Wednesday was the first day of spring.

Wednesday was the first day of spring.

Whether there is snow in the forecast or not, thoughts of flowers and plants are no doubt growing in the minds of gardeners in McPherson County.

For some, their secret ingredient is found at McPherson Area Solid Waste Utility — compost. The transfer station has been rooted in the area for 15 years and has a hard time keeping up with demand, especially as it is given away for free.

“We can’t keep it in stock,” John Hawk, general manager, said. “We can’t keep up with the supply, especially for the spring and summer.”

Hawk said about 25 customers per week come to the utility for compost pickup in the spring.

Among the many who use the utility’s compost is McPherson County Master Gardeners members.

DeWayne Herrs said within their large demonstration garden on West Woodside, they use about two to three inches of compost per growing season. They have been doing this for at least six years.

“I like it real well,” Herrs said. “It’s a good compost and the price is right. We work on a pretty limited budget. When it’s free, you take it and use it to it’s maximum potential.”

The utility’s compost is especially economical, as it turns waste back into a useful product.

“It’s a win-win-win,” he said. “Everybody wins when you do it that way. It’s easier and it’s more productive.”

Herrs said he is a believer in compost.

“I think it’s very vital,” he said. “It’s so important to have that in your soil because plants will grow better. It just encourages it to grow that much better and healthier.”

Herrs, like others in the area, are applying a number of materials to their gardens when they use the utility’s compost. This includes grass and leaves for the most part, but some straw, manure, food waste and waste grain is also included.

The utility is looking for other businesses willing to donate their food waste.

Supplies are dropped of by customers or picked up on waste routes on Mondays. Customers are banned from putting this waste in the regular trash stream.

The materials are put into rows up to 200 feet long and about 6 feet wide. A tractor-pulled compost turner straddles and turns the row about one to four times a week, depending on the soil's temperature. Its optimum temperature is between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the turning is complete, it will be left to cure for about a month. Depending on the materials and what time of year it is, compost will be garden-ready between eight and 16 weeks.

Hawk said the utility produces abut 4,000 to 5,000 tons of compost every year.

The utility has tested the quality and it has proven to be comparable to garden stores. In general, compost enriches soils, helps clean up contaminated soil, helps prevent pollution and reduces the need for water, fertilizers and pesticides, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is also cost-effective.

“Quite frankly, if we were to throw it away as trash, it would cost about $50 a ton,” he said. “And of course it’s the environmentally friendly thing to do.”

The utility will load compost for customers on Saturdays for free, or for a charge during the week. For more information, call 241-6559.
Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel