Today’s jaunt to my garden has left me stunned. Not only do the chives thrive, the oregano has burst forth like a bowl of green cereal, tiny leaves in a round bush, and the rosemary has started singing “Come On-A My House” like one of the Clooney Sisters.
Best of all, I found out my compost system really works. I dug around in it today, uncovering the prettiest black organic matter I’ve ever seen. And this after my mulch expert, a friend named Peggy, was so skeptical: “Let me know if it works!”
I wanted to learn how to mulch for several reasons. One, I have an area in my backyard, next to the alley, that was covered by a previous owner with a ton of small gravel; he was making a parking lot, I’m told, next to the garage with his home office. Then his wife left him and he abandoned both projects. I want that space for my vegetable garden.
Grass and weeds grow there, so other stuff will too. I’m removing the gravel as best I can to get to the rich loam underneath, but it’s obvious that the area could use some fill and replenishment: thus the mulch. The soil is so fertile it ordinarily doesn’t need any help.
Secondly, mulch is part of a good recycling plan. There’s no need to send dead greenery, eggshells or coffee grounds to the landfill when I can use it myself. Third, I did a story for my local paper about schoolkids’ getting awards from the solid waste district, and met the director, who is full of enthusiasm for all things recycling. She gave me brochures and educational tools and I decided to try it.
I spend a lot of time in warm weather on my covered side porch; that’s where I grill food for my friends, while we gab and watch the cars go by – twice an hour on average. (That’s life in a small town.) I want my yard to look nice, so I did not want to build an outdoor mulch pile like Peg’s got. I mean, a pile of garbage is still a pile of garbage no matter how you market it. I wanted a system that was easy on the eye.
I shopped the internet for mulching containers, but even the simplest ones cost a hundred bucks for a piece of plastic, and that didn’t seem consistent with my goal of shrinking my carbon footprint; plastic comes from petroleum, and all those prefab boxes would do was shrink my wallet. So I looked for a cheaper way and came up with something.
You know those plastic storage containers they sell at discount stores? They come in many sizes to hold things like photos, clothes, sports gear, whatever purpose you want. I bought four, two big ones and two little ones, for about twenty bucks. I keep the little ones under the sink for potato peels and lemon rinds; they have lids, so they’re much better than the open pail the brochure advocated. When they’re filled up, I dump them in the big boxes, which I set outside in the sun.
But, of course, they must have drainage; so being the butch guy I am, I whipped out my handy power drill and cut dozens of quarter-inch holes in the top, bottom and sides of my boxes. I didn’t want holes so big the scraps would run out, or so small the water couldn’t escape. When I told Peg about it, she scoffed, the nasty wench.
Now I know it works just fine.
Unfortunately, I don’t produce enough garbage in a year to fill up the box! It’s even got the remains from last fall’s Advent wreath in there, and the box is only 3/4 full. So this is a longterm project; I haven’t even started to use the second big box yet.
But it’s a good thing I bought two of them; when one is full I can churn it and let it do its thing instead of dumping the latest garbage on top of it, like Peg does with her 4-posts-and-some-chicken-wire contraption. Mother Nature can take as long as she likes to break down my old lettuce leaves and moldy bread; I bet next year at this time I’ll have a compost pile that’s the envy of all my friends.
I must say it’s a bit shocking that even here in farm country, so few residents take care of the earth as well as they should. Every house on my block puts out four or five big garbage cans a week for trash day, full of plastic shopping bags, paper, 2-liter bottles, glass, aluminum and steel cans and the ever-present styrofoam. Some people do a great job of recycling what they can, but others are oblivious. I wonder if they’re too self-centered or if they just don’t care. My two best friends recycle when they’re at my house but throw everything away at their own.
This is not how previous generations lived – or how future generations will. My Grandmother used to toss her vegetable scraps over the fence for the chickens, who came running to get ’em. Leftover meat and fish went to the cats and dogs.
I’m apparently the only person in town who carries canvas shopping bags to the store. Worldwide, the EPA says, consumers use 500,000,000,000 plastic bags a year – 500 billion! Where do we think those things go?
They blow around, they end up in rivers and oceans, where they kill 200 species of marine life and often wind up (toxic petro-polymers) in our food chain.
If just 20% of Americans quit using plastic bags, we’d save over 1.3 TRILLION in our lifetimes.
They’re illegal in Bangladesh and China; Ireland taxes them at 33¢ apiece and has reduced consumption by 90%, according to the BBC. San Francisco has banned them and Mayor Bloomberg of New York wants to charge for them. Apparently if government doesn’t curb their use, people do whatever’s easiest for themselves, heedless of the consequences.
Do my little efforts cost me much in time or money? No; it’s as easy to toss my plastic Coke bottle in the recycling bin as it is to toss it in the garbage can next to it. I don’t even have to sort it.
Driving to the recycling station on my way to the grocery store takes me all of one block out of my way. It takes me two minutes to unload my trunk and dump everything. And the net result? I go 4-6 weeks before I have to put out even one garbage can on trash day. Thanks to my cheap mulching system, I’m going to have 30 gallons of rich black organic matter in a year or less, and more on its way.
I suppose President Obama’s too busy right now to think about banning plastic bags – but I bet Michelle and the girls would love to get free mulch for their new garden. The soil in D.C. can’t be that rich given all the carbon dioxide pollution (hot air) Congress emits every day.
So let’s conquer the world one person at a time. If you care to, leave a comment and tell me what you’re doing to limit the damage to God’s green earth. I’m growing my own salad fixings instead of paying for them to be trucked in from California, and growing oregano to make the whole world smell sweeter.++