Heating Up in the Winter
Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist, standing beside the campus compost wind row.

While temperatures are dropping outside, our compost is still heating up! Did you know that compost has been used as a reliable, fossil fuel-free, soil-building, waste-reducing method to heat homes, greenhouses, barns, and other buildings? To read more about the amazing potential of compost-powered heat, please follow the links below.

Although we aren't heating the Motherhouse (yet) with compost, composting significantly reduces our contribution to ecological degradation and is seen as a leading strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change. Compost collected from Regina, the Maria and Madden kitchens, Weber, Weber parking lot public bin, and now Siena Heights University is used to create a compost wind row northeast of the pole barn.

If we were to send this valuable organic material to the landfill, we would be contributing to an increase in the emission of harmful greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Instead, by composting food on campus, we are helping to foster a living biome of healthy soil organisms. By providing our compost with a healthy ratio of nitrogen, carbon, oxygen, moisture, and heat, we ensure the pile is teeming with aerobic (oxygen-loving) biological life that helps to improve soil quality. The compost microbes and organisms are important members of a healthy soil food web. A healthy soil food web translates into healthier plants. Healthier plants, in turn, help to feed the soil web, playing a vital role in continuing this healthful symbiosis.

Come spring, the homemade compost will be spread in the Gaia Garden raised beds, 20 beds of Charlotte's Web Garden, and perennial patches of the Permaculture Gardens, such as the asparagus patch. By applying compost in early spring, we can also help soils wake up with this flush of beneficial microbial activity.

In addition, compost applied directly on top of bare soil acts as a protective covering for the soil to prevent erosion or oxidation of the valuable soil minerals.

Heating With Compost
An educational greenhouse at the City of Boston's yard trimmings site is using heat and moisture captured from aerated static piles to sustain a year-round growing operation.

The Jean Pain Way
Jean Pain, along with his wife, Ida, spent his entire short life studying brush land and forest protection, specifically fire prevention. These studies led to an enormous amount of practical knowledge for composting, water heating, and harvesting methane, all of which are by-products of maintaining a forest or brush land with fire-prevention techniques.

Species Spotlight: Serviceberry

Amelanchier laevis 
Also known as shadbush, juneberry
Height: 4 feet (running serviceberry) to 30 feet

The serviceberry is a native species with many regional varieties. It can take up to five years for these shrubs to bear fruit ----  and then only for about two to three weeks each season ----  but the wait is worthwhile. The little berries, turning a deep purple/black when ripe, are nutritious. Because of their great taste, similar to blueberries, they attract both birds and people. Serviceberries can be used in a variety of ways: in jams and pies; juiced and used as a flavor mead; or dehydrated, to be eaten like raisins. In late spring, we picked more than five quarts of berries from one tree! If you eat on campus, you might remember seeing these tasty spring treats in the dining rooms. If not, you can look forward to next spring's harvest! 

These hardy shrubs are often used in landscaping, like the tree at the back of Madden Hall near the kitchen. They have been planted throughout the Permaculture Gardens to encourage both native wildlife and humans alike to celebrate their beginnings and, of course, to enjoy the delicious berries.

More information on serviceberries can be found here.
Upcoming Events
  • Permaculture Update
    1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, December 21, 2017
    Come to the Rose Room to hear about fall in the gardens, forest gardening, and the activities of Siena Heights University's sustainability interns. This event will be broadcast on campus Channel 122 and live streamed here
  • Master Rain Gardener (MRG) Information Session
    1:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, January 23, 2018
    Dominican Life Center Activities Room
    Learn about the free five-week online MRG certification class being offered this winter. 

Like us on Facebook   View our videos on YouTube