Recycling pumpkin recycling

Pumpkin recycling station 2-top onlyI’ve addressed pumpkin recycling in the past, but it is worth revisiting and updating with a new flyer you can use, below.

The idea is this: In most municipalities, you’re not supposed to put pumpkins in the yard waste, so it goes in the garbage which we (taxpayers) pay to dispose of by weight.

Instead of sending those heavy pumpkins to incinerators or landfills, place the flyer at your house Halloween eve. Next day, put a bucket, barrel or tub out front with the sign so people can bring their used pumpkins to you.

The new flyer is not specific to Arlington and is also, hopefully, a bit clearer and more attractive.

Why spend taxpayer money to haul away pumpkins when you can save taxpayer money while making compost?

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin recycling station 2 jpg


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Compost: Stuff you need to start composting

It is the most basic of questions: What ‘stuff’ do I need to if I’m going to start composting?

Not surprisingly, the answers are simple and inexpensive. You can compost with a gold-plated compost unit or some pallets tied together, and you can always change things around later.

Here are some basics that I recommend:

1. Kitchen pail

Kitchen pail/bucket/crock. No inside rim makes emptying and cleaning easy.

You can use something as simple as a yogurt tub on the kitchen counter if you want. I prefer a stainless steel pail for aesthetics, size, durability, light weight, machine wash-ability and one other very important aspect – they have no inside rim. Most kitchen buckets, like the porcelain style ones, have inside rims that catch all the small items like coffee grounds when you try to dump them, and are a pain to clean. The metal pails easily rinse out and can be run through the dishwasher.

They come with lids, but if you are regularly adding scraps, you may prefer to simply put the lid in a cabinet under the sink. If you empty your tub at least once daily, smell should never be an issue.

2. Compost unit

Obviously you need a place to empty the contents of that kitchen pail. There are hundreds of “simple” compost bins you can make with anything from used pallets (heat treated, please) to fallen logs to hardware cloth. There are also units you can buy, ranging in price from $40 to at least $530. Choosing a unit is perhaps the most confusing part for starters, so I’m going to try to simplify it a bit.


Keeps vermin out, but holds little. Most expensive option.

Afraid of vermin-Tumbler style: If you live in an urban or semi-urban area and want to compost outdoors (rather than compost with worms in your basement) then get a tumbler style unit. They hold less and are more expensive than other types of compost units; they can be difficult to get the right carbon/nitrogen ratio; big ones can be cumbersome and difficult to turn, but animals aren’t going to get in them.






Best option for most people is the “bottom door” style. Holds a good amount of material, is easy to set up/maintain/empty.

Only compost a little or just starting-Bottom Door styleIf you don’t think you’ll make much compost, meaning you don’t have many compostable kitchen scraps or garden trimmings, then a “bottom door” style unit such as the Earth Machine is a good way to go. Put fresh material in at the top, pull finished compost out the bottom. (Every once in a while you should take stuff from the bottom and add to the top just to aerate.) Simple, low-to-moderate in price, limited in size but 2x-3x bigger than tumblers, and very easy to assemble.



New Age Composter/Bin-24 is big, bold, beautiful and what you need if you’re going to compost lots of leaves or anything else.

More compost, more kitchen scraps or more yard waste: Got leaves? Go big. This is when you want to have a large unit(s), whether that means making your own or buying a $40-$50 “New Age Composter“. These will hold more material which is, coincidentally, what is needed (close to 1 cubic yard capacity) to make “hot” compost. If you’re looking to compost leaves you need something this size. They can be a bit difficult to turn or aerate, but there are workarounds. (See “Accoutrements” below.)

3. Second compost unit

This can come later but eventually your first compost bin will get full, at which point your kitchen waste will start to pile up. Use #2 above as a guide to buy/build a second compost unit. If you only need something to hold leaves, the New Age Composter (above) is perfect, or you can build a cheap and easy leaf container from chicken wire or hardware cloth. (Scroll down to “wire-mesh holding unit.”

4. Accoutrements

The things people sell to “help” you compost are limitless. You need very few of them, perhaps none other than a shovel, but here are some items that most will find useful.

