Yard waste becomes compost in Newark
Location: 6711 W. St. Lawrence Ave., Beloit. The site is in Newark Township about 5.5 miles west of downtown Beloit.
Cost to drop off: $30 gets you a one-year pass.
Cost to buy: $25 per yard. A yard fills the back of a full-sized pickup truck and weighs between 700 and 1,000 pounds. It is enough to cover 324 square feet or a 10-by-32-foot garden. A small pickup such as a Chevrolet S-10 can carry only a half yard.
For more information: Visit leaflan.com or call (608) 364-1909.
NEWARK TOWNSHIP From atop last year's pile, an eastern meadowlark sang his springtime song.
One by one, cars paraded past his little mountaintop and backed up to the pile of fresh yard waste. Some cars had been parked along the road for 30 minutes before the gates opened.
Drivers heaped branches onto the pile and swept the chips out of their trucks and trailers. They waved at their neighbors and at Joe Perkins, who for 20 years has been selling compost and giving away gardening advice.
If you weren't told, you wouldn't realize that the busy weekday afternoon was a little quieter than in years past.
Perkins owns Leaflan, a composting site in Newark Township west of Beloit. This will be his 21st season accepting yard waste and selling finished, sifted compost.
This is the first year in many years that the city of Beloit has not had a payment contract with Leaflan to accept yard waste at no extra charge from residents. The town of Beloit's contract with Leaflan expired prior to the 2011 growing season. Residents in the two communities and other areas can choose whether to continue taking yard waste to Leaflan or to take it to Bedrock Grinding, 1105 E. La Prairie-Turtle Townline Road, between Beloit and Janesville.
Perkins' compost business started as a hobby in the late 1980s. It was a side project to his full-time job farming 750 acres. He wanted to compost cow manure but needed carbon sources such plant material to balance the nitrogen-rich manure.
He approached the city of Beloit and found officials were considering creating a yard waste collection program. They started a pilot program in 1991 and in 1995 started working directly with the public, Perkins said.
"We had nice, slow growth, which is the way to do it," Perkins said.
Perkins uses an end loader to pile waste dropped off by customers. Fresh material is run through a wood chipper and heaped in a long row. The fresh pile maintains a temperature of 160 degrees. Perkins lets it stay that way for a couple days to kill any pathogens. He then turns the pile to allow the waste to aerate. In one season, Perkins will build a 600-foot long row of waste. The finished compost is sold to gardeners, landscapers and vegetable growers. Some is spread on nearby fields.
Perkins is generous with his gardening and composting knowledge. He said he often recommends new gardeners plant one tomato outside the composted vegetable garden so they can see what a difference the compost makes.
He said people often think they are fertilizing their plants when they use compost. That's not the case. The nutrients in compost are not in a soluble form, Perkins said. This means they can't be dissolved by water and taken up by plant roots.
Rather, the nutrients in compost are intended to feed the organisms living in the soil. The organisms break down the compost and make it available for plants.
Perkins sets aside a little bit of compost for the flowerbeds he keeps at the entrance to the business and along the front of the dumping area. Now that the city and town of Beloit's contracts have expired, Perkins looks forward to having a little more time to work in his flowerbeds, he said.
He also maintains wood chip paths into and out of the dumpsite. Customers like to see the growing corn and the wildlife when they bring their lawn waste, he said.
"We want to make it a pleasant place to visit," Perkins said. "Not just, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go to the dump again.'"
Residents get yard waste choice
Residents of Beloit and the town of Beloit this year have a choice when dropping off yard waste.
The municipalities are suggesting residents choose between Leaflan Compost Center, 6711 W. St. Lawrence Ave., Beloit, or Bedrock Grinding, 1105 E. Townline Road, Janesville.
Town residents do not have to pay at the gate to drop off yard waste at Bedrock Grinding. The town last year had a $12,000 agreement with the company, Recycling Coordinator Bea Lengjak said. Negotiations are ongoing for a new contract, she said.
The city of Beloit does not have a formal agreement with Bedrock Recycling. Bedrock has contracts with the town of La Prairie and town of Turtle.
For many years, Beloit and the town of Beloit had contracts with Leaflan and paid for residents to drop off yard waste. This year, residents of both municipalities will need to pay a $30 annual fee at Leaflan.