A visit to Texas Pure

March 8, 2011

Texas Pure takes leaf bags, clippings, fallen trees and shrubs... and turns them into a variety of compost and mulch products. Texas Pure started in 1992 as 'Plano Pure,' a city of Plano program developed and championed by Nancy Neville. Funded by grants initially, it is now one of the largest operations in Texas and it is only two years away from seeing significant profits.

Sherrian Jones, the Division Manager for Texas Pure's Compost Operations & Marketing, is very enthusiastic about Texas Pure's products and she proudly wore her 'Compost Queen' T-shirt when she met with Master Composters from Plano's Live Green Expo on Saturday to talk about Texas Pure's successes and challenges, and where things are headed.

Texas Pure uses a tub grinder that grinds up trees and much of the feedstock that comes from residents' yard trimming bags in the program's five member cities--Plano, Allen, Frisco, Mckinney, and Richardson. A Liquid Enivronmental Solutions truck brings in old melons and fruits collected as refuse from stores and markets. They even throw in cakes and meats (not advised for those of you composting at home). They stopped taking oils however because the oils seemed to slow the breakdown. They also had to cancel gathering materials from the Plano school lunches program because they were getting contamination from plastic plates, trays, crockery, etc. It was too difficult for the teachers to monitor.

Despite the hurdles, they have become successful at producing a quality product. Jones said, "It is a good product and it makes us proud on a day to day basis." They are producing different colors of mulch now using an organic iron oxide as the colorant. They are also adding a fungicide (not organic) to the mulch to protect against fungus and molds--ensuring that it lasts much longer.

Each row of compost is turned five times over 15 days. During that time, the temperatures must stay between 138-170 F. The temperatures are always monitored because around 160 F, the heats will start to kill the very microbes needed to break down the process and if the temperature is too low, it won't kill the weeds and pathogens. Among the pathogens that must be killed are pesticides like Roundup that homeowners may have sprayed on their trees and shrubs. Additionally, it takes a minimum of two months for the compost to 'mature out.' Jones warns, "If you put 'green' (non mature) compost in your beds without letting it 'cure out' it will burn every plant you put into it." She urges gardeners to look for the USCC (U.S. Composting Council) seal of testing assurance on bags of compost. Texas Pure tests every other month.

Texas Pure has two main facilities, one is at Custer Rd. in Plano and the other is on 121 in Melissa. Customers can buy bagged products at stores like Walmart. They can have the materials delivered for $40 (to member cities) or they can come to the facility and pick it up.

Jones said, "We had one lady show up in her Lexus. She opened the trunk and had a plastic liner there and said 'Fill er up!"

At the Melissa facility, Texas Pure had some large stationary piles of compost. However, it is difficult to get water to permeate through piles of that size.

Additionally, if the compost temperature hits 180 F and its dry and a good wind comes along, you can have a fire. So, the product is put in rows to be turned over regularly and injected with water.

With very large wind rows to turn and a lot of demand, Texas Pure needed a very serious piece of equiment. So they purchased a Backhus 6.65 Wind Row Turner for nearly $500k. However, the first summer that it arrived from Germany, the Texas heat killed the cooling system. Technicians soon arrived from Germany to rebuild the system and now it works great.

Texas Pure continues to look for new applications. Recently, the Texas Department of Transportation was having problems with erosion of large slopes. So Texas Pure came up with a mixture of 50% compost and 50% mulch. They applied this to the incline and it greatly reduced erosion, largely because the compost tends to absorb the rain with less runoff. (Compost can hold 50 times its weight in water.)

They are also looking at harvesting earthworm castings and providing this among their 
current products--as earthworm casting are proving very profitable.

Finally, some advice for gardeners...  Jones advises, "Compost is like a 'multi-vitamin' for the soil, but it is not a high nitrogen provider. You need to add nitrogen to the compost." Compost does not 'do it all.'

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