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GREEN TIP: Instead of spending time raking and bagging up your leaves this fall, use them as mulch for your lawn. Leaves can be used to improve your lawn and reduce the use of chemical fertilizers.

We have talked before about grasscycling and the long term benefits to your lawn. This fall mulch your leaves back onto your lawn. Leaves can be used to improve your lawn and reduce the use of chemical fertilizers. Leaves also make great mulch, garden cover and rich compost. It’s good for your lawn and reduces the time you spend raking.

A Drawback of Leaving Leaves at the Curb: Phosphorus

Tree leaves are full of phosphorus. Piles of leaves can release large amounts of phosphorus into surface water run-off, ultimately resulting in high concentration in rivers, lakes, ponds and streams. This can lead to changes in animal and plant populations and degradation of water and habitat quality (exessive algae bloom).

To learn more about the effects of phosphorus on our water quality visit the U.S. Geological Survey’s website. Source: Pleasantville Recycles

Mulching Leaves On Your Lawn

Use your mower to cut leaves into small pieces, allowing them to fall into and under the grass instead of resting on top of it. This process results in increased surface area, which in turn makes it easier for insects and microbes to consume the leaves and get the nutrients back into the soil.

Lawns where leaves are mulched directly into the grass are healthier than the lawns with no leaves added and a healthier lawn has fewer weeds.

Compost Your Leaves

Composting is another great way to handle leaves at home. When you add leaves to your compost bin be sure you also add some nitrogen rich material to help the leaves (which are high in carbon) break down. Grass clippings, fruit scraps and vegetable scraps are an excellent source of nitrogen. You can also speed up the composting process by chopping up your leaves before you put them in the bin.

Some people like to keep a few bags of leaves to add to their compost piles throughout the year.

Source: City of Madison

My Green Side’s web pick of the week:

Ecosystem Gardening

Ecosystem Gardening is about teaching you how to become a steward of your own property and to begin making positive choices in your own backyard for wildlife and the environment.

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Yes, my compost bins are now famous! Tracy Frank, a charming writer from our local paper (The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead) interviewed me last week about composting, a topic we talk about frequently at My Green Side. She’s an excellent writer and put a lot of great information in the piece. We also had an awesome photographer, Jesse Trelstad, from the paper take some shots of our compost bins. Here’s a reprint of Tracy’s article with a few notes from me.

Photo: Caleigh Gabriel, 8, dumps the composting material into the earth machine as her mother, Wendy, holds the lid, July 5, 2012. Jesse Trelstad / The Forum

Tracy Frank, Published July 09 2012

Waste not, want not: Compost creates better soil, keeps waste out of landfill

FARGO – Wendy Gabriel has been composting for as long as she can remember.

In fact, when she and her family moved to Fargo from the Twin Cities in 2009, one of the first things they purchased was a composter.

Gabriel, who created a website about living an environmentally friendly lifestyle on, says composting is a lot easier than most people realize.

“At some point all organic matter will decompose,” Gabriel said. “It’s something that you really can’t mess up.”

You can measure the soil’s temperature and track the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio if you want to, but it’s not necessary, Gabriel said.

“People think it’s really difficult,” she said. “It’s as easy as throwing it in the garbage.”

Yard trimmings and food waste make up 27 percent of the U.S. municipal solid waste stream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

When used in gardens and yards, compost improves the soil structure, porosity and density, creating a better environment for plant roots, according to the U.S. Composting Council.

And it doesn’t smell or attract flies and mice – you just have to know what to compost and what not to compost, said Gabriel, who also talks about living green during her “Simple Tips for Green Living” segment on her husband Christopher Gabriel’s radio show at 12:20 p.m. Tuesdays on WDAY 970 AM. (Both WDAY and The Forum are owned by Forum Communications.)

Wendy Gabriel said avid gardeners may need to pay more attention to the ratios of different products they put into their compost, but she just throws all of her compostable materials together and uses the same compost in her yard, garden and flower beds.

“I am certainly more of a pacifist (Wendy’s note: I actually said I’m a passive composter… but I am a peace lover so pacifist works too!) composter,” Gabriel said. “I love the end result, but my big thing is creating less waste to throw into the landfill.”

She does keep a separate compost bin for weeds because she doesn’t want them to spread. She said she’s not yet sure what she’ll do with that compost, but she knows she doesn’t want it going to the landfill.

If you can heat the composting pile to above 140 degrees, you can roast the seeds so they don’t sprout in your garden soil, according to

Gabriel has a bowl she uses when cutting up vegetables and anything that can be composted goes in the bowl. After dinner, any leftovers except those containing meat, dairy or oils go into the compost bin.

“Make sure it’s conveniently located to your kitchen, so it’s easier for you to remember to go bring it out,” she suggests.

Even her kids know what can go in the bin. If they’re eating an apple outside, they throw the core in the compost bin when they’re done, Gabriel said.

Gabriel has two (Wendy’s note: we actually have three composters, the third is my separate composter for weeds that was referenced above) composters. One is a compost tumbler that can be turned to aerate the compost. The other is the Earth Machine composter the city of Fargo sells.

