CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Philospher's Guide to Composting Condoms

Posted by: Derek Lowstuter, Mountain Region Extension

Can a likely made-up story about a famous Greek philosopher help us decide if something should be added to our compost pile?  The answer, much like the question, may surprise you. In a viral story about the Stoic philosopher, Socrates is credited with creating three questions we should ask ourselves before speaking. These “Three Filters” are: Is it True? Is it Good? Is it Necessary?  

These questions can help us understand the potential impact of what we say - before we say it. While this is especially important in an election year, the idea can also help us decide if we should add something to our compost pile. Just because something can be said doesn’t mean that it should be said. Likewise, just because something can be composted doesn’t mean that it should be composted. We can ask ourselves the three questions to help us make those decisions:

Is it True? / Does it decompose?

Is it Good? / Does it improve the compost? And,

Is it Necessary? / Does it need to be composted?

The title of this post wasn’t just to get your attention. I have been asked if all kinds of things can be composted: kitty litter, dryer lint, pet hair, cotton undies, and yes – even latex condoms. Many types of waste are biodegradable and can decompose naturally. However, that alone doesn’t make them good additions to the compost pile.

Let's look at dryer lint as an example of how we can apply the three questions.

Is it True? / Does it decompose? Dryer lint may decompose, depending on the clothes it comes from. Yes, clothes made from natural fibers, such as 100% cotton and wool, produce dryer lint that will decompose in home compost. However, synthetic (plastic) fibers, like polyester or nylon, produce lint full of microplastic pollution that does not decompose.

Is it Good? / Does it improve the compost?  Yes, dryer lint from natural fibers breaks down into organic matter and releases small amounts of plant-available nutrients. However, microplastics in lint from synthetic fibers can fill soil pores and even make their way into the food we grow.    

Is it Necessary? / Does it need to be composted? No, because there are usually other easy ways to dispose of dryer lint. If composting isn’t needed for disposal, then we shouldn’t compost it. Many clothes are made with natural and synthetic fiber blends, which can make it difficult to tell what is in dryer lint. Lint failed the three filters and should not be composted.   

Here are some other examples that could be composted – but should they?

Condoms made with natural latex can be biodegradable but are classified as medical waste, don’t benefit compost when added, and can be easily thrown in the trash. Practice safe compost. 

Wood ash has been used as a mineral fertilizer for thousands of years; however, it can harm compost and soil if overapplied – especially in Colorado’s alkaline soils. 

Animal waste from meat-eaters does decompose but can spread disease and complicate compost management. 

Cooked food waste decomposes quickly, but can attract pests, and promote anaerobic (stinky) compost conditions. 

Diseased plants (ex. tomato blight, powdery mildew) can be composted in active compost that is regularly turned and allowed to go through recommended heating cycles and curing. If you are lazy when it comes to turning your compost *sheepishly raises own hand* it would be safer to take infected plants to a commercial compost facility or create a separate static compost pile that isn’t used on annual crops. Nutrients and beneficial microbes in finished compost have been shown to help plants defend against pests and diseases, but care should be taken when potentially spreading diseases in compost.

To Compost or Not to Compost...

Composting is a simple, powerful tool for turning waste into value for our gardens. When well-managed, compost has been shown to improve soil and plant health, and even increase the nutritional value of produce. The “Three Filters” can help us boost compost benefits and reduce potential issues. 

Remember to ask yourself, 
Is it True? 
Is it Good? 
Is it Necessary?
                                       Happy Composting

Monday, February 5, 2024

It’s spring! (really!)

posted by: John Murgel, Horticulture and Natural Resources Specialist, Douglas County

Ever wonder why Groundhog Day is even a thing? It is one of a broad selection of holidays across cultures and times that mark the mid-point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. 

These holidays are known as “cross-quarter days,” and you can read more about them here:

 While most modern Americans consider the solstices and equinoxes to be the “first day of” whatever season we’re in, other cultures (rightly, in my opinion) consider those days to be the mid-point of seasons, with the cross-quarter days marking the beginning of seasons.

yellow crocus flowers
These crocus reliably bloom in February.

 Why argue about the first day of seasons on a gardening blog?  Because I am here to tell you, nay to insist to you, that spring is here.  Beneath the foot of snow piled outside the Extension office, spring bulbs are pushing foliage and flowers through the soil.  Hellebores are happily flowering.  Tellingly, the tree buds are swelling prodigiously—aspens and cottonwoods are particularly noticeable because they also smell sweetly musty when they’re expanding.

White hellebore flowers
Hellebores ringing in spring on January 29.


What are some other spring signs to look for?

1.       Bleeding Trees—as deciduous trees begin to move resources from storage in the roots to the limbs, the surging sap will find any leaks in the pipes.  Frost cracks, old pruning cuts, and wounds deliberately inflicted by wildlife (I’m looking at you, squirrels), all provide escape channels for oozing or flowing sugary water.  Maples are famously leaky trees; this is why many people prefer to prune them in the summer.  As temperatures warm and the trees finish growing leaves, the sap flow will slow down and the leaking should cease; hopefully to be stopped before next spring by the trees’ natural wound response.

squirrel in damaged tree
It's hard to say if this squirrel or the damage it caused is more noticeable.


Cool season weeds—cheatgrass, henbit, cheeseweed, and prickly lettuce are examples of the many plants that get a jump on the season by germinating in the fall or winter.  Growing quickly when temperatures allow, they get the competitive edge on their neighbors and if you’re not careful, take over the garden.  Many are annuals, manage them while they’re small and before they set seed!

Cranesbill weed
Cranesbill, Erodium cicutarium, is a common "winter" weed.

3.       Geophytes – plants that hide during the summer heat like tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths are starting to grow underground where most of us won’t see them.  Other plants, though, like snow buttercup (Eranthis hyemalis) and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis and other species), as their names imply, can already be seen gracing landscapes with their flowers. 

Snowdrops with a honeybee visitor.
This snowdrop is a welcome site for a cold gardener and a questing honeybee alike!


These spring signs, I grant you, are not the ebullient floral displays of May, but they are a sure sign that winter is over, and that should be welcome news for any gardener!