Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

October 30, 2005

Gowing Crops in the Front 40 in Suburbia

Joan and Jonathan, our next door neighbors, are great people. They are flower children of the 60’s. They are really into all sorts of natural stuff into some, what’s the word … odd stuff. We live in Newton, Mass — one of the original suburbs, so lots are small. Our house is on a whopping 0.16 acres and is nearly covered the house and the driveway and perhaps a detached garage. No “back 40’s” here in Newton.

But Joan and Jonathan use their “front 40” to grow corn, squash, tomatoes and all sorts of other veggies. They grow sunflowers. They have rabbits. They keep bees. There’s not much room left for lawn (which is good). And they … compost.

Think of the resale values! Ok, I recycle and do all this other stuff that’s not hard at all. But hey, I like my creature comforts, and composting is just strange. For the earthy-crunchy-granolan crowd. The Vermonters. I would never do something like that.

Or would I?

I mow my lawn and put the clippings in paper bags. During the summer, I might fill a bag of clippings in a week. In the fall, we rake and fill up a bunch of bags. In the Spring we clip and cut and rake. All go in paper bags out to the curb to be recycled, perhaps 25 or 30 each year. And most of the food waste goes into the disposer.

Then in Spring we buy a big pile of bark mulch for the beds, buy fertilizer for the grass, and dig a little garden where we grow a big basil plant or two and maybe some other herbs or a tomato plant.

So, I am lugging bags out to the curb, and lugging in bags of mulch and fertilizer.

Or, I could make compost. With a little reading, composting looks pretty easy. It doesn’t take up a lot of space. It’s supposed to not smell (certainly less bad than rotting grass clippings). And the equipment is inexpensive. In fact, one big box of paper bags and a few extras, plus fertilizer, plus the big pile of bark much easily costs several hundred dollars each year, probably more. So I am not looking at this as a way to save the planet as much as a way to save effort.

In fact, I bet it’s no harder, and perhaps easier than those stupid paper bags. So I’ll order a composter and let you know how it goes.

(Just don’t tell the other neighbors)


  1. Sounds like your neighbors Joan And Jonathan have their lives planned out well with the incrediable use of such small space.
    I think if I were you, I would forget about your composting ideas and go for the real way to save money, grow your own food.
    Your neighbors would be pround to learn your’re actually taking an interest and trying.

    Comment by Roger Holden — March 19, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  2. Roger — well, I wrote this in 2005 — since then our hippie, bee-raising wonderful neighbors have moved to a smaller house with a larger yard in an even-more-densely populated part of greater Boston (actually, it’s in Boston) so that they could grow more food and use less energy doing so.

    Sadly, they sold their house to neighbors whose habits couldn’t be more opposite (they did apologize and we drank many excellent drinks together before leaving) — our new neighbors run their air-conditioner full-time spring to fall, drive large cars, are both cardiologists that still smoke cigarettes, and are jerks. There, I said it. The likelihood that they would ever be caught dead reading this blog is astronomically low, and they already know we’re not their biggest fans, so, well, whatever.

    Anyway, we did indeed start composting. We’re not there yet on growing our own food, except for herbs and dropoffs from our local CSA. But a big benefit of the composting is that we’re not putting our food waste back into the garbage stream. We enrich a section of our small plot with a double-dug chunk of earth every spring.

    (I made the mistake of enriching the top of our so-called lawn one year, but ended up with tomato, pepper and probably several kinds of squashes growing where I had hoped for better grass :-).

    Thanks for the comment!


    Comment by Tom Harrison — March 24, 2013 @ 7:24 pm

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