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UB offers free compost to UB gardeners

Tom Ludkta, CDS

Published July 31, 2012

“We can’t keep it in our building, since we have as much as 16,000 pounds of compost on hand at any one time.”
Tom Ludtka
Campus Dining and Shops
Photo

Vegetables are beginning to ripen in neighborhood gardens and flower beds are in full bloom. Still, it’s not too early to start thinking about preparing your garden for next year. And UB is lending a hand by providing free compost to faculty, staff and students.

The compost is derived from food waste collected by Campus Dining and Shops (CDS) and recycled at two locations on the North Campus.

Just make sure you call ahead of time.

“We can’t keep it in our building,” says Thomas Ludtka, manager of the UB commissary and a lead member of UB’s composting efforts. “And that’s sometimes with as much as 16,000 pounds on hand at any one time.”

The compost is stored in a garage at the Statler Commissary. In addition to members of the university community, nonprofit community groups, such as the Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the Massachusetts Avenue Project and the Buffalo Zoo, have come to rely on the product.

Gardeners who can get the compost while it’s available will be fortifying their gardens for next year, according to Ludtka.

“Each year, by the end of the growing season, nutrients have been removed from the soil,” he says. “Adding the compost in the fall is basically resupplying your garden with what was lost.”

Although the term “compost” comes up frequently in conversation, it’s important to remember that the product is actually a soil amendment, points out Raymond Kohl, marketing manager for Campus Dining and Shops.

“It may look like mulch, but it’s not a top dressing,” says Kohl. “The product on its own will not support plant growth.

To work effectively, the compost should be added to gardens in the fall and vigorously worked into the soil. In fact, when gardeners pick up the product, they’re actually getting something that is roughly 80 percent through the recycling process.

“By putting it in the soil, time and moisture complete the decomposition process,” Ludtka explains. “That’s why it’s great to use it in the fall so that it has several months to completely break down before spring planting.”

Kohl also recommends the product for use in compost piles.

“Food waste is high in nitrogen,” he says. “So we like to see people mix it with lawn clippings. This will balance things out: nitrogen on the one side from our product and carbon on the other side from the clippings.”

As a food waste product, however, Kohl points out that testing has revealed the compost to be slightly acidic. Tomatoes love the acidity, he says, but adding a bit of lime will easily neutralize the product. That same testing also has shown the product to completely safe. It is non-combustible and has a stable shelf-life.

Unlike some commercially available soil amendments that introduce chemicals to speed up decomposition, UB’s product is all natural.

Food waste is collected from campus restaurants, then ground, churned and heated over a 14-hour period.

The first decomposition unit installed in the commissary recently was upgraded for increased capacity, while a second unit will be operational at the new Crossroads Culinary Center in the Ellicott Complex this fall.

Gardeners who would like to obtain some of UB’s soil amendment can stop by the Statler Commissary on the North Campus or call 645-2832 for details. They should bring their own containers.

Kohl says the university is looking at several green-bagging options that will allow for easier storage.

“Our program is an ongoing process,” he says.