– Shovel. Yes indeed, any old shovel will do. Regardless which style composter you buy, you’ll eventually want to shovel that compost from the unit to another place and a shovel is the right tool for the job.

– Aerating tool. This can be the shovel, if you have a “bottom door” style unit. Tumblers don’t need any aeration tool – turning aerates the pile. For those with larger piles I recommend two tools, a pitchfork and a cordless drill.

Bulb auger is great at aerating partially-decomposed (not fresh) compost.




Specifically, I have become a big fan of using a bulb auger in the drill. This pokes holes deep into the pile, aerating it and mixing contents as well. Please, just make sure your drill is set to the “drive” mode, typically number 1 on most drills, rather than the “drill” mode which spins faster.

One of the most important tools for making fine compost.

– Garden Shears (clippers). If your goal is fine, crumbly compost then clippers are far more important than a compost screen. This is for yard stuff, not most kitchen waste. The best way to get a hot compost pile (which kills diseases and most weed seeds, and finishes faster) is by making sure material is small before adding it. You don’t need to finely dice your tomato stalks in the fall, but chopped up they will decompose faster and hotter because you’ve given bacteria a helping hand. If you have a garden, you probably have a good pair already – use them. (An aside: Do NOT add sticks unless you want to sift them out later.)

Leaf shredder. You can also use a lawn mower.

– Shredder. No, you don’t need to buy a leaf shredder. Chances are good that you already have a lawn mower. That’s fine – extra credit if you install a mulching blade on your mower. I don’t have a power mower, so I do own a leaf shredder that I like, but you can probably ask a neighbor to borrow their mower for a few hours.



5. Do NOT buy

The silly things people sell to help you compost are apparently limitless. Here’s a short list of things you should NOT buy:

  • Compost starter
  • Lime (as compost starter)
  • Self-heating compost units (these use electricity to foment bacteria growth)
  • Material to compost
  • Machines designed solely to grind up kitchen scraps prior to composting

That’s it, that is all you need to get started. Well, that and some compostable materials. If you think I missed anything, please let me know!

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“Can I compost it?” flowchart

I have no intent of replicating the many, many lists available online telling you what is compostable. (Though it is usually the most popular question people ask me.)

Instead, below is a handy flowchart (.pdf version here) you can hang on the refrigerator for those who keep asking you, “Can I compost this?”

Handy-dandy compost flowchart

Handy-dandy compost flowchart

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Wicked light, wicked strong, compost sifter

Compost screens, finished and unfinished.

Compost screens, finished and unfinished.

I’ve taught a few classes and done some exhibits about compost recently and have had a great time answering questions.

Several people have asked about the sifter/screen I use. I always point out that you don’t really need a screen, or that in a pinch a milk crate will do the job, but if you want a screen to give you a finer product, then this is a great, sturdy, lightweight unit.

Most people with just a few tools can build this compost screen which is designed to be light enough that people with limited upper-body strength can use it. The arms rest across most wheelbarrows and it is sturdy enough to handle sifting compost or getting rocks out of soil. Continue reading

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Raccoons and Compost: A Common Sense Primer

Raccoons live among us. They lived here before we composted. They lived here before we put out cat food, garbage cans, or bird feeders.

 If everybody stopped composting tomorrow, raccoons would still thrive here.

Continue reading

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Free light bulbs from Mass Save

I received a bunch of free CFL and LED bulbs from MassSave as a blogger. I was very clear that I was going to say what I wanted, not necessarily nice things. I held up my end of the bargain, as you’ll see below.

Update, 12/13/2014: Two important notes about this post. 1. It is old enough that some of these bulbs are no longer in production, let alone used by MassSave anymore. 2. This is, to me, the least interesting post on this website. Hopefully you’ll take a few moments to read other, more interesting posts on this website. Thanks!

MassSave is a great program which offers “free” energy audits to MA residents and

CFL samples Mass Save sent.

Some of the CFL samples Mass Save sent.

commercial property owners. Non-profit entities are not eligible for most services. (“Free” is in quotes because the funding comes from all of our energy bills, so we have, in fact, paid for the service. That’s fine and good in my book.)

If you haven’t had a free audit, go sign up for one, now. Go, I’ll wait. Done? Good. (If your last audit was four years ago, do it again. They’ve improved dramatically.)

