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

Urban biomass

Leaf mulchThe typical city or town is so full of biomass going to waste that you could spend all day harvesting.  In addition to the materials listed in the last section, you'll find:

Coffee grounds are produced in large quantities at coffee shops.  Grounds are seed-free and high in nitrogen (C:N of 12:1) so they can be used straight in the garden or in the worm bin.

Cardboard looks like it should be lower in quality than paper, but the corrugated version is bound together with biodegradable glues that soil microorganisms love.  I can never get enough corrugated cardboard for making kill mulches, but if I had excess I would tear it up and use it as worm bin bedding or in the compost pile.  Corrugated cardboard can also be used to propagate edible mushrooms.  Most stores have cardboard boxes to give away, but furniture stores will have the largest boxes that are best for kill mulches.

Weekend Homesteader paperback Tree leaves are one of my favorite curb-side attractions in the fall.  Their C:N ratio of around 50:1 (and lack of seeds) makes deciduous tree leaves a good source of mulch, especially if you can find a way to shred the leaves so that they don't blow away.  Since trees suck up micronutrients from deep in the earth, their leaves are rich in elements like calcium that your soil may be lacking.  To compost leaves, shred them if possible and then mix with a higher nitrogen material like manure.

Spent hops and mash
are a waste product of microbreweries.  These wet, high nitrogen materials are best added to a compost pile with dry, high carbon materials.

Fish waste can be found at seafood processors and canneries.  Fish waste stinks to high heaven, so you'll want to mix it into the ground or bury it deep in a compost pile immediately, but the fish are high in nitrogen and trace minerals.

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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My property is surrounded by pine trees therefore along with the fallen leaves and in the grass there are pine needles in abundance. I try to pick certain areas to rake leaves and to collect grass clippings where there arent AS MUCH but there are still quite a lot of pine needles in my compost pile. I've read that there is problems with the pine needles lowering the PH making the soil more acidic. Should I worry too much about this?

Also i was thinking, do you think it would be necessary to shred the willow tree's leaves and trees with rather thin small leaves? In the event someone didn't have a lawn mower,shredder device,would that be practical? I'm mainly asking b/c i have a tree that drops very thin leaves on the driveway and the leaves resemble a willow tree's leaves(but im pretty sure its not). Haven't yet correctly identified the tree.


Comment by Jalen Thu Sep 29 17:59:17 2011

If I had a lot of pine needles going to waste, I'd use them to mulch blueberries. Then it would be a good thing if they raised the pH. Alternatively, you could mix some wood ashes (or lime) in with the pine needles as they compost to raise the pH back up. I don't have specific data on how much using pine needles will change your pH.

It's not mandatory to shred leaves --- I use them unshredded all the time. They just tend to rot slower and blow around more if unshredded. What's more important than shape of the leaf is thickness and amount of tannins. Thin leaves that rot quickly (like willows, maples, etc.) seldom need to be shredded while thicker leaves that rot slowly (like oaks and beeches) could use the jumpstart they get from shredding.

Finally, if you don't have a shredder, chickens do an awfully good job of shredding up leaves used as bedding in their coop.

Comment by anna Thu Sep 29 19:11:56 2011
Ok thanks. I will add some wood ashes this winter.
Comment by Jalen Thu Sep 29 20:02:50 2011

Hi, I'm an avid reader of your blog with it's abundance of usefull information. I live on a small farm in Denmark and am slowly converting the place to biodiversity and food producing areas. I have a fulltime job so it takes a while:-) I was wondering about the cardboard you use as killmulch witch sounds great but can you be sure it is free of nasty chemicals? ink glue etc.? same for newspaper?

Well as I have said i really enjoy the blog!


Comment by Christian, Denmark Sun Oct 2 13:01:40 2011
That's an excellent question, Christian. Luckily, fungi take care of just about any chemical except for heavy metals, so as long as you're using no-till techniques to keep the fungi happy, anything problematic in cardboard and newspaper is soon neutralized. Worms are a good indicator --- you'll notice lots of worms under wet cardboard pretty quickly, which means that problematic chemicals are gone.
Comment by anna Sun Oct 2 14:33:04 2011

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