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Sacramento County organic waste program yields 'black gold'

Free compost available to residents in pilot recycling program

Here's why it's called "black gold" -- it doesn't get much richer than this compost from Sacramento County's Waste Management and Recycling program. (H/t Laura Cerles-Rogers)

Here's why it's called "black gold" -- it doesn't get much richer than this compost from Sacramento County's Waste Management and Recycling program. (H/t Laura Cerles-Rogers)

Kathy Morrison

Since July 1. Sacramento County residents have been throwing all kinds of things into their organic waste (formerly green waste) bins: Chicken bones, greasy pizza boxes, used wine corks, snubbed cat food, moldy cheese, salmon skin and many other organic items, not just leaves and grass clippings.

A bizarre combination, to be sure, but the County Waste Management and Recycling program assured us that it would all be acceptable and put to good use.

Over the subsequent months we may have forgotten what the end result might be. But the county's been working hard and, nearly 11 months later, "it's soup." Specifically, all those bits and bones have been cooked into the black gold known as compost.

And it's free for the taking. Monday through Friday, between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the county will make compost deliveries to its property at 3843 Branch Center Road (near Bradshaw and Kiefer roads), based on demand.

There are some details. First, you have to shovel the compost yourself, with your own tools, into your own containers. No mechanical loading is allowed. It's available on a first-come, first-served basis, but can be loaded up anytime, 24/7.

The county says it plans to have compost available on demand from spring until early fall. The compost pile will be restocked as necessary. ​

This process started in California with Senate Bill 1383, which requires that organic materials be kept out of ​landfills. Each county or city had to come up with its own organic waste recycling program. We previewed  the Sacramento program's start in this post last summer. Many people now have the little buckets under their sinks and empty them into the organic waste bins each week.

Ingredients on a compost bag
Commercial compost: No guaranteed contents.

So what to do with this free compost? (Or any compost, for that matter.) Well, it's a spectacular soil amendment, and also an excellent mulch. What compost is not is plant fertilizer -- though plants certainly benefit from it. Because compost can be made of so many different things, and can be different in each batch, it has no guaranteed list of plant nutrients.  That goes for commercial compost as well as the county's -- see photo at right of a bag of commercial organic compost.

So if your roses need a dose of nitrogen or melons require some phosphorus, don't rely on just compost. But the soil they grow in will love it.

Find out more on Sacramento County's compost program here:


Some of our previous posts on compost and composting:

Confessions of a serial composter

No room for composting? Tell it to the worms


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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