July/August

Composting

Long before memes were cool, and back when chain emails were definitely a thing, I remember being forwarded a massive group message that poked fun at how humans handle yard waste and compost. It took a bit of searching, and it seems no one knows the true origin, but I found a version of the allegory and it goes as follows:

God to Saint Francis: Frank, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

Saint Francis: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers ‘weeds’ and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

God: Grass? But, it’s so boring. It’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It’s sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

Saint Francis: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

God: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

Saint Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

God: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

Saint Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

God: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

Saint Francis: No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

God: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

Saint Francis: Yes, Sir.

God: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

Saint Francis: You aren’t going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

God: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It’s a natural cycle of life.

Saint Francis: You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

God: No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

Saint Francis: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

God: And where do they get this mulch?

Saint Francis: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

God: Enough! I don’t want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

Saint Francis: ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ Lord. It’s a story about…

God: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from St. Francis.

Now, as someone who’s guilty of purchasing mulch each spring to thwart the onslaught of “weeds” in my yard, I certainly understand the “Suburbanites’” intention. But the idea that humans tend to tinker with (or think they know a better way than) nature’s intricate balance – a balance that began just a few billion years ago – is certainly not a new one. 

Composting is the process by which microorganisms, in the presence of oxygen, break down organic matter into compost. It’s the recycling of organic nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, among others. Composting essentially turns waste products into a usable, rich soil amendment. 

Importantly, composting can lessen the burden on landfill systems and decrease greenhouse gas emissions, while creating a healthy and useful material for farming and gardening. As a bonus, it’s amazingly easy implement a composting program at your own home or school – and prove to Saint Francis that we can indeed use nature’s systems to our advantage.  

Did you know…

Composting food waste not only saves space in landfills, it also reduces the amount of methane released. Food waste that is bagged and buried in landfills decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen), creating methane, whereas aerobic decomposition (with oxygen) creates little to no methane. Methane is many times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas

According to the EPA, food composting in the US is on the rise. 

Milwaukee is home to the Compost Crusader which works to reduce waste at festivals, weddings, and other events. 

To Do This Month:

  • Get creative and make a DIY compost bin for under $10, or take on an even larger project with this compost bin made out of pallets.
  • Don’t miss Community GroundWorks’ Thursday Nights at Troy, where you can eat Troy Farm pizza, buy produce from the farm stand, and enjoy live music and activities.
  • Learn more about soil and composting through the PBS film called DIRT! The Movie.
  • To find even more family friendly events this summer, visit the Nature Net Calendar and learn about what’s happening at all of the Nature Net sites.

Mini Compost Jars



Composting Books



Madison Metropolitan School District



Events this Month



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For Educators:

Composting for Schools 

Setting up a composting program in your school may be easier than you think. Tips from conscientious organizations like Ontario’s Clean River Recycling Solutions, and Illinois’ Seven Generations Ahead include the following: 

Conduct a waste audit to better understand how much of your lunchroom waste might be compostable and to create a baseline of information. This will also help you determine the size bins you’ll need. 

Determine if you want to or have the capacity to compost your lunch waste on-site. If not, check with your waste management provider to see if they offer compost hauling services. 

Select waste collection bins based on the size of your school, and the age and ability of your students. Make sure there’s great signage for compost, recycle, and landfill waste streams. It’s also important to check in with custodial staff to make sure bins aren’t too heavy and that the frequent emptying (to keep odors to a minimum) fits in with their schedule. 

Lastly, get the word out about the composting program. Making sure students and staff are well aware of what is compostable and what is not is critical. But, you’re already and educator so, this part should be a cinch! 

Other ideas include: 

Unrelated to Composting but Timely: Grant Funds for Field Trips: 

Target Field Trip Grants
The Target Field Trip Grants program provides funds for K-12 field trips in order to give students throughout the country the opportunity to explore more of the world outside the classroom. Grants of up to $700 each will be awarded to educators, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, and classified staff who are employed by accredited K-12 public, private, or charter schools. Types of funded trips include art, science, and cultural museum visits; community service and civic projects; career enrichment opportunities; and other events or activities away from the school facility. Funds may be used to cover trip-related costs such as transportation, ticket fees, resource materials, and supplies. Online applications will be accepted through October 1, 2019.

For Families:

Home Composting

At my house, we use a “cold” compost system, primarily because I don’t want to hassle with the turning “hot” compost requires, but also because I have the space and the patience. 

If you’re interested in starting your own home composting, there are plenty of resources out there (and garden companies willing to sell you compost bins and turners) but the truth is, all you need is a list of compostable materials and a patch of space in your yard where you can start piling waste. Nature will do the rest. 

Here’s the difference between cold and hot composting:

HotCold
MaterialsTwo parts carbon (brown items) to one part nitrogen (green items) Any compostable materials (no weeds with seeds)
MaintenenceKeep damp, turn to aerate, keep between 140 and 160 degrees None (some occasional aeration may be needed)
Compost Complete2 weeks to 2 monthsUp to two years

You can find more comparisons from Fine Gardening or details on cold composting here: Homestead on the Range, and details on hot composting here: GrowVeg.com, or check out the below Composting 101 video from Better Homes & Gardens:


Betsy bylineCopy of Betsy bylineBetsy Parker is an environmental educator who supports all children, families, and classrooms getting their recommended daily allowance of #VitaminN.
Funding for Nature Net and the Nature Net News blog is provided by American Girl Fund for Children.