How a Public Garden Began Affordable On-Site Composting

How a Public Garden Began Affordable On-Site Composting

The Bloedel Reserve is one of the most highly acclaimed public gardens in the United States. Two miles of trails wind through 150 acres of wild landscapes and curated gardens on Bainbridge Island, Washington. 

15-20 years ago, Bloedel Reserve was a “weed-and-feed operation, using so many pesticides and fungicides that it could fill up a New York City phone book,” Ed Moydell, Executive Director of Bloedel Reserve explained. These chemical-intensive methods were keeping weeds at bay but were not helping to improve the vitality and longevity of the gardens. It wasn’t until they were introduced to compost by a resident plant pathologist, Olaf Ribeiro, that they started to shift their course in a more sustainable direction. The addition of compost also allowed them to stop using many of the pesticides and fungicides, ultimately leading to pest management strategies today that are 98% organically derived.

Tree in Bloom along Bloedel Reserve path, Courtesy of Bloedel Reserve.
Residence on Bloedel Reserve, Courtesy of Bloedel Reserve.

With aging infrastructure and a renewed sense of focus on stewardship and conservation, Bloedel Reserve plans to construct the Environmental Resource Center (ERC), a series of buildings to further Bloedel’s work as leaders in plant pathogen and disease research, conservation, and sustainability. The new infrastructure will include a new shade house, new greenhouse, a remodeled and expanded maintenance building for tools and equipment, horticultural training center and a new composting facility designed by Green Mountain Technologies. 


Bloedel’s New ASP Compost Facility

Bloedel‘s first iteration of their new compost facility used windrows and was comprised of a giant concrete pad and stormwater pond. When Michael Bryan-Brown was asked to review the design, he explained that there are better, faster ways to make the same amount of compost on a reduced footprint. He introduced Bloedel to Aerated Static Pile (ASP) technology that forces air through compost piles increasing microbial decomposition resulting in increased efficiency and effectiveness of compost production.

For the Bloedel Reserve, he recommended the Green Mountain Technologies Standard ASP three-bin system and WebMACS control system to provide temperature and aeration control. The GMT design resulted in Bloedel saving about $500,000 In construction costs and will deliver compost in less time for use in their gardens.

Inside view of Bloedels Compost Facility
Aerated and concrete storage bays to hold materials for composting

The new design also includes a covered structure, which allows Bloedel to easily manage stormwater in the Pacific Northwest winter months and keep the compost from becoming too wet. When piles are not covered, water that touches the piles has to be properly managed, but with a roof, rainwater avoids the piles, keeping them dry and hot during the rainy Pacific Northwest winter months.


Moss Garden Trail, Courtesy of Bloedel Reserve.

After starting to use compost regularly, the benefits were observed immediately including increased “vigor and health of the plants while simultaneously reducing presence of pests, disease, and pathogen responses on plants,” Moydell explained. “We have the distinction of being the first public garden in the United States to detect Phytophthora ramorum, a harmful pathogen that causes Sudden Oak Death (SOD) in tree species.” Because of this detection, they have become the resident experts in how to test and prevent outbreaks of SOD, which they haven’t experienced in 4 years now.

GMT is proud to be a part of the design of the first Aerated Static Composting system on Bainbridge Island, Washington. The facility will efficiently make compost for Bloedel’s gardens using a cost-effective design, properly manage stormwater from Northwest winters, and become an integral part of the Environmental Horticultural Resource Center for generations to come. 

Written by Theo Fehsenfeld, GMT Project and Business Development Assistant

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