This guest article on grasscycling and composting grass was written by Barry Wilkes.
IF YOU LIVE in the suburbs, as most Suburban Hobby Farmer readers do, you probably have more than your fair share of grass clippings. Hopefully, you recognize that grass clippings make up far too much of what some suburbanites put in the trash. The landfills of the U.S. are bloated with waste, and homeowners have a responsibility to mitigate the problem. The first step begins with mowing your lawn.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, grass plus recycling equals grasscycling. It’s an economical alternative to bagging grass clippings while mowing the lawn. All you have to do is…nothing. That’s right, let the blades lay where they may fall. Recycled grass clippings return nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to your lawn—that’s up to 25 percent of the lawn’s fertilizer requirements, according to the University of Missouri. Grasscycling also takes considerably less time and effort.
Five reasons you should
Grass clippings naturally decompose and feed your lawn with high-nitrogen fertilizer, according to Home Composting Made Easy.
- The clippings add water-efficient mulch and engender soil aeration by way of earthworms. Grasscycling is like a free, cannibalistic method of fertilizing—the circle of life.
- Grasscycling reduces tons of organic waste that would otherwise be hauled off to landfills. It’s completely unnecessary to throw away what you can easily use.
- Any lawn mower can grasscycle. As long as the blades are sharp, your mower is good to go—let the grasscycling commence.
- Less work, less cost, more eco-friendly. Isn’t that the dream? With grasscycling, you’ll likely save at least a half hour during mowing and save money by axing the need for more organic fertilizer or compost.
- A surface layer of grass clippings slows evaporation, thus reducing loss of water. This in turn reduces the need for fertilizer, according to Home Composting Made Easy.
Composting grass and compost piles
As organic materials decompose from microbes and insects, compost rich in nutrients is born. But composting, done right, is a bit more complicated than throwing a mound of organic junk in a bin. Compost material should be properly layered and maintained. First, you’ll collect organic materials. Grass can be a big part of this. Install a grass catcher on your riding mower if it doesn’t have one already—professional-grade mowers like Husqvarna make the process easier. Keep in mind that grass should make up no more than 40 percent of the pile if you don’t want it to smell. Next, you should mix in high-carbon browns to balance the amount of high-nitrogen grass in your pile. Browns, which include leaves, straw, hay, paper and other carbon rich materials, should make up about 60 percent of the pile. Mix all these ingredients together and water lightly so that the microbes will be happy and multiply while they are breaking down the pile. An optional top layer of soil may be added to ensure that the pile has the right microbes at the beginning of the process.
It’s all about layering
The University of Minnesota suggests layering your compost pile in the following order:
- 1 inch of Soil
- 1-2 inches of Fertilizer or Manure
- 8-10 inches of Organic Materials (grass, weeds, leaves, straw)
Regular maintenance must be performed to expedite decomposition and prevent foul odor. Keep the pile moist and turn it occasionally—either by inverting compost segments or moving it into another bin. If you are ambitious, you can insert a temperature probe into the pile: 130-150 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal for the fastest decomposition and to kill weed seeds. When mixing the pile no longer causes temperature increase, the process has ended. If the pile is properly cared for, it should be ready in two to four months.
When it’s ready, the compost can be applied as top dressing for your plants or it can be mixed into the top layer of soil to help fix almost any soil problem. If you spread a thin layer of compost over your grass each year, it will go a long way towards helping to make sure it stays healthy without the need for chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Do you re-use grass clippings in your garden or lawn? What’s the best way to do it? Let us know by commenting below.
Barry Wilkes is a writer and saxophonist who lives in Virginia.
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