Fall Clean-up: Mulch and Protect

Fall is arguably Edmonton’s most beautiful season. No mosquitoes, lovely warm afternoons and calm evenings with spectacular sunsets. The foliage changes to shades of red, yellow and orange, and the air is crisp and fresh.

It’s also the time of year when we have to put down our spades and pick up our rakes, cleaning up the garden beds and protecting them for the upcoming cold winter months.

It can get as cold as -40C in Edmonton during the most frigid nights of winter, so having a good protective mulch over the hibernating plants is a must.

I take a simple approach, first slaying the perennial foliage with my clippers, then pulling all the annuals that won’t survive the winter. Once I’ve done that, I collect the leaves and mess on the lawn and run it down with a mower. I’ll do the same with the leaves from my trees as soon as they’ve come down, and sometimes I’ll borrow from neighbors if I feel I need even more browns.

The resulting mulch is returned to the garden to cover the plants with a 10-12″ airy quilt which will provide that extra layer of warmth they’ll need to get through the coming months.

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Build a composter from…Whatever you’ve got

When it comes to building something new for my garden, I like to use what I have rather than buy something ready made. Today I decided that I needed a new composter for under a tree in the front yard. I have a pile of compost out there that needs to be properly processed.

I had an old tomato cage and some plastic netting.

I had an old tomato cage and some plastic netting.

I found an old tomato cage that I built a few years ago out of concrete reinforcing mesh. I also had some pieces of plastic garden netting that I thought might keep the compost in place yet assure lots of air flow.

I used zip ties to attach the netting

I used zip ties to attach the netting

Using zip ties (does anybody else love zip ties as much as I do?) I attached the netting to the tomato cage. I moved the new composter to the front yard and filled it with some of the organic material I had piled up. A good soaking with the hose and I’ve got a working compost pile.

Loaded the new composer and gave it a good soaking

Loaded the new composer and gave it a good soaking

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Four: Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting or worm composting is one of the easiest ways of ridding yourself of those kitchen scraps without sending them to the Edmonton Waste Management Facility.

I read Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof many years ago when I began my first worm bin while living in an apartment in Winnipeg. I didn’t have any place to compost on a large scale, so vermicomposting was my solution to reducing my waste.

I discovered that worms were voracious eaters and could multiply at a rate that would put rabbits to shame. My Rubbermaid bin of worms could go through almost four litres of kitchen waste per week.

Worm bin

Worm bin

Starting your own worm bin is an easy task.

What do you need?
A non-biodegradable bin that can be drilled with holes.
A lid for the bin.
Bedding material such as shredded newspaper or leaves, corncobs, or paper towels.
Water
Food waste
Worms: usually red wigglers because they like shallow depth

Your bin should be about five times the size of your weekly volume of waste. A microwave size bin will handle an ice cream pail full of waste.

Begin by filling the bin with bedding material. Soak this with water for a few minutes and drain off the excess. Add some starting microbes by adding soil or compost. Add your food waste, burying it below the bedding. Add a handful of worms. It will take the worms three months to multiply to their maximum number, so initially be careful not to over feed them.

Feed them: vegetable scraps, tea bags, tea leaves, coffee grounds, dried out and crushed egg shells, fruit and fruit peelings, grains and nuts.

Don’t feed them: lots of fresh discards, meat and dairy, oily or salty foods, lots of one thing, quantities of yard waste, chemically treated items, non-biodegradable items, cat, dog or human feces.

Red wigglers

Red wigglers

To harvest worm castings you can use:
1. The side-to-side method. Simply move the old bedding to one side of your bin and add fresh material on the other. The worms will migrate to the new food source and you can harvest the completed material.
2. Bright light and scoop method. Shine a bright lamp on your bin and scoop castings from the top as the worms scurry for darkness.
3. The Sun-dried Method: Make piles of compost outside in the bright sunlight. The worms will work their way down to the bottom of the pile.

Castings can be used in potting soil (25% by volume), as a top dressing for perennials and annuals, or as a starter mix for seedlings (add an inch to the bottom of a transplant hole or seed row).

Special thanks to this weeks special instructors:
Christine Werk, MCR 2010
Hannah Heaton, MCR 2012

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Six: Eco Stations and Household Hazardous Waste

Over the past month I have been sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

Eco Station

Eco Station

Edmonton began holding city household toxic roundups in 1987. People could drop off their hazardous household waste at select locations around the city. They were three day events, once yearly, and continued until 1994.

Out of a demand for more regular service, the City began planning for a permanent solution. In August 1995 the first Eco Station was opened in Strathcona; 26,350 vehicles visited in 1996 alone. In December 1999 the City opened its second station at Coronation.

