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LAGUNA BEACH : Mulch Ado Made Over Composting

Orange County Focus

August 05, 1992|LESLIE EARNEST

It may not be a cup of flour and a dash of salt, but for Bill Roley Jr. the art of composting is not that different from whipping up any other recipe.

The formula is foolproof, if unimaginative: one part brown (dried clippings and leaves), one part green (cut grass) and something wet (kitchen scraps).

These ingredients are layered in a bin and the end result is a nutritious pile of dirt that Roley calls "black gold." The rich mixture is used to fertilize plants.

Roley, who has long served as Laguna Beach's shining example of environmentally conscious living, is conducting the first city-sponsored composting workshops. A summer series of three-hour workshops and an eight-week advanced composting course are scheduled for the fall.

"It is the first program in Orange County that's dealing directly with the residents to reduce the need for more landfills and trucks to take the trash away," Roley said.

About 50 people, including Laguna Beach city officials, attended the first workshop last month, and Roley said he expects an even larger crowd at the next workshop Saturday.

"There's an amazing groundswell of people who seem to want to do something environmentally ethical," he said.

Comparing dirt to a sponge cake may seem like a stretch, but it helps people understand that they can concoct "the Miracle Grow of the organic world" simply by cleverly conserving what others consider trash, Roley said.

"It works," he said. "People really catch on to the idea they can be the cooks and good environmentalists by combining things in a recipe format."

Roley says composting is "the next wave of recycling."

The process works like this: Clippings, leaves and leftovers are packed together in a bin. Then, worms, fungi and algae begin to feed on the mixture. This activity causes the layered leftovers to heat up and shrink down.

"What we're doing is creating a biological machine," Roley said. The final product is a nutrition-rich compound that holds eight times more water than normal soil and that can save gardeners a trip to the nursery.

"You're getting cash for your trash by not having to get fertilizer," he said.

Conservation, including "organic recycling," will become increasingly important during the 1990s, as cities strive to meet state-mandated requirements to sharply reduce waste, Roley said.

His previous home, "Sprout Acres," is a marvel of environmental efficiency in Bluebird Canyon. Compost scraps and recycled water are used to nurture a garden that boasts about 200 edible plants. The house, which Roley now uses as an office, is heated by warm air that rises from an attached greenhouse.

The free composting workshop Saturday will be from 9 a.m. to noon at Top of the World Elementary School. Participants may make their own compost bins or buy one at the workshop for $46. The advanced fall course costs $40. Classes are open to all county residents. To register, call Laguna Beach Recreation and Social Services at (714) 497-0716.

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