Greenprint: Using Compost to Fertilize Gardens

Spring fever has officially set in and naturally, one of the things on many people’s minds is gardening. We recommend incorporating “gardener’s gold” as you prep your plots this year: Composting can help you save money while also reducing waste and improving the quality of your soil. As you work on cleaning up your yard, you can add the materials to a compost bin and toss in your organic food scraps – they’ll naturally decompose to create a nutrient-rich fertilizer that will help you grow healthy plants.

There are many benefits to composting:

  • Reduce landfill waste. Nearly 30 percent of the garbage that is sent to Michigan landfills could actually have been composted.
  • Decrease the amount of greenhouse gases produced by food waste sent to landfills.
  • Improve soil quality by adding compost to gardens.
  • Reduce the use of chemical fertilizers.
  • Save money – use your own compost instead of purchasing fertilizer from a store.

How to compost at home:

  1. Choose an area in your backyard with good drainage and shade.
  2. Start the pile with a layer of twigs or mulch as a base.
  3. Add a thin layer of “green” materials, e.g., fruit and vegetable peelings, grass clippings or weeds.
  4. Cover with a layer of “brown” materials, e.g., dry leaves, twigs, paper or straw.
  5. Moisten your compost pile.
  6. Repeat steps 3, 4 and 5.
  7. Turn the pile every four to six weeks.

*Avoid placing meat or dairy products in compost.

You’ll be able to use the compost in your gardens in three or four months. If you’d like to speed up the process or don’t have room for an outdoor compost pile, you can purchase a batch-style composter for under $100 at most hardware stores. These bins can be placed on decks and take up less space in your yard.

For more in-depth information on the benefits of composting as well as detailed instructions on how to compost, you can refer to https://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home and www.howtocompost.org.

We’re breaking down organic matter at the Detroit Zoo on a much grander scale! More than 500 tons of waste is generated annually by the animals that live here. So, in order to reduce our ecological footprint and move closer to reaching our goal of becoming waste-free, we constructed an anaerobic digester on Zoo grounds. Anaerobic digestion is a process by which plant and animal materials are broken down, producing a methane-rich gas. This renewable energy will be used to power the Ruth Roby Glancy Animal Health Complex at the Detroit Zoo, saving us $110-120,000 a year in energy costs. By diverting manure and food waste from the landfills, we are also reducing the greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change – methane and carbon dioxide – in the atmosphere. The remaining nutrient-rich material will be used as compost to fertilize the gardens throughout the Zoo’s 125 acres.

Next time you are at the Zoo, check out our new sign detailing the anaerobic digestion process and contemplate the impact of keeping 55 wheelbarrows of manure each day out of the landfills!

Join us on our Green Journey and begin composting this spring! Take a look at the many other steps you can take to help us create a more sustainable future by downloading our Shades of Green guide.

– Rachel Handbury is the manager of sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the award-winning Greenprint initiatives.

Greenprint: Poo at the Zoo

Beth Wallace is the Manager of Sustainability for the Detroit Zoological Society.

Have you ever wondered what happens with all of the poo at the Detroit Zoo? With more than 2,600 animals in residence, you can probably imagine that a staggering amount of manure is generated – nearly 500 tons each year, in fact.

Patti Truesdell - ZebraAs part of its Greenprint initiative, the Detroit Zoological Society has plans to build a biodigester that will convert all of our animal manure – and other organic waste – into soil, biogas and organic liquid fertilizer. This will be the first anaerobic digester at any zoo in the U.S. and we need your support to make this project a dung deal.

How the system works:

  • Every week we will collect manure from each of our animal habitats.
  • The manure will then be placed in one of the four biodigester holding chambers. All four chambers will be sealed shut when product is not being moved.
  • Once a chamber is completely full, we will spray it with microorganisms, air-tight seal the chamber and essentially bake the material for 30-60 days.
  • While the product breaks down, methane is released and captured in a biogas bag above. The Zoo will then run that biogas to a generator at the nearby animal hospital, which will be used as a renewable energy source.
  • Once the material has completed its cycle, our landscaping team will then utilize the remaining soil and organic fertilizer throughout our 125 gardens.

Detroit Zoo BiodigesterThe biodigester will not only provide the Zoo with a full-circle approach to waste management, but it will also demonstrate to our region a practical, waste-to-energy system that could be replicated by many businesses in the area, including microbrews, farmers markets and even schools.

While we are well on our way to meeting our funding goals, we still need a little help to make this project a reality. To show your support, please visit our crowdfunding site, at Patronicity.com/DetroitZoo.

 

– Beth Wallace