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When Looking For Free Inputs, What Do You Take?

Andrew Michaels

Joined: Sep 05, 2008
Posts: 74
If you're trying to build soil fertility quickly, you need outside inputs.

Let's say you want to go on craigslist or freecylce and put up a wanted ad for free organic waste.

What would you accept and what would you avoid.

For instance

1) Wood with paint/finishes on it?
2) Agricultural waste with lots of chemicals?

Where do you draw the line? Will you take nonorganic stuff and hope your system breaks it down?
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6734
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
If you live in an agricultural region, look in the "Farm" section on Craig'sList.  Place a "want ad" for old/rotten hay/straw.
Suzie Browning

Joined: Jun 10, 2010
Posts: 48
Location: Southwestern Ohio
I try to avoid the chems as much as possible.  I'm not scientific or knowledgeable enough to know what will break down and what won't or how much of what to make it break down.

I don't take lawn clippings from someone that uses chemicals on their lawn.  I will take their leaves though.  I take newspaper and cardboard

This year, I scored spoiled hay and straw for 50 cents a bail and got as much as I physically could by myself.  I could be wrong, but I don't think it's sprayed as much as other crops.

I wouldn't take wood that still has a heavy layer of latex paint on it, it peels easy and, yuck, don't like seeing it in the soil, plus the chickens think it's food.  I will take old barn siding, as usually most of the paint is gone and it has many different uses for me.

When I first started, I would buy what I needed when I needed it.  That actually seemed to slow me down, usually from lack of funds.  Now, I have learned to get what's available and stockpile so it's there when I need it, even if that is next year.

Oil soaked skids or have a funny smell, no way.

I think you'll need to figure out what you are comfortable with.  You said "ad for free organic waste",  you're not going to get organic from anyone that truly understands organic.

What are your thoughts?

On the border of Zones 5 & 6 on the last 2 acres of what was once a large farm.  Flat, flat and more flat!
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
i agree, years ago we would take bagged yard waste, but we no longer do that as so many people not only use chemicals now but there could be parasites and diseases mixed in with possible dog or pet waste in the bagged yard waste.

In a nearby town dogs have been dying from parvo, which is passed in feces, so I don't want that in my property


Bloom where you are planted.
Tyler Ludens

Joined: Jun 25, 2010
Posts: 5326
Location: Central Texas USA Latitude 30 Zone 8
I used to collect free grass cut along the roadside, but stupidly introduced invasive exotic grass onto my place that way, so I no longer collect free inputs. 

Idle dreamer


Joined: Oct 25, 2010
Posts: 76
Location: Austin,TX
I get free wood chips (even delivered for free) from the local tree trimming company.

Figure not much in the way of spraying on trees and only allopathic wood would be a problem...but it's mostly oak, pecan, cedar (juniper) and cottonwood.

I compost it and add it as mulch to my swales.

Hell, even building with the stuff


Dave Bennett

Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
All of my neighbors think I am nuts.  I know they don't use chemicals and none of them fertilize either.  They all have lawns similar to mine so whenever I see them mowing I ask if I can rake their lawns and keep the clippings.  My lawn is full of Dandelions, Broadleaf and English Plantain because I have encouraged it.  It is both a source of greens for me and my rabbits.  I have 3 gardens that total 250 sq. ft. and that provides me with enough to last me throughout the year because my gardens are also vertical.  I do not put anything in my compost piles unless I know the source.

"When there is no life in the soil it is just dirt."
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6734
Location: Currently in Seattle. Probably moving 1 hour north by end of the year.
Commercial orchard/vineyard prunings would be a no-no if you are concerned with chemicals.  Almost all commercial operations spray their trees (often it is required by their state).  I have heard conflicting information about how effective it can be in reducing/eliminating these chemicals through proper "hot" composting.  Some people are willing to use it, others not.  Only you can decide where your comfort level is in regards to possible/probable levels of low level chemical introduction.  If you are buying wood chips or pellets to smoke your meat, you are most certainly using "treated" product.

If you are very strict in what you will put in/on your soils, there is very little material freely available.  If you are not so strict, there is probably more material available (free)  than you may be willing to pay for fuel to get it home.
Steven Baxter

Joined: Mar 22, 2011
Posts: 254
A family I stayed with would get green waste, in mulch form, from the local dump. So it was a collection of trimmings, branches and green waste from all over the local area. This was on the Big Island (Hawaii) btw.

It was a special day of collecting all over the town, because the land you lived on was all lava rock. So the community would load up the mulch and spread it all over the lava rock. Eventually it would break down and then you would plant in it. They told me, yet I have never confirmed this from my own research, that after 2 years of sitting and breaking down, the mulch  turns organic.

Now I had a hard time believing this, but I had no proof against it. But I also do feel it may be true.

I also never observed any issues from bringing in outside green waste, i.e. invasive plants be introduced.

Dave Bennett

Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
Just call me "Organic Dave" because I have never used any greenery that has been chemically treated.  I have literally forced ant colonies to find somewhere else to live and destroyed termite colonies with Orange Oil.  That is somewhat toxic but 100% biodegradable and it also breaks down very rapidly.  When I lived in the San Joaquin Valley in California my house bordered a huge orange grove and after the rainy season we used to pick up the thousands of oranges that littered the ground and surrounded the property with a mini-wall made from them.  As they decomposed it had the effect of reducing the any population on the property.  It is very effective at getting rid of Carpenter Ants too. Realizing of course tat they are a part of the ecology poisoning them with dangerous petrochemicals isn't a good idea.  I helped a friend in Alabama rid his pasture of Fire Ants by soaking the mounds with Orange Oil.  It kills them but they are a genuine nuisance.

Joined: Oct 25, 2010
Posts: 76
Location: Austin,TX
Forgot to mention that I also have a local (veggie) restaurant that saves all their kitchen scraps for me.
Just have a 50 gal (food grade) barrel that I pick up weekly.

Nice free input and I share with the owners some eggs (guinea...yum), plants, produce, composite...etc.

Might also try some caterers as they can produce huge amounts of scraps for a single event.

Dave Bennett

Joined: Jun 25, 2011
Posts: 641
My friends that own the local craft brewery give me all of the used cooked mash I need for free.  Since they have started making wheat beer I now get both wheat and barley mash.  I just dry it out and feed it to my rabbits.  Sometimes it gets moldy before it dries so it goes to compost instead.  The goat farmers around here pay $75 a ton for it and they have to unload the "mash tun" into 55 gallon drums and load it themselves.  I get a free 55 gallon drum of it whenever I want.   Ahhh the perks of being a part time employee of a small brewery.  Free beer and free rabbit chow.  Now if only I actually drank beer. LOL  I use it to bake bread.  It has live yeast in it.
subject: When Looking For Free Inputs, What Do You Take?