig mats.’ We want to recycle as much of those as we can.”
Old tires are stored in a container like an enclosed Dumpster. “When it gets full, it goes to the recycler,” Wollaston explains. “They grind up the tires and a magnet pulls the metal cores out. The recycled material is used for septic systems—large ones that municipalities are building for towns—or big leach beds.”
As for batteries, almost one hundred percent of Longwood’s batteries are recycled ones purchased from Interstate Battery Co. The firm has a reputation as the top battery recycler in the country. Longwood returns used batteries to Interstate where they are separated into their component parts to be reused again. Even the lead is repurposed into new battery grids.
Oil can’t be dumped on the ground or washed down the drain, so what do you do with it? “We have 250-gallon plastic containers with a metal framework,” says Wollaston. “We put all of the used oil in the tanks. When they’re full, we have a couple of places that take the waste oil back and reclaim it. All the impurities are cleaned out, then it’s mixed in with industrial heating oil.”
Used oil filters aren’t thrown out, either. A hydraulic machine presses squeezes the excess oil out. The drained filters go to a recycler who cuts them apart and removes the paper and metal.
Wollaston has been around long enough to see some practices come full circle. “A long time ago we used to get our oil in 55-gallon drums, then we went through a phase in the early nineties where there weren’t supposed to be any more 55-gallon drums at Longwood,” he says. “We smashed them all with a loader only to find out that we were supposed to have cut the tops off and cleaned them out first! After that, all of our oil came in smaller plastic containers. Now, twenty years later, we’re back to buying bulk oil to reduce the amount of plastic we use.”
Wollaston and his colleagues in Equipment Maintenance don’t just recycle plastic, they also pay attention to how much they acquire in the first place. Everything from windshield wiper fluid containers to the bubble wrap that protects the wipers themselves is scrutinized.
As for the pig mats, “If you’ve seen pictures of the oil cleanup down south, you’ve probably seen them,” Wollaston says. “They look like big ropes in all different sizes, and what’s inside is designed to absorb oil. After we use one, we contain it in a drum and the vendor comes to take it for recycling.
Wollaston says that Equipment Maintenance is serious about upholding Longwood’s commitment to reduce environmental impact. “Even when we clean equipment, we do it in a parts washing sink. The solvent we use is in a 10-gallon drum that gets changed out periodically” he says. “Used anti-freeze has its own drum. We pretty much try to contain that, too. We don’t want any of this stuff to end up in a landfill.”
Visit http://corporate.interstatebatteries.com/recycling/recycling_process/ to learn how batteries are recycled and reused. For information about sustainability at Longwood, the website is http://www.longwoodgardens.org/SustainabilityatLongwood.html.
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Meet the arborists and gardeners that care for our trees and flowers throughout Spring Blooms, and see demonstrations throughout our Conservatory and outdoor gardens.
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Get ready for an evening of oohs and ahhs, as Longwood presents spectacular Fireworks & Fountains shows guaranteed to make your summer memorable.
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Registration is now open for our 2013 Continuing Education courses!
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