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Brush Pile to Black Gold: A Scientific Process

Residents in Wichita falls can't drop off any limbs or brush at Kiwanis Park any more, and the piles which were there are now at the city landfill, waiting to be turned into compost.
Whether it's by the handful, the armful, or even by the truck-load, the huge piles of brush and wood, called organic material in the trash biz, are about to go through a time-warp.

"If we're working like God does in nature on the forest floor, it takes hundreds of years," said Dave Lehfeldt, the Sanitation Superintendent of Wichita Falls, "We don't have time and space for that."

The City started the compost program in 1994, and now they have it down to a science.

"We grind up all the big woody material to make it smaller, mix it with the more high nitrogen, wet products, and put it in a wind row," said Lehfeldt.

So what does that mean?

Once the woody "carbon heavy" material is ground up, it's then mixed with things like beer, wine and other alcohol as well as food waste from the prison.

Once in a row, it's mixed with a treated sludge from the water processing plant, and the final ingredient is added. Time.

Lehfeldt describes it like a party for the microbes.

"When you get all the parameters right, the microbes, they get crazy like teenagers at a dance," he explained, "and they create a lot of heat and energy, and that's what breaks the material down into compost.

It takes 3-4 months minimum for those brush piles to turn into the "black gold" compost.

The final product, as any green-thumber will tell you, is much more than just fertilizer.

"It's that and a whole lot more," said Lehfeldt, "it's a soil amendment. It takes the materials in the compost, the minerals and the nutrients, and makes them more widely available to plants."

Not only that, but it also helps hold moisture.

A benefit which Lehfeldt said will be crucial to many this year, as the South braces for what could be another long, dry summer.

For more information on the City's composting program, click here.
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