By 2006 more than 130,000 vehicles were visiting the Eco Stations and it was time to open a third at Ambleside. Ambleside features a reuse area where staff can place items that they feel others might use, like furniture or electronics in good condition. In 2014 our fourth Eco Station will open near the elvedere transit station (Kennedale).

Eco Stations provide a safe means of disposing of hazardous materials that may cause fire, injury or health concerns. It also keeps these materials out of landfill and therefore the environment.

Inside the Eco Station

Inside the Eco Station

Hazardous waste includes chemicals, metals, electronics, appliances, batteries, fluorescent tubes, tires, and paint. Recyclables are also accepted at Eco Stations as well as large bulky items, small appliances, lawn clippings and many other items. If you’re not sure about what goes where, check out this link.

Paint comes in large volumes into the station. They have a paint exchange program where people can drop off or pick up partial cans of paints. Some paints are mixed and now are available for sale in shops as “ecopaint”.

Chemicals are packed in drums and sent to contractors who further recycle or incinerate them. Oils can be mixed and used as a burner fuel or in asphalt. Tires are used in rubber paving stones and to make livestock mattresses. Metals in computer components get extracted and reused.

Eco Stations don’t accept explosives, radioactive waste, pressurized gases or anything dangerous to handle.

Now over 220,000 vehicles visit Eco Stations each year. They are successful because they are convenient, comprehensive and affordable.

Thank you: This week we were visited by Jenna from the Coronation Eco Station

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program: Touring the Reuse Centre

Over the past month I have been sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

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When I heard we were going to visit the Reuse Centre at 103A Avenue and 100th Street, I was excited. Believe it or not, I’d never been there before – which is surprising given how much I’m into reuse.

We were met by Hayley Orton, the Volunteer Coordinator for the Centre. It’s her job to coordinate the hundreds of people who help keep the place organized and running (last year 400 volunteers donated 4000 hours of time sorting items that come into the shop).

Hayley explained how donated items, simple things like balls of yarn and milk jug lids, get weighed when they are brought in. They are sorted by teams of volunteers who separate items and put them out in bins for people to buy.

Video: Reuse Centre

Customers pay $5 to purchase as much as they like at any one visit. The goal isn’t to make a huge amount of cash, its to keep these items from going into the waste stream. As things leave the Centre they are weighed again in an effort to keep track of how much material is kept out of the waste system. Last year they took in a whopping 142.3 tonnes and sold 107 tonnes.

The Centre is popular among teachers, daycare workers, children and crafters. There are materials to keep busy minds occupied and stimulate creativity, all at a reasonable price.

The Reuse Centre has a relationship with Goodwill Industries: sometimes they will get items that they cannot use, like clothing or toys, and those items get sent to Goodwill. In return, Goodwill sends over any items that the Reuse Centre has a need for.

Over the years they’ve determined which items are most requested, and this list determines what items are accepted for donation. They don’t accept electronics, household items (knick knacks), toys or things that are accepted typically at other institutions in the city. They aren’t in competition with other types of reuse facilities like the Habitat for Humanity ReStore or Value Village.

The Reuse Centre grew out of the popularity of reuse fairs which in turn originated in the 1980’s as garbage fairs. Many communities still hold reuse fairs as a means to support the Reuse Centre or their own community members and organizations.

So, I know, you’re wondering about that microwave you want to donate. Where do you take it? Well, the cool thing is that there’s a website to answer that question. Just go to www.edmonton.ca/reusedirectory where you can type in an item and it’ll tell you where in the city that item is accepted.

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Special thanks to two volunteers who assisted with our tour:
Trudy Papsdorf – volunteer at the reuse centre, MCR 1996
Hetal Patel – volunteer at reuse cente, MCR 2012

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program: Touring the Edmonton Waste Management Centre

Over the past month I have been sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

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I’m not sure how to even begin to describe the Edmonton Waste Management Centre (EWMC). Situated on the eastern edge of the city, it encompasses over 80 acres of land adjacent to the now-closed Cloverbar Landfill.

Developed in the 1980’s as a solution to the need for more landfill, the today’s EWMC is a testament to the forward-thinking minds of that time. It’s a marvel of efficiency and tribute to problem solving.

Only one group gets the “full monty” tour of the EWMC and that’s the Master Composer-Recycler class. We were privileged to see everything from the tipping floor of the Materials Recovery Centre to the bowels of the Leachate Treatment Plant.

Integrated Transfer and Processing Facility

Integrated Transfer and Processing Facility

Dressed in our hard hats and steel-toed boots, our first stop was at the Integrated Processing and Transfer Facility (IPTF). This is where our garbage arrives to be sorted into waste and compostables. A surprisingly large amount of material in the garbage can be sent to the Composting Facility and kept out of landfill. Still more can be sent to the Waste to Biofuels Facility which should be fully operational by 2015.

