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New Ulm compost, burn site are successful

November 1, 2010
By Serra Muscatello Staff Writer

NEW ULM - The City of New Ulm's compost and burn sites have been successful operations for more than 16 years, according to City of New Ulm's Street Commissioner Tom Patterson.

The compost site and program were in place before Patterson took over as street commissioner 16 years ago he said.

"I believe it started out as a need for removing the yard waste from the landfills," said Patterson, "It takes several tons of waste out of the mainstream system of garbage and then turns it into a useable product. It's certainly a really good idea. It's an awfully good asset to this community ... being a free service that the community offers and it works very well. I think we have a lot of residents that use it on a regular basis."

Article Photos

Two New Ulm residents unload leaves at the city’s compost site. The leaves, grass clipping other yard waste are converted to compost, which is then available to residents for their gardens and other uses.

Staff photo by
Steve Muscatello

Residents deposit leaves, grass clippings, garden waste and sod at the compost site, which is located on 21st North Street east of Broadway. This year, the compost site opened on April 3.

"We collect about 3,000 cubic yards of yard waste annually," said Patterson.

The street department also adds the leaves swept up from the city streets in the fall to the compost site, Patterson said.

This compost site does not accept branches, paper, glass, plastic, metal or garbage. However, located adjacent to this compost site is a burn site where branches, sticks and small cleaned-off tree stumps are accepted, Patterson said.

"A stump can burn for two months down there," said Patterson, "It's so dense and it's so moist inside that it just does not burn up - so they sit and smolders for months. The smaller stumps we can handle as long as the dirt is cleaned off. We take whole trees, but we like to have the trees cut into manageable lengths. We don't want a 50-foot tree down there because that doesn't fit in our burn pile very well."

The compost site generally opens in April and remains open until weather will dictate its closing.

The material to be composted is first piled into a "surge pile" area. Then, the material is eventually moved and into "wind rows" where the yard waste can be turned occasionally - sometimes weekly depending on weather conditions. A composting machine which is like a roto-tiller is used and it allows air to reach different parts of it. This process - which takes care of the 3,000 cubic yards of yard waste - takes nearly all summer to accomplish.

The compost pile is a teeming microbial farm where bacteria - which are the most numerous and effective composters - are the first to break down plant tissue. Fungi and protozoans are soon to join the bacteria and, then later in the cycle, centipedes, millipedes, beetles and earthworms will do their part in the process.

When the material all gets composted, then the city ends up with half the cubic yards - about 1,500 cubic yards of compost.

"Many people come in with their pails and a little hand screener," said Patterson, "So what they do is shovel it through the screener and it drops down underneath and that's what they take home with them. It gets out any plastic bottles or any junk they might find in there."

People are encouraged for the best results to turn two to three inches of compost into their garden or flowerbed. When this compost is added to gardens, it loosens heavy soils, improves plant root growth, and helps hold water and nutrients where plants can use them. It can also be used as mulch around trees and shrubs.

"Compost by itself doesn't work well to grow things in," said Patterson, "It's really better to mix it with anything from sand to black dirt. It's really not dirt - it's compost - it's decomposed yard waste and it needs to be mixed with something to have your plants ... grow better."

Patterson said there are 16,415 visitors annually (this is an average for the last three years) who come to either drop off yard waste or pick up compost or drop off tree waste at the burn site.

Residents of New Ulm are not charged for the compost, Patterson said.

"It (the compost site) has been and continues to be very successful," said Patterson, "The people who use it, I think, really appreciate it for the most part."

The composted material will be piled up just before winter and that will become next year's stock pile, Patterson said.

New Ulm has a permit from the State of Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to burn only the natural tree waste, Patterson said.

"The DNR is one of our greatest supporters," said Patterson, "When other cities want to open up compost sites they will send them here to look at this one because it's so well-operated. They are very happy with how we're doing it."

Patterson said there is an attendant who works at the compost site during its hours of operation from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. (The site is closed on Sundays and holidays.) The last day an attendant will be staffed at the site will be Saturday, Nov. 13.

The site - which has a mini biff, electricity, telephone, an air conditioner (and labor costs for the attendants)- has a total cost of about $16,000 (annually) for the City of New Ulm to run it, said Patterson.

"That (cost) also includes what the street staff does," said Patterson, "They go down there with loaders and pile up the yard waste into the surge piles. ... Then we also have to push the trees together in specific piles and we have to burn the trees ... so we have to do some fire maintenance, (and) ash removal. Lots of different things that we do beyond what the attendants are doing. The attendants are retired folks who just work part-time and seasonally."

There is also a portion of land located at the compost site that is a large fenced in area that the city has offered to Brown County's Sentence To Service program. In this area cut and split firewood are for sale.

Another area located southeast of the burn site that is used by different departments of the City of New Ulm. The Park and Recreation department stores fencing and posts. The Street Department stores manhole covers, structures and other things in this area.

Patterson said that overall, New Ulm has not made any major changes to the compost and burn site operations since its inception.

"It's been working and we haven't needed to (change it)," said Patterson.

General Guidelines for the Compost Site:

Accepts leaves, grass clippings, garden waste, and sod deposited at the compost site.

Plastic bags must be removed and disposed of separately. A trash barrel will be kept on site to dispose of all plastic.

Sand, gravel, or rocks cannot be deposited at the compost site, this site is not a landfill.

General Guidelines for the Burn Site:

Trees, tree trimmings, and brush may be deposited at the burn site to be burned.

Lumber or other manufactured wood products, large stumps or roots with dirt cannot be taken at the burn site.

General Guidelines:

Compost materials must be separated from the burn site materials and deposited in the correct locations.

No trash of any kind may be deposited on the compost or burn site; including cans, bottles, paper, plastic or construction materials.

Site attendants have the authority to reject any material based on the preceding guidelines.

Note: Some information for this article was taken from the City of New Ulm's website regarding the compost site operation.



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