Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creative Carbon Sources

Inevitably at some point during the year I run out of leaves to add to my compost bin. My heart sinks with regret when I think of the 8 full bags of precious leaves I willingly gave away to the yard trimmings drop off site last fall. Oh, what I would give for one of those bags now! (Well, not that much actually, but you understand the sentiment).

So now I have to get creative. Without a steady source of carbon, or “brown” material, to add to my bin, the nitrogen will take over creating anaerobic (a.k.a. stinky) conditions.

First, I scour my yard for leaves. Behind piles of rocks, in the messy storage area beneath the house, under shrubbery, and within dense flower beds. Word to the wise: wear gloves when digging out these piles of leaves, spiders and other creepy crawlies especially love making their homes in these hidden spaces.

When I’ve exhausted all these sources, there are a number of leaf alternatives that pack a high-carbon punch:

  • Dead plants in the yard
  • Shredded paper (shred to avoid matting)
  • Paper plates and napkins 
  • Egg cartons
  • Old hay or straw
  • Sawdust (use sparingly)
  • Wood chips (use sparingly)
  • Dryer lint (link)
  • Cardboard (torn into pieces)
  • Pine needles
  • Junk Mail
  • Prunings from woody shrubbery (cut into small pieces)
  • Tea bags
  • Expired spices
  • Corn cobs (cut up into pieces)
  • Peat moss
  • Wood ash

I try to use non-recyclable items first, like paper plates and napkins, but will use recyclable newspaper and cardboard as a last resort. Sawdust and wood chips take a long time to break down, so use these items sparingly.

Another idea: offer to “clean up” a neighbor's yard of leaves if they haven’t gotten around to yard work in a while. While not completely altruistic, it is a gesture some neighbors would appreciate. Who knows, along with free leaves you may get some complementary cookies or lemonade.
Where do you get “browns” in the middle of summer?