A combination of mechanical and manual sorting separates (essentially) the organics from the inorganics. Waste destined for landfill is then trucked to the West Edmonton Landfill or the site at Riley. Organics are sent to the Composting Facility.

The Edmonton Composting Facility is capable of producing as much as 80,000 tonnes of compost annually. Organics from our garbage are combined with wood chips and sewage biosolids (yes, those are what you think they are) and composted to produce a high quality mixture that can be applied to fields or used in landscaping. Second Nature compost is sold at several locations in the city.

What I learned about large scale composting is that although we should be proud to have such a facility, its definitely not the most efficient way to deal with organic materials. Transporting it to the EWMC, putting it through a 14-21 day indoor mass bed process, then curing it in big windrows outside is very labour and resource intensive.

Backyard Composting, worm composting and grasscycling at our own home is far more efficient and environmentally responsible.

So much garbage

So much garbage

Rodney hams it up at the MRF

Rodney hams it up at the MRF

The other stream of materials coming into the EWMC are the recyclables – the materials collected in the blue bags and blue bins. They are taken to the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where they are sorted, again both mechanically and manually, into various categories. This part of the tour was eye opening. It’s amazing how much plastic and paper we use in the city, and how much energy it takes to recover it for recycling.

The best way to keep these sorts of items out of the system is to reduce consumption in the first place. That means doing things such as bringing cloth shopping bags to the grocery store, or reading the newspaper online. Recycling is admirable, but its not the most efficient use of resources.

Leachate

Leachate Treatment

Our tour also allowed us in inside the Leachate Treatment Plant where the liquids extracted from the landfill, treated and released into the sanitary sewer system.

We saw how construction and demolition waste is handled at the EWMC, separating the drywall from the wood, concrete and shingles so that each an be appropriately treated.

We drove by the Grey’s Paper and Glass Recycling Facility which will soon by producing recycled paper from waste paper collected at City offices. This will be sold back to the City, “closing the loop” with respect to paper use. Pretty cool idea.

We also drove by Global Electric and Electronic Processing (GEEP) where your TVs, computer monitors and other electronics are salvaged for their valuable components.

Overall the tour was amazing. We got to see just how much thought is put into waste management in the city. All of this recovery is costly, but not nearly as costly as landfill. Properly managed landfill is expensive and should be our last resort when dealing with our waste. By 2015 when the waste-to-biofuels facility comes online we will only be sending 10% of our waste to landfill. That’s incredibly impressive.

You can book your own tour of the EWMC by calling 780-496-6879.

Special thanks to our tour guides:
Allen Yee, Waste Management Engineer
Neil Burkard, Education Program Coordinator for the EWMC

Edmonton Master Composter Recycler Program Lesson Five: Backyard Composting

Over the next two months I will be sharing my experience with the Edmonton Master Composter-Recycler Program. Maybe it will inspire somebody to learn more about composting. Maybe a few people will discover more about recycling. Perhaps more than one reader will find something here that they can take away and use in their own community.

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Backyard composting is a great way to reduce your environmental footprint while benefiting from a nutritious end product. Compost is to your garden what food is to your family – a source of wholesome nourishment.

There are two basic rules to backyard composting: it should be easy and it should be fun.

In composting there are five things that we can control:

Materials – greens and browns
Aeration – getting oxygen to the organisms doing all the work
Hydration – how wet the compost is
Surface Area – smaller bits of compost have more surface exposure
Volume & Location – how large and where in the yard

Greens are fresh and full of nitrogen, while browns are dry and carbon-rich. The balance of greens to browns in the composter should be 1:1 by volume.image

Greens: fruit peels and cores, veg scraps, weeds, plants, coffe grounds, animal manure (herbivores only)
Browns: brown leaves, dead plants, hay and straw, peat moss, tissue and paper towels, dryer lint, wood chips, cones, sawdust, coffee filters
Minerals: egg shells, soil, perlite, vermiculite, wood ash
No: meat and animal products, fats and dairy products, pet litter, cat and dog feces, diapers, diseased plants, seeds, barbecue ashes and coal

Aeration reduces odors; use a pitchfork, compost aerator, a perforated pipe or add course materials.

Moisture speeds decomposition; compost must be kept moist and monitored weekly. Add moisture with a hose, a watering can, rain or aquarium water or by adding more greens. Hydrate slowly to avoid leaching the nutrients (particularly phosphorus) into the ground. Compost should be as wet as a wrung out sponge.

Surface area exposes more bacteria to the material; shredding or chopping material will help it decompose faster.

The ideal size for a compost pile is 1 cubic meter to 1.5 cubic meter. Locate it somewhere convenient where it will be well-drained, sunny and sheltered.

Thanks to:
Mark Stumpf-Allen, Composting Programs Coordinator City of Edmonton