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Compost available free of charge to Longview residents

By Peggy Jones
May 20, 2012 at 11 p.m.

Compost - decayed organic matter used as plant fertilizer - is a gardener's best friend.

It sells for about $35 to $45 a cubic yard.

<em><strong>Editor's Note:</strong> This is the second day of coverage about local sanitation services. <a href="">Click here</a> to read the previous story on Pinehill Landfill. C<a href="">lick here</a></em> for more information about changes in the Longview recycling program.

Compost - decayed organic matter used as plant fertilizer - is a gardener's best friend.

It sells for about $35 to $45 a cubic yard.

Longview residents can get about $90 worth of compost a week (2.5 cubic yards) free simply by producing their water bill at the city of Longview Compost Yard.

Most cities with compost yards offer the product to residents for a price but years ago, the city decided to give it back to the people.

"It seemed logical to give that back to the customers to use," said City Sanitation Manager Dwayne Archer. "It's a value-added service."

The compost yard opened in 2006. But it's so popular with city gardeners that it has outgrown its facility, so the Longview City Council voted earlier this month to spend $111,000 for a larger facility at a new location.

The compost yard will be on city property at the end of Swinging Bridge Road.

It should open by the first of the year, said city Sanitation Manager Dwayne Archer.

The existing facility sprawls across 20 acres. The new one will have 28 acres.

Compost coordinator Dave Wimberly said the compost is made from discarded trees and trimmings that are brought in by city crews and by residents. The trees are put through a tub grinder and turned into chips.

The wood chips are then mixed with grass clippings, pine straw and brown leaves discarded by residents and it's all piled into windrows to "cook."

The typical windrow at the compost yard is eight feet high, 12 feet wide and from 60 to 100 feet long, Wimberly said.

Staff members use a wheel loader to turn the mulch occasionally, so air can penetrate.

Air, organic material and water are the key ingredients in making compost.

"I can make compost from natural rainfall," Wimberly said. "It takes longer, but we believe we have a good product."

Most commercial compost producers incorporate organic waste material like rotting fruit or sludge to speed up decay, but the Longview facility does not.

"How long it takes to make the compost depends on the weather," Wimberly said. "If we get a lot of rain we can make it in six months. If we don't - like last year - it could take up to a year."

Moisture helps the material decay, creating heat.

"When it heats up inside the micro-organisms work to break down solid particles into compost," he said. "This spring has been wonderful weather for making compost."

The yard is on track so far this year to break all records for waste brought in and compost delivered according to Archer and Wimberly.

And, they said, tests conducted on the compost by a certified lab show the city-made product passes all standards set for commercially made compost.

"We think we have a good product," Archer said.

The city limits people to one load of compost (up to 2.5 cubic yards) per week.

"That's so I don't run out," Wimberly said. "We ran out one time and it wasn't a pretty picture."

Mulch - the ground wood chips - is more plentiful.

"We don't restrict how much mulch someone can get," Wimberly said. "You can come back several times a day."

The wood chip mulch is most commonly used for weed control in flower beds and gardens.

Workers at the compost yard will even load it for you.

"If you want us to load your vehicle - which 99 percent of the people do - all you have to do is sign a liability release form," Wimberly said. "That will stay on file here until you tell us to revoke it."

The peak season for compost demand, from February to June, has almost passed but people use mulch for weed control year round.

Archer said service will not be interrupted when they move into the new facility.



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