Eco-Tip for 10-13-19
Composting on Site: Focus May Change from Backyard to Business
By David Goldstein, VC PWA, IWMD
“Compost happens,” said a bumper sticker I saw, twisting a similar, less optimistic phrase. Everything living will eventually rot when exposed to a combination of moisture, air, and microorganisms, so eventual success at composting is likely. However, if you are trying to make compost on the same site where you generate yard clippings and food scraps, proper technique is important for avoiding problems and efficiently producing high-quality soil amendment.
Until recently, the focus of on-site composting was almost exclusively on residential backyard bin methods. However, State mandates for businesses, institutions, and others to avoid landfilling yard clippings and food scraps may change the focus over the next few years. Like homeowners, who use a curbside cart for yard clipping, the vast majority of commercial and public sector organizations with qualified waste will likely pay for an additional bin, picked up by their refuse hauler on a truck headed to a compost facility instead of a landfill. However, diverting materials on site instead will save some employers money, and those employees with compost experience from home composting may find their skills in demand at work.
Local cities, community gardens, the Ventura County Master Gardener program, and others teach composting at their workshops. An upcoming workshop sponsored by Master Gardeners of Ventura County, a project of the University of California Cooperative Extension, on Saturday, October 26, from 9 to 11 am at The ARC of Ojai, 210 Canada Street, in Ojai, will focus on Winter Vegetable Gardening, but will include soil preparation methods, such as composting. Register at http://ucanr.edu/survey/survey.cfm?surveynumber=28244. However, for more in depth local composting assistance call the Master Gardener help line, (805) 645-1455, which is staffed by a volunteer every Tuesday and Thursday from 1 to 4 pm. At other times, you can leave a message or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
A workshop more specifically focused on composting, adjacent to the other side of the county, will be on Saturday, November 16, from 9:30 am to 11 am, at the Calabasas Community Center, 27040 Malibu Hills Road, Calabasas. The city of Calabasas, Los Angeles County Public Works, and the L.A. Countywide Smart Gardening Program web site for the event states, “learn the basics of backyard composting, water-wise gardening, worm composting, grasscycling, and edible gardening.” No reservations are required. Although it is open to non-residents of Calabasas, Ventura County residents will not be able to buy a discounted compost bin at that event. Instead, check with your local city. Discounted bins are available through Camarillo, Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, and Ventura.
On-site composting has a long and vital history in America. According to the official web site for President George Washington’s home and business, MountVernon.org, in 1787
Washington oversaw the construction of a stercorary, more commonly known as a “dung repository” for use in composting, and “nothing seemed to work as well as a mixture of manure and plant material” composted together to “invigorate his lackluster soil.”
While historic composting consisted mainly of managing material discarded on site for use as compost on site, modern composting has changed. Ventura County, with its pockets of agriculture interspersed between urban areas, illustrates well one of the forces influencing this change. Houses and businesses in many developed areas were built on fertile former farmland, and they discard the abundant harvest of their landscapes weekly in curbside carts or bins. Meanwhile, farmland has become more expensive, so farmers squeeze crops out of the soil intensively, often with more than one harvest per year. The soil nutrients discarded by the urban part of our county are needed by the agricultural part.
The Limoneira farm, between Ventura and Santa Paula, has been the local paragon of farm-based composting since 2004, when, according to its web site “Limoniera Company continued its agricultural entrepreneurial spirit by partnering with Agromin,” a company specializing in making mulch and compost. Currently, a 10-acre facility on Limoneira land receives urban yard clippings and lumber, mainly from companies affiliated with Harrison Industries. Agromin’s entire product produced at Limoneira is currently used just at Limoneira, where, according to the web site, the mulch reduces erosion, conserves water, combats weeds, and moderates soil temperatures. The Agromin/Limoneira team has submitted to the County of Ventura a permit application for a major expansion of activities, including the right to make more compost than is needed for on-site use, and to sell the remaining compost off-site.
As noted, compost happens, but proper technique is essential to avoid problems. Regulations ensure the practice of these proper techniques, especially when composters take more than specified amounts or material types or accept material from off-site. As with any permitting situation, site specific variables can be significant enough to require direct contact with permitting authorities before beginning any composting activities.