Agriculture, Environment, Science, Wildlife

Something’s Rotten in Seattle


Spreading good everywhere.

My dad and I are driving down backroad south of Delhi on a warm spring morning.   In the air is the unmistakeable bouquet of fresh manure, wafting up from a newly treated acre just upwind.  “Smell that?” asked my Dad as he leaned his head out the window, “That’s the scent of profits!”


Gogo and Wembly consult Marjory on composting, Fraggle Rock.

Compost is one of nature’s small gifts to those of us who wish to take it.  Bagging up potato peels.   Separating lemon rinds from swizzle sticks.  Throwing eggshells and coffee grounds into a bucket under the sink.

And any kid has to wonder, “when are they going to ask me to take that outside?”

The Korsts, a Dallas, Oregon couple composted their entire consumable garbage for a year after removing all recyclables.  Turns out their actual “garbage” filled a shoebox.   For a year!  Meanwhile the compost heap quietly bubbled and burped in their back yard.  No newscast has yet reported that they have gone missing while detectives are following up some promising leads next to the tomato rows.  But we wait to see.

Today, composting is de rigeur.  Ask the virtuous and self-denying citizens of Seattle who just this week accepted a composting by-law.   Simply stated, compost-eligible items may not exceed 10% of their weekly garbage pick-up.  In other words, “if it rots, keep it.”

seattle council

Seattle City Council hash it out.

The city council opened up this can of worms in July with city ordinance 124313.  It requires the frugal and resourceful residents  to reduce recyclable contents in landfill garbage to less than 10%.

Two months later, still not satisfied with the purity of their garbage, city council expanded the 10% cap to compostable matter.  From now on, that leftover duck a l’orange goes under the Spiraea bush in the back yard.

The motive behind this cleansing is to reduce landfill waste.   It turns out that Seattle was shipping 300,000 tons of garbage to a site in eastern Oregon annually.   Remember the Korsts?


Bags to go: we love ’em but we hate ’em.

Today consumers are whipsawed by legislation over garbage.   Just east of us, Torontonians are thrilled that the 5-cent tax on grocery bags has been repealed by city council.

In this instance, the “single-use” plastic bag definition ran into a legal shredder.   Lawyers argued that once home, using the flimsy bag to hold garbage was a multiple use, and therefore acceptable.


The sweet smell of success!

You may remember Toronto has had its share of political low days.   One of its good days is the 2010 cessation of trucking over a million tons of garbage to a Michigan landfill site every year.

And farther east, in Ottawa, the citizenry of Canada’s capital were presented with a training video for folding their newspapers.  Why?   To line their wet garbage bin.  There’s government at work for ya.

Which brings me to my main interest: the business of composting.   In my world, if it’s vegetable, it’s compostable and… it’s profitable.


Modest contributions: raw materials.

To that end, I happily walk broccoli stems, corn husks and wilted flowers out to a pile in the side yard that is the resting place for last year’s Jack ‘o’ Lantern, the weekly grass clippings, and all of the neighborhood’s fallen leaves.

Within this melange of produce there hustles a busy community of worms, sow bugs and centipedes.  They are quietly chomping, digesting and extruding high grade fertilizer.   Behind them, a trail of microbes are further breaking the matter down to its fundamental parts.

Canadian Nightcrawler

A hard, loyal worker. His rings indicate seniority.

While they seemingly toil without cease, I have learned that the earthworm follows regular hours.   A New York State College environmental paper reveals that it takes 8 hours for a worm to digest a meal, head-to-toe as it were.   And the output?  Anywhere from 2%-44% of its weight.

The scientists who made this finding also report that the optimum population density for earthworms is about 8 one-ouncers per cubic meter.   I know that my compost heap does much better than that.   Judging by the cafeteria lineups, I have a high density worm farm in operation.  Don’t tell PETA.


Rich, dark goodure.

The compost pile delivers the richest, loamy soil every spring and fall.   In the spring, I transport bushels of the black mulch to our garden.  There, it caps the ground, surrounds the new flowers, stifles the weeds and holds the water.


