This Halloween, dress your lawn in compost

A light coating of compost this fall will boost your lawn come spring — and save water next summer.

October 14, 2019 | By: Todd Hartman
Keaton Delynko, 8, gets ready to put locally produced compost on the grass, to help his parents prep their lawn for a healthy, and water-conserving, spring.
Keaton Delynko, 8, gets ready to put locally produced compost on the grass, to help his parents prep their lawn for a healthy, and water-conserving, spring. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

We’re well into football season, air conditioners are easing toward hibernation and rakes are displacing garden hoses. It’s the perfect time to … topdress your lawn.

Say what?

It’s a hip landscaping term (if you read hip as “new to me”) that means spreading a bit of compost — usually about a quarter inch — on your lawn.

The compost will spend the offseason settling into the soil, providing nutrients and soil structure for your grass to grow. All just in time for spring.

And because we’re Denver Water, we also will add: It helps your lawn and the soil retain water.

“Topdressing helps the ground act more like a sponge and allow the turf to hold more water and reduce runoff,” said Jeff Tejral, water efficiency manager at Denver Water.

And taking care of the landscape below your lawn is particularly important along the Front Range, where poor quality soil can make things difficult for growing a healthy lawn. Topdressing adds organic material and helps lawns thrive.

‘Homegrown’ compost

This advice dovetails nicely with the fact that Denver residents can pay to participate in the Denver Composts collection program, which turns kitchen scraps, paper towels, coffee filters and yard debris into compost.

For about $30 per quarter, Denver Recycles will provide a green compost collection cart and pick up your yard debris and food scraps weekly. The material goes to A1 Organics’ processing facility in Keenesburg, northeast of Denver. A1 Organics grinds the incoming material, builds and regularly turns large compost piles called “windrows”, which enables these organic discards to break down quickly.

 

A fresh load of compostable materials is added to the windrows at A1 Organics' facility.
A fresh load of compostable materials is added to the windrows at A1 Organics’ facility northeast of Denver. Photo credit: A1 Organics.

 

Within 90 to 120 days, A1 Organics’ process will create compost that rejuvenates and nourishes the soil, returning to the earth the basic organic components that produced the food and other vegetation to begin with.

A1 Organics’ product, branded “Denver’s Own EcoGro™ Compost,” can be found at Ace Hardware.

“We encourage Denver Water customers to give this a try. It’s good for your lawn, a good way to enrich and energize the soil, and has important environmental benefits beyond that,” Tejral said.

The compost is currently offered at a special buy-one-get-one price.

Benefits for climate and waste management

Why does all this matter?

Here’s a good summary from A1 itself:

“In the United States, only 5% of our food waste, yard trimmings, paper and other compostable materials is actually composted each year. The remaining 95% — 60 billion pounds, or the weight of four and a half Egyptian pyramids — ends up rotting in our landfills.

“If we divert our compostable materials out of landfills and instead use them to fertilize the land we farm, we would enjoy increased agricultural productivity, reduced land desertification, and reduced financial losses by repurposing what would otherwise have been wasted.”

Composting also represents an easy opportunity to slow the growth of landfills. In Denver, about 50% of what we throw away could be composted, according to Denver Recycles.

A fresh load of compostable materials is added to the windrows at A1 Organics' facility
Selena Tejral helps her family spread EcoGro on the lawn. The compost originates with compostable waste products from Denver. Photo credit: Denver Water.

 

What’s more, material like food waste breaks down differently in landfills and produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas that contributes heavily to climate change.

A1 Organics website puts it this way:

“During decomposition, organic matter is eaten and digested by microbes. Normally, these microbes produce carbon dioxide as a waste byproduct. But if no oxygen is available, like in the anaerobic environment of landfills, they produce methane instead. Methane’s greenhouse gas effect on the atmosphere is 21 times greater than carbon dioxide’s over a 100-year period.”

Composting is catching on

Denver Recycles began offering compost collection services in 2008 as a pilot.

Since then, the program has grown steadily. Today, more than 21,000 residents pay for service. Last year alone, Denver Composts participants composted 16 million pounds of food scraps and yard debris.

The amount of material composted by Denver households is projected to grow rapidly in the coming years as more and more Denver residents sign up for Denver Composts.

A1 Organics can convert waste like food scraps, yard waste and napkins into compost within 90 to 120 days.
A1 Organics can convert waste like food scraps, yard waste and napkins into compost within 90 to 120 days. Photo credit: A1 Organics.

 

As the program expands, it creates more finished compost too, making it increasingly important for Denverites to close the compost loop by using this finished compost in their home lawn and landscaped areas.

Denver Water has joined the composting movement.

The utility in 2016 began providing bins for employees to deposit their food scraps, napkins and compostable containers. The amount of material gathered for composting has grown over the years as employees have learned which everyday items can be composted.

In 2018, Denver Water employees diverted 41,163 pounds of waste from the landfill by composting. That’s more than 20 tons. They’ve kept up the pace this year, diverting 20,587 pounds through July.

A1 Organics lays composting waste into windrows at its Keenesburg facility.
A1 Organics lays composting waste into windrows at its Keenesburg facility. Photo credit: A1 Organics.

 

“Our composting efforts are another key piece in our work on sustainability,” said Kate Taft, manager of Denver Water’s Sustainability Team.

“Cutting our energy and water use, tracking and cutting our carbon emissions, and shrinking our waste stream are all significant priorities for us. Denver Water will continue pushing to cut our overall waste and divert what waste we do produce away from landfills. Composting is a big, big part of that.”

It makes sense to put all that water-saving, climate-protecting and soil-energizing compost to good use on your grass.

So this fall, don’t leave your lawn in distress. Topdress.

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