The composter turns kitchen and yard waste into rich soil in six to eight weeks, the city’s website states. The machine, which has an 80-gallon capacity, can be purchased for $40 by calling (701) 241-1449. (The Solid Waste Department cannot make change, so you’ll need a check or exact cash for the composter.)

Fargo sells the bins at cost and typically sells one a week, said Terry Ludlum, Fargo Solid Waste Utility Manger.

Gabriel said when she was growing up, her dad made a three-bin composter out of chicken wire and wood.

The type of composter depends on how much you have going in and how much space you have to store it, she said.

Microorganisms will do the rest of the work for you. According to the U.S. Composting Council, microorganisms that require oxygen produce compost by accelerating the natural decomposition process. A high-temperature phase sanitizes the product and allows a high rate of decomposition, followed by a lower-temperature phase that allows the product to stabilize.

You can find a slew of information about how to compost at

Basically, you need a compost site with drainage, air flow, insulation and a good mix of various ingredients, according to the website.

Your compost pile should be damp without being wet (about like a squeezed sponge), well-aerated, and it should have a mix of yard and kitchen waste, according to the site.

The fastest decomposition occurs between 140 and 160 degrees, so to get extra heat, choose a compost bin with dark walls or put a black tarp over a compost pile, the site states.


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GREEN TIP: Don’t throw away materials that you can use to improve your lawn and garden. Start composting instead.

Why Make Compost?

  • Vegetable scraps are the largest unrecycled portion of the residential waste stream. About 35% of residential garbage is food waste.
  • Compost is one of nature’s best mulches and soil amendments, and you can use it instead of commercial fertilizers. Using compost improves soil structure, texture, and aeration and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity.
  • Compost loosens clay soils and helps sandy soils retain water. Adding compost improves soil fertility and stimulates healthy root development in plants. The organic matter provided in compost provides food for microorganisms, which keeps the soil in a healthy, balanced condition. Nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus will be produced naturally by the feeding of microorganisms, so few if any soil amendments will need to be added.

Just remember that all organic material breaks down. Even if you just toss your yard debris into a hole in the ground, it will eventually turn into compost. There are ways to get faster results, but it’s not the end of the world if you make step in the wrong direction along the way. For instance, if your compost is too dry, you can put some water on it and set things back on the right course.

Bin/pile information

Homemade bins can be constructed out of scrap wood, chicken wire, snow fencing or even old garbage cans (with holes punched in the sides and bottom). Manufactured bins include turning units, hoops, cones, and stacking bins. These can be purchased from your garbage company, retail or mail-order businesses.

Worm composting

Worm composting or vermicomposting is the practice of using worms to make compost. The word vermi is the Latin word for worm, and worms like to feed on slowly decomposing organic materials (e.g., vegetable scraps). The end product, called castings, is full of beneficial microbes and nutrients, and makes a great plant fertilizer.


If you have grass clippings and don’t want to use them in a compost pile you can leave them on the lawn to decompose.

Where to Place Your Compost Pile or Bin

Any pile of organic matter will eventually rot, but a well-chosen site can speed up the process. Look for a level, well-drained area. If you plan to add kitchen scraps, keep it accessible to the back door. Don’t put it so far away you’ll neglect the pile. In cooler latitudes, keep the pile in a sunny spot to trap solar heat. Look for some shelter to protect the pile from freezing cold winds which could slow down the decaying process. In warm, dry latitudes, shelter the pile in a shadier spot so it doesn’t dry out too quickly.

Build the pile over soil or lawn rather than concrete or asphalt, to take advantage of the earthworms, beneficial microbes, and other decomposers, which will migrate up and down as the seasons change. Uncovered soil also allows for drainage.


  • ORGANIC STUFF: Always feed your bin equal amounts of GREENS (materials high in nitrogen) and BROWNS (materials high in carbon). See Materials List below. When adding new materials to your bin, start with a layer of BROWNS first, then add a layer of GREENS. Top GREENS with a one-inch layer of soil or finished compost. Always bury your food scraps in the center of the pile, under the layer of soil.
  • MOISTURE: Keep your pile as damp as a well-wrung sponge. Be sure to check moisture on hot summer or windy days. Sprinkle with water when dry.
  • AIR: Add air to your pile every 2 to 3 weeks. Poke holes through the pile with a broom handle and loosen with a garden fork.

Materials List

YES – GREENS (materials high in nitr0gen)

  • Bread (no butter)
  • Coffee grounds & filters
  • Egg shells (crushed)
  • Feathers
  • Flowers
  • Fruit scraps
  • House plants
  • Vegetable scraps
  • Leaves
  • Green plant trimmings
  • Tea leaves and tea bags
  • Hair (animal and human)
  • Grass (small amounts)

YES – BROWNS (materials high in carbon)

  • Dryer lint
  • Grass clippings (dried)
  • Leaves (dry)
  • Woodchips (small amounts)
  • Hardwood ash (thin layers)
  • Sawdust (thin layers)
  • Straw
  • Shredded cardboard


  • Barbecue charcoal
  • Fish
  • Coal ash
  • Meats
  • Dairy products
  • Bones
  • Oils
  • Peanut butter
  • Fats
  • Diseased or insect-infested plants
  • Feces (animal or human)
  • Weeds with mature seeds
  • Wood ash or dust that is treated
  • Weeds that damage (i.e. crab grass, wild morning glory)

When It’s Done

You should have finished compost in 2 to 3 months. To speed up the composting process, add new materials in tiny pieces, add air to your pile more often or add a layer of garden soil or manure. Your pile is ready when it no longer has traces of GREENS and BROWNS and is dark brown with an earthy smell. You may find that only the bottom of your pile is ready to use while the top is still decomposing.

Before you use your compost, you may wish to screen it through wire mesh and return any non-composted items to your bin.

How to Use Your Compost

  • Dig some compost into the soil before you plant.
  • Sprinkle some screened compost on your lawn and on the soil of houseplants.
  • Use some compost as a mulch around trees and plants to retain moisture.
  • Mix compost with other potting materials to start seedlings or to re-pot house plants.

Source: and

For more information on different composters and tips on how to compost, visit Gardener’s Supply.

My Green Side’s web pick of the week:
 is a wonderful site full of invaluable information for home composting including simple tips to get you started and tips on the best composters to buy.

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Editor’s Note: Each Wednesday My Green Side brings Simple Tips for Green Living to The Christopher Gabriel Program. We also highlight a favorite green site each week. You can stream the segment at approximately 1220pm (central) every Tuesday at or, if you’re in North Dakota or western Minnesota, listen on your radio at AM970 WDAY.

GREEN TIP: April 22nd, Earth Day, is fast approaching. This year find new ways to celebrate Earth Day and include your new green habits all year long.

The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, brought together millions of people from all walks of life who were concerned about the environment and they wanted our government to pay attention. The idea was the inspiration of a Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson.

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”  ~Gaylord Nelson

For more on the origins of Earth Day, read “Earth Day: How It All Began.”

Some ways you could celebrate Earth Day this year:

  • Plant a tree in your yard. Make it a fun family activity for Earth Day. Not only will it look beautiful in your yard but planting trees help to lower greenhouse gas emissions and they provide a habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Or plant two trees… National Arbor Day is April 27th.
  • Start composting. For more information, read Green Tip – Composting 101. Locally, the City of Fargo has a wonderful compost bin you can purchase at a reasonable cost. For more information call 701-241-1449.
  • Start recycling. Find out what you can recycle though your local recycling program. Here’s an excellent article about recycling and how to get started: Project Recycling by Amanda Peterson. To quote Amanda, “It’s all about being aware of what you consume and finding ways to minimize the waste left behind”.
  • Plant flowers at a local non-profit organization, school or church, remember to contact the organization before you start planting. Most are thrilled when someone offers to beautify their grounds.
  • Go on a nature hike. Nature hikes are a great way to appreciate the details of our beautiful earth. Pick a park or nearby trail or visit a new place every year on Earth Day.
  • Clean up litter around your neighborhood, at a local park or school. Litter detracts from the beauty of nature and can be dangerous to people and animals.
  • Cook a special Earth Day meal using whole, organic and non-processed foods. Invite friends and family over to share a healthy, home-cooked meal.
  • Attend an Earth Day event. Earth Day events are held across the nation, and are full of fun activities for both you and the kids. Pick a place close to you, events can be seen at

Local events in the Fargo Moorhead area:

Mindful Living Gathering on Thursday, April 19th from 6pm to 730pm. In honor of Earth Week, Carrie Brusven, a business and home eco-consultant in Fargo, and Laura Caroon, Frozen Music Studios Photography and Midwest Junk, will host a workshop design to teach you more about environmental health and toxins. The workshop will be held at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Moorhead.

Prairie Roots Food Co-op is fast becoming a reality. The Board of Directors and Volunteers of Prairie Roots Food Cooperative are hosting a Founding Membership Drive on Friday, April 20th, 7:00 PM at the Bluestem Center for the Arts, 801 50th Ave SW, Moorhead, MN. There are only a few (FREE) tickets left so hurry over to and reserve one for yourself. This is your chance to learn more about the co-op, meet their Board of Directors and become a Founding Member of Prairie Roots Food Cooperative! They also have a Facebook page: Prairie Roots will also be at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead on Saturday April 21 from 12 – 4. Stop by if you want to hear more or become a member.

F/M Food Not Lawns has their first official meeting on April 22, 2012 from 3pm to 5pm at the Red Raven Espresso Parlor in Fargo. Do not miss this opportunity to meet action oriented gardeners in our community, share ideas and knowledge and discuss possible future projects.

Here’s a wonderful video about the Food Not Lawns movement:

For more information, visit F/M Food Not Lawns at

Remember you don’t have to celebrate Earth Day on April 22nd, you can celebrate Earth Day each and every day of the year.

My Green Side’s web pick of the week:

Food Not Lawns

Food Not Lawns was founded in Eugene, Oregon in 1999 and today is a global community of gardeners working together to grow and share food, seeds and knowledge. Visit their site to discover how to participate.


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