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Cottage Chronicle #3: Trash Talk

Accumulated sub-deck detritus bequeathed by generations of past owners. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

By Mary Lowengard

MY FIRST MONTHS as a Bucknoller, I set out on a journey toward enlightenment about what to do with that which I don’t want in my cottage (not including the occasional annoying house guest).

When I first moved into my cottage, I devised a rational and ecologically sound waste-management strategy. The property came equipped with a garbage disposal (Sears, circa 1963), which registered 3.2 on the Richter scale when in use, and the promise of regular, free (sort of) trash and recyclables pickup, which was somewhat regularly irregular in the dead of winter. “Dead of winter” was when I closed on the cottage, in the deadest point of the dead of winter.

It made sense to institute a “Carry In Carry Out” policy until the trash-pickup pace picked up. So, I simply tossed my bagged trash and empty wine bottles into the back of the Bucknoll Ru (as in Suba-) and surreptitiously commingled my country-home garbage and recyclables with those of my co-op in New York, dutifully sorting things into the proper containers, keeping my head tucked low so as not to be identifiable. 

Spontaneous Regeneration of Sub-Deck Detritus

Meanwhile, under the deck on the would-be terrace, detritus bequeathed by generations of former owners seemed to regenerate spontaneously. Stray wood and wall panels. Retired insulation. Curtain rods. Ripped-up carpeting. Mangled deck chairs. Broken shelving. Cans of dried-up paint. Electronics dating back to Edison. Broken mirrors causing some other poor soul years of bad luck. This heap was bonfire-ready.

That first year, I sucked it up and paid three figures to have it hauled away. But this was a short-term solution for a long-term problem. Kind of like yoga.

Cottage Rules for Disposal of Rubbish

The summer rolled in, I felt compelled to create a written set of instructions for friends, visitors, workers and other forms of home invaders.

For what I’d call regular trash, there was a smallish bin under the sink, lined with yellow ShopRite grocery bags that I hoarded carefully under a kitchen chair. When the under-sink bin filled up, I transferred the tied-up bag to a larger, stylish can in a distant corner of the kitchen. And when that filled up, it all went downstairs into an actual garbage can.

In summer, when the trash truck swung by twice a week, I would haul the big garbage cans out from where I was hiding them in the basement garage. Why? One word: bears.

Beware dumpster-diving bears arriving ahead of the trash-collection truck. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

In other seasons, garbage cans could be put out only after I consulted a complex schedule issued annually that I stuck on the fridge with a magnet, and then coordinated with my astrological chart. The last thing I wanted was to leave my garbage cans out for more than a few hours. Why? Two words: the bears. 

Making the Most of Compost

When that first spring sprang, I got all hot and bothered about composting. I endlessly perused reviews of composters online. One in particular, the Suncast Plastic Tumbler, caught my eye, and, forewarned that an engineering degree would be necessary to construct it (one comment advised, “Step 1: Crack open a beer”), I sweet-talked a Lowe’s employee into putting it together for me. That pretty much secured my loyalty to Lowe’s forever.

My beloved Suncast Tumbling Composter. A guest wondered why I had a cannon in my backyard. / Photo courtesy Suncast.

I stationed an IKEA Soldränkt wine bucket by the kitchen sink and strove for the perfect 75/25 mix of carbon to nitrogen, or “brown to green,” utterly confusing as sometimes brown is green (coffee grounds) and vice versa (corncob stalks). 

Compost was relegated to the compost bucket, then transported out to the composter. Chicken bones and meat and salad (I detest day-old salad) went into the garbage disposal. Dressed salad cannot be composted because it is covered with oil, which is neither green nor brown.

The Opposite of Dumpster Diving

Meanwhile, additional accumulations accumulated. Decommissioned light fixtures, plumbing flotsam (or is it jetsam?), more wood, a dishwasher that no Craigslist reader wanted even for free, boxes of linens and more. Loath to shell out to have junk hauled away again, I asked around. It was suggested I task my contractor with removing it. That would have been fine had I not been between contractors, much as by then I was between jobs. 