Compost delivers!

In the summer, I used another 20 bushels of compost to plant 11 rose bushes.   They are bursting in bloom continuously.

In the fall, I’ll dump another load of compost to cover over the roses and the mums, keeping them insulated until next spring.

Total cost: zero.

My hat is off to the noble and frugal citizenry of Seattle.  But my thanks is to Dad making his point on that early spring morning.

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Concrete Distraction

On a summer trek to the woods of Northern Ontario, motoring up Highway 11, over the precambrian granite shield, we can sense how long the winters drag on.   Just look at the flood of crafts and doodads for sale in the front yards of those determined  households which are buried in the snow and dark for 6 months.


A long winter’s creation, courtesy The Dreamer’s Woods, LLC.

But having an entertaining hobby is the first defense against going crazy and running out on the ice naked in February.  Maybe January.   Ask the locals.


For sitting and thinking. ~ The Dreamer’s Woods, LLC.

From the first snowflake in October, to the last icicle dropping from the roof in May, hands and minds are busy sawing, cutting, weaving, hammering, gluing through the night, and day, building up an inventory of items for passers-by to snap up in July.   And there they are: windmills, concrete statuary, chain-saw-sculpted grizzly bears, log benches, gnomes, rockers, adirondack chairs, silhouettes, trellises, all for sale.

A fish hawk's cozy cabin overlooking the trout pond.

A fish hawk’s cozy cabin overlooking the trout pond.

We passed a front yard covered in aviary merchandise under a sign that read: “Bird Bath and Beyond”.  Envision an over-crowded trailer park for birds, and you get the picture.   Further imagine that this yard has a border collie just to steer off the spring flocks looking for a place to nest.

Of course, there is great satisfaction in building clever objects out of native materials.    And you don’t have to live in the sub-arctic to take on an insanity-diverting hobby.


Instant fossils. Good for a 1,000 years.

With that in mind, I am sharing with you my afternoon’s delight in making garden stepping stones.

If you want an inviting pathway through your garden, these concrete leaves are a sure thing.   What’s more, they are uniquely shaped, easy to make, and cost about a dollar each.


The infamous burdock. Thistles only a goat could love.

The primary design is the leaf off of a burdock weed.    You see these bushy plants everywhere, and they are best known, and disliked, for their insidious burrs which sprout in the fall, usually ending up embedded in your kid’s sweater.   But catch them in early June, and you have a design source for your stepping stones.

Get a 50# bag of ready-mixed concrete.  It costs about $8.00.   Find a flat surface, about as big as the kitchen table.  Avoid doing this inside your home, unless you lay down a shower curtain or drop sheet first.   Don’t choose the kitchen table.   You need a garden trowel.   And a bucket to mix the concrete.  Maybe a wheelbarrow.   Do not consider a child’s swimming pool.


Burdock leaves-- the bigger the better.

Burdock leaves– the bigger the better.

Obtain about 7-8 burdock leaves. Big ones. Lay them on the flat surface, vein side up, topside down.    Spray a little PAM on them.  Mix up the concrete, and when it is a heavy mush, ladle it onto the leaves, about 1-1/2″ thick.   Smear the concrete towards the edges with the trowel, maintaining the thickness.  Follow the shape of the leaf.  Use the trowel to clean up the edges so that they are smooth, with no gravel blobbing out.  Let the concrete set over night.   Sprinkle water on it the next day to help it harden.

The fun part: patty cakes that won't spoil.

The fun part: patty cakes that won’t spoil.

96 hours will deliver indestructible concrete that would support your neighbor’s pet holstein grazing on your petunias.

When the concrete is cured, lift up the stone, and peel off the leaf.   Voila!   Stepping stone!


Once cured, these steps are your pathway.

And by the way, you now have a new trade, and are ready to live in the  snowy dark for 6 months of the year.




Thanks to Mary Shelley who started me on this, long ago.  Feel free to share!