Results from Our Leaf Thief Survey
neighbor cries "Leaf Thief! Leaf Thief!" whenever he catches
me taking his bagged leaves for my compost pile -- in spite of the fact
that he has given me permission to take them! He gets a kick out of it.
Our survey of off-property sources for compost input material is named
in honor of his joke. We hope the experiences of others spark ideas that
will work for you!
The most common source of outside materials was "Neighbors",
chosen by 27% of respondents. The second most commonly checked source
was "Stables", used by 19% of respondents. Other commonly-used
sources are "Cafes" (12%), "Lawn Service" (11%), and
Asked for sources other than those listed, respondents
offered a wide variety of ideas. Other than listing family and friends,
the most common suggestion really surprised me: various sources of hair
including beauty salons, barber shops and poodle parlors. Five percent
of survey respondents collected hair!
Our respondents proved very resourceful and creative in finding sources
for desired inputs! Options vary by geographical location and season,
but many of these ideas may work for you. Tips received from composters
covered a wide variety of topic areas, but we only have space to include
a few of those areas here.
Tips on Where You Can Find Manure
- Manure and spoiled straw from cattle sale yards and local Fairgrounds.
"We have cattle sales yard nearby. The cattlemen hate having to get
rid of the spoiled straw that they put in the pens when they offer their
cattle for sale. Happy for others to take it away."
- Chicken manure from chicken broiler houses
- Rabbit manure from "lady who raises them" and neighbor's rabbit
- The local Future Farmers of America Chapters usually have dry lot raised
animals from which I get alfalfa hay and manure.
- Tiger and elephant manure from circus (elephant manure smells like carrots)
- Rabbit and guinea pig manure from classroom pets
- Manure/sawdust at truck wash for livestock hauler
- Dairy manure
Tips on Where You Can Find Food Scraps
- Snow cone syrup from local snow cone stand
- Mushroom compost from mushroom grower
- Local food bank gave me some flour grits that had worms
- Catering company provides food scraps
- Farmer's Market
- Vegetarian deli and restaurant
- Fish scraps and carcasses from charter fishing boats which return
to the marina
at the end of their trips and the crew cleans the catch for the patrons
- Shrimp heads from shrimpers
- Carrot pulp from the juice bar
- Home canning waste from anyone who cans produce
- Several friends who live in apartments and cannot compost outside
have no interest in worms) who collect veggie scraps for me
- Apple cores and orange peels from kid's lunches at local school
- Picnic scraps from a local National Park
These tips recommend that you know what you are getting when you collect
- Think what you are getting and if it has poison in it. Especially if your
end product is your vegetable garden. I would not use grass clippings
unless I knew they were not sprayed.
- I have no shame. I will knock on
the door of someone when I see one of the big disposable Home Depot Yard
Waste bags and ask if they have a dog. If yes, I don't bother with the
- If you want to garden organically -- be really really careful about whose
lawn clippings you use. I do not like to use items from landscape maintenance
companies since often the trimmings are contaminated with herbicides and/or
pesticides. Also be careful with taking roadside trimmings for the same
reason, plus possibility of heavy metals and toxic salt residue.
- Ask if
animals have received antibiotics or other medications recently before
Here are just a few of the funny collection stories we collected from
- Who knew you could fit 6 bales of straw into a Mazda Protégé?
I got about 30 bales from local supermarkets last November after they
were getting rid of their Halloween displays.
- Have you ever wondered how the government safely disposes of classified
documents? When I was a soil scientist on Guam, we got mulched ultra-top-secret
documents from the U.S. Naval Communications Center as a carbon feedstock
to mix with chicken manure at an experiment station, and then provide
to farmers as compost feedstock. Those were some well-informed chickens!
- In response to our tips question, no one suggested that proper preparation
includes getting dressed first, but that is important . . . .
A neighbor brings over his lawn clippings and I return the can after dumping
the clippings in my compost area (sheet composting). Anyway, it was early
morning, pouring rain. I figured I could return his garbage can before
anyone was up and about -- wrong.
There I was wheeling that big blue can across the road, soaked to the
skin. Just had on an old night shirt. What a sight, and I'm not one who
would proudly be in a wet tee-shirt contest. Just as I reached his yard:
three or four neighbors came outside, a repairman pulled up in his truck,
and the FedEx man stopped to deliver a package next door. I tried hiding
behind the garbage can (should have hopped inside) to no avail. Everyone
saw me and had a good laugh. The neighbors think I'm a bit crazy anyway,
so this simply justified their reasoning. Oh well.
- I shoveled and hauled
a large pile of composted leaves and manure from a neighbor's stable.
He came back to me that spring when he was starting a new garden and cursed
himself for not realizing what he had given away.
- A great way to find sources
of compost materials is to tell everyone you know why you want organic
wastes. Otherwise . . . . One Sunday morning my pastor saw me picking
up bags from this curb before church so during church he asked that we
have a special love offering for one of our members because they were
seen digging through and hauling away trash. I did not know he saw me
until then. He let my name slip so I had some
explaining to do.
- I once filled the truck with seaweed, a very heavy load, only to get
a flat tire on the way home. I had to unload the truck in order to be
able to raise it on the jack, causing some concern to the people who lived
in the house I stopped at. The guy came out as I was unloading and said,
"We didn't order
- Went to grocery store, asked to speak to the produce section
manager. Told him what I wanted, thankfully he was a gardener and agreed
to let me dig stuff out of the 'rolliebin' out back. I went around to
the back and started to bag up lettuce scraps. The receivers watched from
the loading dock; they had been told I was coming. There was a large pile
of cornstalks to one side, part of a display that had been taken down.
I asked if I could take some of those, too. "What are you trying
to make?" one of the receivers asked.
- I was gathering bags of leaves
from in front of a house, when the owner came out and stated that it was
too bad that I did not want the heavy stuff. I asked what she was talking
about, and she stated that she had about a cord of firewood that she was
dying to get rid of . . . . Not only did I get the leaves, but I got a
hundred bucks worth of firewood as well!
Complete survey results were published to newsletter subscribers in three
Part I reported the geographic representation of survey participants,
the statistics reported for a given list of 15 possible sources, Rules
for Collection, along with some tips, cautions and funny stories.
on off-site resources used by respondents which were not part of the survey's
list of 15. Tips and funny stories were included as well.
Part III reported
responses to the survey questions "Provide any tips you have on finding
materials" and "Tell us your funniest material-acquiring story."
Sorry, the full report is no longer available in print. I have got it on my list of to do's to get it scanned in and make it available.
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