urban recycling

Recycle: Grass

Cue the Vivaldi and Rolling Stones…Spring has officially arrived! Your plants are waking up after their long winter nap, and so is your landscape grass. You are also probably scheduling your home yard service to start cutting your grass again on a routine basis (or perhaps you’re flexing your muscles and doing it yourself – good on ya!).

In this Garden to Table to Garden blog, we’d like to remind you of two important things:

1.     If you are using the right mowing height and frequency, you don’t need to bag your grass clippings. They can be mulched right back into your grass, which will help it retain moisture and nutrients. To further chop up long clippings, use a mulching mower or run the lawnmower over an area twice. Read more about that here from our friends at Texas A&M Water University.

2.     If you DO choose to bag your grass clippings, remember that fresh cut grass is a wonderfully important nutrient in your backyard compost. Green grass is a pure source of nitrogen in your backyard compost pile. Reminder, the four main ingredients in compost are: brown stuff (carbon sources like mulch, leaves, pine, and branches), green stuff (nitrogen sources like grass, food scraps, and coffee grinds), air and water…Even if you just saved your brown leaves and fresh grass clippings and layered them at home in an outdoor container, you will have easily created a rich compost for your soil by recycling what nature provided you.

Most of us are used to thinking about bagging grass clippings and leaves as waste for the landfill. We want to challenge you to rethink these natural resources in your home landscape.

PS, does your landscape turf need a little TLC after winter? sprinkling a fine layer of compost (called “top-dressing”) will surely help. Read more about that here.

Cook: Winter Greens

January is a great time to buy and cook local winter greens - broccoli, chard, kale, spinach, collards…we hope you sauté, or braise, or steam these beauties at home for your family.

However, if you don’t think you will be able to cook them in time before they go bad, here’s a quick tutorial on how to blanch them and save them for a future date!

Blanching is a culinary term that means, “to cook an item partially and very briefly in boiling water or in hot fat.  Usually a pre-preparation technique, as to loosen peels of vegetables, fruits, and nuts, to partially cook French fries or other foods before service, to prepare for freezing, or to remove undesirable flavors.” [Source: “Professional Cooking”, Wayne Gisslen]

That’s a technical way to say: quickly cook at high temp, then chill immediately.

Here’s what you do:

1.     Chop up the greens. While chopping, put a pot of salted water on the stovetop and bring that water to a rapid boil.

2.     Once water is boiling vigorously, put the greens in and let them cook for 1-3 minutes. It is important to not let them boil for too long, as you will lose more nutrients and texture the longer they cook. Wait for them to turn a bright color and soften slightly…for thicker greens, boil slightly longer – more delicate greens only need 1 minute or so.

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3.     While the greens are boiling, get another bowl and fill it with ice water (this is your “ice bath” for the greens – yes, they’re getting a little spa treatment…)

4.     Drain greens in a colander, and quickly move them to their ice bath. Let them cool to room temperature. Drain them again in the colander.

5.     Put greens in Ziploc freezer bags and label with the date you cooked them. Store them in your freezer.

Blanch away, friends!  Don’t waste those good greens.

Recycle: Leaves

Every year around this time you’ll see them on most curbs – bags of leaves waiting for pick up by the bulk and brush trucks. Instead of sending these leaves to the landfill, you can recycle them at home, and turn them into a valuable soil amendment to put back onto your plants – leaf mold. You heard us right – leaf…mold…(though we prefer some important official organization rebrand it to “leaf gold”).

So, leaf mold is an incredibly valuable type of compost to create and harvest back into your urban yard. Soil that has leaf mold added to it can hold moisture 50% better than those without it (think about how valuable this is in our hot Texas climate). It creates better soil tilth (fancy word for structure), and it helps to attract beneficial microbes (a wonderful cast of characters inside the soil that we can’t see, but they are making magic at a microscopic level).

Leaf mold is created simply by decomposing leaves, aided by fungal activity that is created when water and oxygen are combined with the leaves. Here’s the shorthand formula: leaves + water + oxygen + time = leaf mold.

You can get really creative with how you build your leaf mold bin; here are the supplies we used:

·      14 inch bolt cutters or a combo pliers/snip tool.

·      Roll of galvanized steel garden fencing material with 2x3 inch mesh opening.

·      Leaves. Lots and lots and lots of leaves…

Now, to build your bins,  simply roll out the fencing (we walked on it) until you have your desired length to create the circumference of the bin. Use your tool to cut the piece twice (once, along the vertical; second, along the horizontal edge). This creates a simple hook action that will make this cylindrical marvel.  

Here’s how you fill the bin:

1.     Add leaves. Water that layer of leaves.

2.     Repeat step one until you reach the top of the bin.

3.     Now, wait for nature to do its work.. (If you shredded your leaves, they will break down faster into compost. If you put the leaves in whole, they will take longer.)

Enjoy the step-by-step photos of how our team turned 2000 pounds of leaves from a community leaf drive into leaf mold bins. It sounds like a ton of work, but four ladies built all of this in four hours.

We hope you will try this, too, in your urban space. We’ll keep you updated on the results of our leaf gold process and product as the year progresses.