The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 9, 1999


Composting in Carlisle: Make an Investment in Nature

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But apple peels, leaves, and eggshells changing to soil? Anyone who composts will tell you that kind of metamorphosis is only a matter of time.

Time it's the one thing working parents don't have. I'm probably not the first one that couldn't find time to compost.

Things change, however, and I'm actually thinking about ordering The Brave New Composter from the Department of Public Works (DPW). It's the model available to Carlisleans for $17.10 (that's half off the list price. You can adjust the unit to four different sizes.) Just by call DPW Superintendent Gary Davis at 369-6156.

Davis reported town residents have purchased 170 composting units since they were first offered four years ago. There's only ten left, but he says he'll probably order another dozen "soon."

I figure if I'm serious about this I'd better place my order before you read this article.

Learning one's way about town

When I moved to Carlisle last summer, I have to admit that I was pleasedno, thrilledto find a trash compactor and garbage disposal in my new kitchen. Both are great time-savers to the cook of the house. As I soon discovered, however, both are anathema in a town like Carlisle.

In 1997, Carlisle residents generated 1,018 tons of trash at the transfer station. Of the total waste, the town recycled 38.8 percent. With many towns struggling to pass 30 percent, that's great.

In 1998, the numbers are even better. Of 1,909 total tonnage, the town was able to recycle 41 percent. David Comstock, chair of Carlisle Household Waste Committee, estimates the annual town savings at $106K.

Back to my story. I discovered that the trash compactor was great at consolidating mixed paper. Compressing it in a plastic bag, however, made it difficult to carry and unpack at the transfer station. In the interests of time, it invariably got dumped in general trash.

The garbage disposal proved even more problematic. I was no longer a newlywed and grateful to have a place to quickly dispose that disastrous moussaka or that cake with 2 TB coffee (used ground beans instead of the beverage). Now that I was a responsible citizen and passable cook, I figured I'd only dispose garlic skins, vegetables, and fruitsnatural stuff that would be good for the earth. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong.

Seeking a bit of free advice

After covering my first Board of Health meeting, I decided I'd ask the town engineering consultant Rob Frado about my food disposal, or "garbage grinder" as these cognoscenti had called it. I wanted to know what I could put in there to speed the decay of the food stuff.

"Nothing," he said with a smile. "You really shouldn't be using it at all." Did I detect a patronizing note in his voice? Great, and I thought I was helping nature do its job. It turns out that anything you put in a garbage disposal can decrease the life of your septic system.

I wasn't going to give up quite yet. "But all I do is put fruit and vegetables in it. Isn't that all right?"

Frado set me straight. The "puree" as he described it ended up in the leaching field and contributed to its erosion.

"Why don't you try composting?" he suggested.

Taking care of your septic system may be the single best way to protect the value of your real estate in Carlisle.

Composting? He must be kidding; that's something my father and his friends did. I'm strictly New Age, and wouldn't dream of driving an Olds. It only took a few more meetings and a few failed systems requiring upwards of $40K to fix before I was ready to reconsider. Taking care of your septic system may be the single best way to protect the value of your real estate in Carlisle. Especially since you may not be able to install a replacement system anywhere else on your property.

Composting out of the box

Sara Alpert, of Indian Hill Road, represents the only landscape designer in Carlisle certified as a Massachusetts-certified horticulturist. She noted that you don't have to throw waste materials into a bin at the edge of the lot; there are many ways to compost in the garden itself.

Some of Alpert's favorite tips include:

· Placing cucumber peelings around peonies to discourage ants.

· Saving all eggshells, and when dry, crumbling and scattering them around the base of lime-loving plants (rosemary, lavender, and thyme).

· Putting banana peels around roses to make a mulch and repel Japanese beetles

Alpert recognizes the value of using composting materials to improve soil. She doesn't pile leaves and wood ash in only one place in her garden, however, but prefers to distribute it throughout her property to maximize improvements to the general soil quality.

Making the time

Did you know that it's a state edict that you can't dump leaves and grass at the transfer station? "People still dump them," said Comstock, "There's not much we do about it." I'm happy those orange pumpkin bags filled with leaves still decorate our property in April.

Comstock goes on to describe how he still sees families that don't bother to sort their trash and take advantage of recycling. No problemwe do that: glass, tins, plastics, and newspapers. He specifically mentions mixed paper. I wonder if I'm blushing.

I decide to place that order for The Brave New Composter. Before they are all sold out. "Maybe two," suggests my husband. "We have a lot of leaves."

Size chart for the adjustable Brave New Composter

Size 1: Diameter 41" (24 cu. ft. capacity, holds 10 bags of leaves at a time.)

Size 2: Diameter 37" (20 cu. ft. capacity, holds 8 bags of leaves at a time.)

Size 3: Diameter 33" (16 cu. ft. capacity, holds 6.5 bags of leaves at a time.)

Size 4: Diameter 30" (12 cu. ft. capacity, holds 5 bags of leaves at a time.)

(recommended for those mainly composting food scraps)

Discounted price: $17.10.

To order: call DPW Superintendent Gary Davis at 369-6156.

Soil Fractional Analysis: What's your soil texture like?

Your kids or grandchildren can have fun conducting a science project in your garden that can help you figure out the requirements of your soil. You'll need the following materials.

· 1 c. of dry, fine soil

· Rolling pin

· A clear glass quart jar with a tight-fitting lid

· 1 t. non-sudsing dishwasher detergent

· clock

· crayon

To get a soil sample representative of the entire garden, take 1 T. samples from several locations and depths, mix them, dry them thoroughly, and pulverize them with the rolling pin.

Fill the jar 2/3 full of water, add the soil and detergent, and fasten the lid securely. Shake the jar vigorously for 10-15 minutes.

Sand particles are the largest and heaviest and will settle to the bottom within one minute. Mark the jar with a crayon to record the sand level.

After two hours, most of the silt will have settled, so make a second mark on the side of the jar to indicate the level of silt.

Let the jar sit undisturbed for several days. Clay particles are tiny, and will require time to settle. Once the water is clear, mark the level of clay on the jar.

Determine the percentage of each type of particle by using the following formula:

A equals the thickness of the sand

B equals the thickness of the silt

C equals the thickness of the clay

D equals the thickness of all three deposits

To calculate the percentage of sand, multiple A times 100 and divide by D.

To calculate the percentage of silt, multiple B times 100 and divide by D.

To calculate the percentage of clay, multiple C times 100 and divide by D.

Loam, the most desirable texture for garden soil, contains 40 percent sand, 40 percent silt and 20 percent clay.

Process excerpted from Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of "Gardening and Landscaping Techniques, 1990.

1999 The Carlisle Mosquito