The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Household biomass

BiocharBefore heading out into the neighborhood, it's best to make sure you're fully utilizing all of the sources of biomass that your own household churns out as waste.  If you decide you like any of these products, you can collect them on a larger scale in the typical city, or even talk your rural neighbors into setting aside their waste for you.

Kitchen scraps tend to be high in nitrogen and (generally) seed-free, making them good for adding to worm bins or for heating up compost piles.  (Of course, if you have chickens, you should give them first dibs.)  The downside of kitchen scraps is that they tend to smell and can attract vermin, so be sure to cover them with high carbon materials.

Grass clippings can be collected from your lawn using a bagging mower.  You'll only want to remove between a third and a half of the clippings from your lawn to keep the grasses happy (letting the rest of the clippings melt back into the ground) unless you fertilize the soil using a chicken tractor or other sustainable method.  The highest quality clippings grow in the spring, when grass leaves are full of nitrogen and make a great mulch if applied immediately to garden beds.  Spring clippings will also heat up compost piles quickly as long as you mix them in well so that they don't turn slimy.  Later in the year, grass clippings are higher in carbon and tend to be full of seeds, so you'll need to compost summer and fall clippings or put them on the floor of your chicken coop.

Weekend Homesteader paperback Paper is very high in carbon, so it is best mixed into a compost pile with high nitrogen materials.  A quality shredder will make paper much easier to compost or to use as bedding in the worm bin.  In both cases, newsprint works best and you should steer clear of colored inks.  Heavier papers are best utilized to start fires in your wood stove.

Wood ashes from your stove are high in potassium and calcium.  They will raise the pH of your soil or compost pile, so use ashes only if you know that your soil is too acidic.  Any charcoal left behind from  your fires is even more helpful --- follow the link for more information.

Hair and feathers are very high in nitrogen, but both resist absorbing moisture, so they break down slowly.  If you cut your own hair, it's worth saving the results and mixing them with wetter, high carbon materials (like soaked hay) in a compost pile.  Ditto if you kill and pluck your own chickens.

Learn about other fun, cheap, and easy fall projects in Weekend Homesteader: October.

This post is part of our Scavening Biomass lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I never knew you could compost hair and feathers. We have an indoor dog that sheds. Now when ever I vacuum I am going to dump the hair and dirt into the compost bin. One more this that is not going to the land fill.
Comment by Kathleen Olsen Thu Sep 29 16:48:01 2011
I have to admit that I've never composted hair. When I was a kid, my mom would put it outside "for birds to build nests with" and I loved the romantic image of that so much that I followed her lead. I probably should start collecting the hair, though, because I notice that birds aren't all that interested.
Comment by anna Thu Sep 29 19:13:03 2011

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