Tag Archives: compost

DC Water’s Bloom: Recycling Biosolids Into Soil Conditioner

DC and Maryland residents are in luck. Using state-of-the-art equipment, DC Water is now producing and selling Bloom, a soil conditioner made from Class A biosolids. According to DC Water, Bloom can increase organic content in the soil, increase drought resistance in plants, and provide essential plant nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Bloom can be used by gardeners for establishing flower and vegetable gardens, remediating poor soil, planting trees and shrubs, and improving and establishing lawns.

Biosolids are organic matter recycled from sewage, which have been treated and processed in order to be used as a soil conditioner. “Drinking and waste water — everything that goes down the drain – comes to DC Water to be cleaned up,” explained Bill Brower, program manager for Biosolids at DC Water. “Our equipment pulls out the solids, the organic matter, before the water goes to the Chesapeake Bay. The solids are heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit to kill pathogens.” Class B has a reduced number of pathogens and is not used for gardening while Class A has essentially no pathogens; thus safe for homeowners and gardeners. By purchasing new equipment, DC Water has been able to create a Class A product with the intent to further their recycling efforts.

Using biosolids as a soil conditioner is not new in our country. Other cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, Austin, Houston, and Boston also use and sell their high quality biosolid soil amendment products. One of the more well-known brands among gardeners is Milwaukee’s Milorganite, which can be purchased in bags at garden centers.

“Adding Bloom to your garden is like adding compost,” said Bill. “Bloom breaks up clay, helps to build tilth, and helps to increase the community of microbes. Over time, Bloom increases drought-resistant properties in plants.”

Some people are concerned that using a biosolid product will have an offensive odor but Bill reassured me that Bloom does not. “Bloom has an earthy odor,” said Bill. “I was showing it to school children the other day and they said it smelled like burnt wood or like dirt.” Part of Bill’s job is to serve as community ambassador, introducing Bloom to gardening clubs and people who manage school and community gardens.  About 30 school and community gardens in the Washington DC area use Bloom in their soil.

Currently, DC Water produces two “varieties”: Fresh and Cured. Fresh is cheaper than cured at $2.50 per cubic yard but more alkaline than cured (8.47 pH) and contains more moisture. Because it contains more moisture, it is heavier and more difficult for a person to lift with a shovel. Thus the Fresh is ideal for landscapers who can use spreading equipment. Cured is $5.00 per cubic yard with a more neutral pH (6.79 pH) and less moisture. Because it is dryer, it does not stick as much to a shovel and is lighter to lift.

DC and Maryland residents can order by calling or completing the online order form. They can have Bloom delivered for a delivery fee or drive to Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, 5000 Overlook Avenue, SW, Washington DC, to have staff load their truck.

The Bloom website is very informative and lists the lab analysis of samples of both varieties with specific amounts of nutrients, metals, pathogens, etc.  Both have nutrients that plants need such as nitrogen and phosphorus, essentially no pathogens, and low concentrations of heavy metals. The presence of heavy metals is similar to the amount found in typical soils and is far below the level found to pose a risk to human health. Bloom meets all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for use in homes and gardens.

For more information contact Bill Brower, (202) 787-4296, bloom@dcwater.com or visit http://www.bloomsoil.com. To order, visit the website or call (202) 765-3292 Ext. 102.

Making Composting Easy for Working Mom in Virginia Suburbs

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

keeping eggshells for the compost bin

The trick to composting is to figure out how to make it work for you so it becomes easy. If it is easy, you will compost. This past fall, we set up a Geobin in the backyard. A Geobin is a rectangular heavy piece of plastic with holes that is folded into a cylinder and placed on the ground. Overlap part of the material, insert plastic bolts to keep its cylindrical shape, and voila! you have a compost bin.  The nice thing about the Geobin is that it makes composting in the suburbs polite – the black plastic hides the ugly rotting fruit so the neighbors can’t complain.

After we set up the Geobin, we tore up empty cardboard egg cartons and paper towel rolls and threw them in the bin to create large pockets of air at the bottom for drainage. Because it was autumn, we added lots of dried leaves and as I worked in the garden, I added soil from my own garden, usually what was still attached to plants I pulled, plus any earthworms. This introduced the necessary bacteria and small organisms to the bin to start the decomposition process. Throughout the fall and winter, the bin received plenty of water from rain and snow and there were enough air pockets between the leaves and other materials for the organisms to work.

one geobin set up with stakes to keep open

Geobin set up with stakes to keep open

From then on we added fruit and vegetable scraps as well as plant debris from the garden and even free coffee grounds from Starbucks! We have three separate areas in the kitchen to collect eggs, coffee grounds, and produce. The eggshells go into a plastic-lined small box behind the coffee maker (they don’t smell).  Once a week, we pull the bag out, crush the shells, and dump into the compost bin (plastic bag goes in the trash can). We put our coffee grounds in a plastic shoe container under the kitchen sink and once a week we dump the grounds into the compost pile. Kitchen scraps–melon rinds, banana peels, strawberry leaves, vegetable peelings, and tea bags–go in an empty cereal or cracker cardboard boxes on the kitchen floor. After we dump the produce into the compost pile, we throw away the boxes in the trash (by now, soft and wet) and start again with a new box (the cereal box could go into the compost pile but it would require tearing it up into small pieces, which runs counter to my “keep it easy” theme here).

This past weekend, about six months later, I tried to unscrew the plastic knobs to undo the Geobin so we could shovel the compost out for the garden. I realized that it was so full I couldn’t get my hand in to unscrew the knobs from the inside. It was easier to lift the plastic up which resulted in a cylindrical shape of leaves and refuse. Because I did not stir often, most of the leaves and debris stayed in place (note to self, stir more often and bolt with screw on outside). With the garden fork, we broke up the condensed mass and discovered moist, dark soil (similar in texture to bagged potting soil) in the core, complete with earthworms!  As we broke the mass down to about a foot, it became easier to stir with the fork. We put the core or composted part in the garden beds and left the rest in the corner of the backyard to continue to decompose; making sure it was only a few inches high so it was not an eyesore.

composted material in the inner core after removing bin

compost in the inner core after removing Geobin

The compost added micronutrients and microorganisms including earthworms to the garden beds. Just adding an inch of compost to garden beds in the spring is beneficial for the plants. Compost also is great for breaking up clay and improving soil texture and drainage.

I can now see the need to have two or three Geobins going at the same time. When one is ready, pull it apart and put the compost on the garden beds while at the same time dumping produce into the second or third bin. My method is simple but slow; it takes months for the large pieces to break up into small pieces. To speed up the decomposition, I could make the ingredients smaller (like cutting up the leaves), turn it often to increase the aeration, or strive for the recommended carbon-nitrogen ratio of 3 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen by volume. Although the decomposition process is a natural process, when you do it at home, you are in charge of putting the ingredients together so you have to be aware of the amount of carbon (also called “browns”) in relation to the amount of nitrogen (also called “greens”). Brown is the dead dried plant parts that are high in carbon (in my case the autumn leaves) and green is the fresh living parts like the kitchen vegetable scraps that are high in nitrogen. There should be more carbon or brown than nitrogen or green which I am always aware of but never measure. Water and air (as in air pockets among the plant materials in the bin) are essential too. We never add meat, dairy products, diseased plants, oils/grease, bones, or pet wastes.

Some counties give away composting bins free or sell them at a minimal cost. Contact the local county extension agent or the county division responsible for solid waste services, waste management, recycling, or trash management.  I received my Geobins through a county effort to increase composting, but they can be bought online at http://www.geosystemsonline.com.