Composting 101. State solar snafu.

This week’s warmer temperatures inspired me to get outside and set up a compost bin. Finally! Eco-geeks say composting is a no-brainer if you grow things in dirt and have even the tiniest amount of space available for a compost bin. OK, so that means most of us.

According to Wikipedia, composting dates at least as far back as the Roman Empire. Compost bins keep your organic waste contained in one spot of the yard, allowing worms to crawl on in and have a massive party. After a few months, kitchen scraps and yard waste magically transform into nutrient-rich soil for your plants. The worms are happy. The plants are happy. The plant eaters are happy. The municipal waste stream gets smaller. What more do you want? For the bigger environmental picture, check out the EPA’s list of the benefits of composting.

After reading online reviews of several models, I settled on the popular Earth Machine, which was recommended by our landscapers, Jeff Swano and Freyja Conrad of Dig Right In. The Earth Machine also happens to be the only model sold at Oak Park’s earth-friendly housewares store, Green Home Experts.

The Earth Machine (above) is commonly described as a giant Darth Vader mask, but my son the Star Wars fan didn’t seem to note the resemblance. You be the judge. With 10.5-cubic feet of capacity, it was fairly easy to transport and set up. I expected comments from the family like, “Hey, what’s that big black thing in the yard?” But no. Nothin’. So I guess it’s not all that conspicuous.

While composting creates “free” nutrients for your yard, setting up a system isn’t necessarily free. Some people make their own bins out of scrap lumber, but I’m not that handy. Buying a composter was a bit of investment: $100 for the composter and about $37 for a jumbo kitchen composting pail, which provides a tidy place to store scraps until you dump them into the composter.

Solar panel funding hits a wall

It appears we will not be getting solar panels this year. Our application for a state renewable energy rebate was waitlisted, even though we submitted it within a week of the application forms becoming available last fall. Our application was No. 138 of 320 received, said Wayne Hartell, an energy program specialist in the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. “We were flooded with applications as soon as the program opened this year and depleted all of our funds before we got to your application,” he said in an email.

We thought our request would sail through because our application for a rebate was approved in the previous fiscal year. But our construction ran behind schedule and we weren’t able to get the panels installed before that rebate expired. Meanwhile, lots of folks were lining up for the state largesse. Hartel said the number of applications grew 45% in 2010-11 compared with the previous fiscal year.

“We have seen growing interest in solar over the last few years, and we also added small wind (turbines) as an option for a rebate a couple years ago,” Hartel said. There was also pent-up demand because his office had stopped accepted applications in February 2010.

The 30% state rebate would make the project — estimated to cost around $30,000 — vastly more affordable. But it might be worth waiting a year or two to install anyway. Newer, more powerful photo-voltaic panels continue to enter the market while prices continue to drop. In fact, Standard & Poor’s recently estimated solar panel prices will drop about 15% in 2011.


One response to this post.

  1. Thanks, Mary Chris, — two topics I’m very interested in! We’ve been composting for a couple of years now but were considering upgrading to a “professional” system. Right now we have two 30 gallon black plastic garbage cans with lots of holes drilled in them. They work okay but are showing some wear and tear. Sorry to hear about the solar — but thanks for the encouragement that the panels are getting better and the prices are going down.


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