A dumpster stationed up the road a bit and around a corner in front of a manorial cottage that appeared be undergoing serial renovations called to me like a siren song. I wondered . . . what if . . . in the middle of the night. . .   I consulted a neighbor who noted my ogling of the dumpster as he tooled by in a golf cart. He suggested the presence of a Nest cam. I recalled Arlo Guthrie, landing in jail and out of the draft. . .  Wait, no, that was a good thing. 

I subsequently discovered that the cottage belonged to my soon-to-be-newest oldest BFF Buzz. And he was the guy in the golf cart.

June arrived (again). It was my second Bucknoll summer and it dawned on me that, once in a blue moon, reliable sources are actually reliable. I call the township. Turns out from May to October, Clean Up Days are held monthly, and the next one was the Very Next Day! I could not believe my luck. And Mercury was then in retrograde.

Basil and other herbs growing down the street were mine for the picking. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

I loaded up the warped shelving, curtain rods, the light fixtures, the long plastic window boxes where I unsuccessfully grew basil the previous summer before discovering the free community patch down the street, a wood cornice (or was it a valence?), a deconstructed metal shelving unit and a waterlogged 4×8-foot piece of oriented-strand board that an enthusiastic but seriously misguided house guest had advocated as a meaningful way to cover the pond over the winter. (It wasn’t.)

All trashed up and someplace to go. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

Off I drove to the Spring Sands Road Maintenance Building, signed a waiver, paid a reasonable $10 for the privilege of backing my car up a ramp where four cheerful men unloaded it into a huge metal container.

Soon enough it was business as (un)usual again, the off season with the infrequent biweekly pickup that I’d by now figured out was synced to the phases of the moon, interim trips to recycling centers, the odd bag tossed into my co-op trash. 

The Care and Feeding of the Suncast Tumbling Composter

It took me a while to clue into the thing about the composter—or composting in general. While ecologically virtuous, it’s a total pain in the butt. You can’t just let the contraption fill up; the compost will not miraculously transport itself to your garden. No, you have to physically remove it with a shovel. This was best accomplished by appealing to local friends, say Gene and Dani, putting a Tom Sawyerish fence-whitewashing spin on what fun it might be to tackle this assignment. They fell for it every time.

At some point I realized I could, for about 10 bucks, purchase 100 pounds of Black Kow bagged organic compost, but I was in way too deep by then.

Over that second July 4 weekend, the garbage disposal gave up the ghost, whereupon I learned three new things. When you go to buy a new one (at Lowe’s, of course) nobody calls them “garbage disposals” anymore, they are now “insinkerators,” never mind that InSinkErator is a brand name. 

Andrew, expert in bankruptcy law and plumbing, installs new garbage disposal. / Photo by Mary Lowengard.

Second, it’s nice to have houseguests who know a thing or two about fixing things. I never would have guessed that my friend Andrew had a secret expertise in plumbing. He competently installed the new disposal-erator. Amazing what they teach in law school. 

And by midsummer (in the retail sense of the word), Suncasts are 40% off at Lowe’s. I considered it, as a backup, for a New York minute. And I resisted. 

Mary Lowengard really did own a country cottage once upon a time somewhere in Pennsylvania. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. She is grateful to KW, JM, JAR and Woody, who made these stories possible. To start at the beginning, click here. To read them all, click on either tag under the headline.





6 thoughts on “Cottage Chronicle #3: Trash Talk

  1. Mary Lowengard says:

    Yes, there is something very alluring about compost. Maybe because it’s earthy? Even though it is, at its best, kind of smelly. My dad was way into it years before it was a thing. He kept wanting me to hold my hand over his compost heap to “feel the warmth.” I thought it was downright creepy. Also he mail-ordered special worms for it. Ewwww.



  2. Mary Lowengard says:

    Thanks! Just wait! The best is yet to come!



  3. Mary Buckman says:

    Thanks so much Mary. I enjoy reading The Chronicles.
    Keep having fun

  4. Carol says:

    You made my day, you just cannot make this stuff up
    Your cottage sounds delightful and I am (sort of) into composting… that is our local government began a pilot composting project and I signed up. I buy the compostable green bags on Amazon and put my green can out every Monday, happy they like greasy pizza boxes! But.. I did not know about salad with oily dressing not allowed. Whoops

  5. Ginger toomey says:

    So enjoying you adventures in our community. We miss you and all your good humor!

  6. Cynthia Skrzycki says:

    Love today’s composting/cottage column.

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