Monday, January 18, 2010

After the Bucket: the Bag

Could be worse: at least it's not novelty saltshakers. But I am currently collecting dried leaves. Not, I hasten to say, for pressing! This is not a new hobby, nor am I planning on stockpiling the things for some eventual later use. Not even trying to gather every bag generated within an X-block radius during time-span Y.

I'm collecting leaves by the bag. Different leaves from the oak/pecan/elm/mulberry mix I sweep too infrequently from my patio; different bags than the paper leaf-and-lawn ones approved by the city. See, I'm trying to make sure some of my particular post-bucket techniques are not specific to my particular EC. And wondering whether some leaf mixes or bag types might produce better results. Eventually, I suppose, I'll have to break down and buy a few plastic bags of various sorts (black v. white v. clear; compostable/degradable v. industrial strength), but I figured I'd start with what my neighbors were actually using.

The clear plastic bags have a few benefits and a couple of disadvantages, so far:

+ If properly sealed with adequate space for expansion, plastic bags do serve to keep out pests, unlike the paper leaf and lawn bags which must be protected against scavengers.

- Plastic bags prevent volunteer macro-digesters from joining the fun. (Sow bugs, composting worms, earthworms, etc.)

- If inadequate space for expansion is provided, plastic bags can split open and spread material rather farther than one might expect, even before the scavengers get into the act. (Splitting is an issue with planter-finishing, as well. If sealing, remember to leave some slack!)

+ Properly sealed plastic bags hold moisture, so assuming a properly moistened mix went into the bag, no additional water need be added. Also, temperature variance within the bag increases condensation and re-absorption, which seems to speed the composting process.

- If too much moisture is present, the microbes cannot work to full efficiency, and the mix may go anaerobic--in the negative sense. As in, rot and stink.

+ Plastic bags withstand wet weather better than paper, and can be easily moved during the process or once it is complete.

- Some plastics may not degrade, and dirty plastic garbage-sized bags are difficult to recycle.

And one that may be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the climate, situation, and desired end results:

Plastics can absorb and retain heat, and reflect or focus light.

I don't know, yet, how that will affect this particular post-bucket technique. Will a black plastic bag work as well as a black plastic planter? Might it work too well, and melt? Would the contents of a clear plastic bag placed in full sun solarize rather than compost? Etc. It's winter here, despite the day's garden-perfect forecast But I expect to be playing with bags for some time yet, especially though not solely in combination with the disposable buckets. At some point, I may even manage to try the long-delayed "office bokashi" test series with a commercial soil inoculant and shredded paper in place of dried leaves!

...novelty salt shakers might be simpler. But not nearly so useful. -G-


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