Some of the sample bulbs Mass Save sent.

Some of the sample LED bulbs Mass Save sent.

Continue reading

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Storm Prep


It’s been a while since our last storm, so a few quick reminders about safety related to energy efficiency. Remember, our safety personnel will likely have their hands full with other emergencies – let’s do them a favor by avoiding some of these basic hazards.

1. Clear direct vents: If you have a “direct venting” appliance such as a boiler or hot water heater, make sure the vents stay clear of snow. The vents are only a few feet off the

Typical direct vent exhaust as seen from outside the house.

Typical direct vent exhaust as seen from outside the house.

ground, so snow drifts can sometimes get in the way, especially if you’ve put anything under the vent. (Hint: Don’t put anything under the vent.)

If blocked, the CO from combustion will go into the home rather than outside. CO is known as a silent killer because there is no smell. Check the vent periodically throughout the storm.

2. Dryer vents: The same holds true for dryer vents – if snow or ice is blocking them they won’t function safely. In the case of a dryer this can lead to additional problems, like burning your house down. Until that happens, it can also dramatically rise the amount of time it takes to dry clothing, which wastes energy. Continue reading

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Wicked cold: What’s up with that?

The thermometer says it is wicked cold outside, it seems appropriate to address a few questions that always come up this time of year. Please add any questions you may have in the comments below. Continue reading

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Pumpkin recycling

Every Halloween we see a lot of good rotting flesh go to waste. That’s right, pumpkins tossed into the trash.

A trash can and a sign and you’re good to go

In Arlington we’re not allowed to put pumpkins in with the yard waste, so they often go in the garbage. This costs the town more in “tipping fees,” a fee calculated by weight, not volume. Pumpkins are, of course, heavy.

So what if after the holiday, the neighborhood pumpkins all came to you for composting, perfect to mix with the fallen leaves? (Leaves are carbon-rich, or “browns”. Pumpkins are nitrogen-rich, or “green”. You need both for rich compost.)

This Halloween put up a sign telling visitors that after the holiday you’ll take their pumpkins, with certain limitations. You’ll be building great compost, saving the town money, and letting the kids know that their “used pumpkins” will replenish the yard or garden.

I made a very quick sign, as a sample or for use as-is: Pumpkin Recycling Station flyer.

UPDATE: I made a new Pumpkin recycling station flyer that is a bit clearer and NOT Arlington specific.

Smashing the pumpkins with a shovel or something else will help them decompose much faster and is highly recommended. You can even lay out a tarp and have neighborhood kids crush them (stomping, sticks, whatever) and serve cider, turning it into a neighborhood event, if you’re ambitious.

Send us photos of your haul and any celebrations!

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Solarize Arlington

If, dear reader, you live in Arlington and have considered going solar then please read this.

Ryan Katofsky, Arlington’s “Solar Coach,” will be speaking Thursday, May 31 about the discounts available for solar installation. Whether you’ve considered buying or renting PV panels, wondered what it would really take to make it happen or are only considering it now for the first time, you should go to this event.

Full details in the letter below.

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard, Arlington is among 17 communities selected to participate in the 2012 Solarize Massachusetts (Solarize Mass) Program, which helps residents and business owners adopt solar photovoltaic (PV) technology. To encourage participation in the program, discounted pricing will be offered by a state-approved PV installer, with the discount increasing as more homes and businesses sign up to go solar. If you are interested (and I hope you are), please attend the “Solar 101” public meeting at Town Hall on Thursday, May 31, at 7:00pm. At this meeting you will be able to:

  • Learn about solar power basics and the Solarize Mass price discount
  • Hear about affordable lease and purchase options
  • Meet your local Solarize Mass representatives

If you cannot make the meeting, you can learn more about the program and sign up to participate by going to or by calling the MassCEC at 617.315.9306. You can also follow @MassCEC on Twitter for Solarize Mass updates.

Even if it turns out that your home is not suitable for solar power, this is still a great opportunity to learn more about Solarize Mass as well as other energy saving and renewable energy options that you may be able to take advantage of.

Thanks and hope to see you there.


Ryan Katofsky
Solar Coach for the Town of Arlington’s Solarize Mass program

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