Monday, December 3, 2018

Bokashi 101: Intro to Composting Wizardry


Guest Post by Randall Martinez

By now you’ve learned the basics of composting and maybe some readers even have a couple of worm bins. But, have you dared trying your hand at the wizardry of Bokashi?

It really is a quite simple premise and technique:

  1. Take all of your food scraps - No need to worry about sorting and separating foods, but you might want to avoid concentrations of highly fatty and salty foods.
  2. Layer them in an airtight container (a 5 gallon bucket works great) and inoculate with mixture of beneficial microbes for two or more weeks (anaerobic activity goes counter to what we’ve learned so far about compost.. but stick with me here - the food scraps will ferment , not go rancid).  
  3. After two weeks, bury the contents of the bucket in compost pile, bury in a hole or trench in the ground, or in flower pots/containers.
  4. After two more weeks in the earth with Mother Nature’s help, you will have ready to use compost - Magic? No. But it will feel that way.

You may be asking at this point, “why would I do all those extra steps? ” or “what the heck are beneficial microbes?”

Bokashi Bran full of beneficial microorganisms.


First, let’s discuss where Bokashi comes from:

Origin Story:
Bokashi comes from a Japanese method of fermenting organic wastes using beneficial microbes known as Effective Microorganisms (EM). Back in the 1960s an agricultural scientist, Dr Teruo Higa began experimenting with naturally occurring microbes in conjunction with natural farming methods to help relieve farmers of the stress of relying on expensive and harsh chemical treatments for their crops. By the 1980s, he had formulated what is considered an ideal combination of microorganisms to improve soil health - yeast, photosynthetic bacteria, and lactic acid bacteria. He named it EM1 and it is widely used as a soil conditioner. Today, more applications have been discovered, including the bokashi method of fermentation.

Now, for your answers:
  • It’s a very low maintenance process. No turning piles, no carbon to nitrogen ratios to worry about, no moisture monitoring, and by fermenting (aka pickling) the food scraps, you speed up the breakdown process of the food - delivering a nutrient-rich compost to your garden faster (approximately 4 weeks from table to garden)
  • By increasing the variety of foods you can safely compost, you have little to no food waste for the trash.
  • You can actually do this indoors - it’s great for apartment living or homes with little access to large gardens or compost piles. You just need space for a 5 gallon bucket.
  • With an airtight lid in place there is no odor present, and when the lid is removed to add more food scraps, it will smell fermented - not rancid.
  • The beneficial microbes are combination of microorganisms that work symbiotically to ferment the food waste. These may be cultivated in your kitchen with an easy to follow recipe, or purchased online.
All you need to start a Bokashi system of your own.



I have found that using Bokashi in my composting toolbox has been an effective way to eliminate all food waste from my household and deliver amazing soil all year long. There are a few simple rules to follow, but beyond that - the limits to how creatively you wear your own wizard’s hat is up to you.

Be on the lookout for Bokashi 102: Recipes and methods for the DIY wizards

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Compost Lessons from the Swamp Monster


Of all the Halloween ghouls, I think the Swamp Monster (or Muck Monster or Swamp Thing, if you prefer) likely knows the most about decomposition. He does, after all, live among murky, slowly decaying gunk in a mist-covered swamp.



Since we do not want our compost bin to smell like a swamp, however, we will pay homage to the Swamp Monster by taking lessons to avoid his decomposing mistakes:

  1. Aerate: without air your pile will go anaerobic, inviting bacteria more suited to a swamp. These bacteria create methane as they slowly decompose your food scraps. Not only will your pile take forever to break down but it will also smell bad.
  2. Add Browns: adding all “green” material like food scraps or freshly cut grass provides too much nitrogen and not enough carbon for our decomposing microorganisms. They need both, ideally in a balance of one part green to three parts brown, to break down your compost efficiently and without odors.
  3. Limit Water: the Swamp Monster may need murky, slimy, water to creep around in stalking humans strolling through the swamp, but your compost bin does not need so much water. It should be as wet as a wrung out sponge.


Should your backyard have a mini-swamp of its own with any standing water, never choose that location for your compost bin. You will create slimy, stinky compost and may even attract a scaly, part-amphibian, part-human creature who will unexpectedly pull you into the depths of your compost bin when you take out your scraps. Probably not, but you never know…

Happy Halloweeeen!

Love Halloween and composting like me? Check out our creepy posts from past Halloweens:

Three Reasons Werewolves Make Terrible Composters


Watch out, little birdy!  



Monday, September 24, 2018

Outsourcing Leaves


Around this time of year many of us face a similar issue: we still create the same amount of food scraps but our leaf piles have dwindled (or composted) to almost nothing. In order to keep that happy balance between green and browns, WE NEED LEAVES.

Here are a few ideas of where you can score some carbon:
  1. Consider alternatives, like shredded newspaper or cardboard.
  2. Rake your elderly neighbor’s yard (ask first!). Who knows, maybe you will get some homemade cookies and a bag of leaves for your good deed.
  3. Ask your community (or a surrounding community). Often your community will allow you to take leaves from their pile.
  4. Join (or start) a leaf exchange Facebook group. We have one in Greater Cincinnati.


Don’t fret too much, fellow composters. Fall is in the air and before we know it we will be swimming, sometimes literally, in piles of leaves.

Happy fall, y’all.



Thursday, August 16, 2018

Becoming a ‘Text-Book’ Composter!


Guest blogger Angela Rivera

As summer comes to an end, it’s time to snuggle up with a composting book to prepare for your next garden season. All three of these books are available at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Worms Eat My Garbage; How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System by Mary Appelhof (2017)


You have seen it on the blog many times, but still haven’t started a worm bin yet? Well, everything you need to know about vermicomposting is found in this book. Learn all about your new friends (the Red Wigglers), how to maintain and troubleshoot with your worm bin, and how vermicomposting has the potential to transform communities to be zero waste in their own homes. Are you an educator? Check out Appelhof’s classroom activities book about integrating vermicomposting in your classroom.

Let it Rot! The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell (1998)



Unlike some composting books, Campbell’s guide goes beyond the “how to’s” and teaches its readers more about the science behind composting. Don’t fret, this isn’t a college textbook, but a useful and relatable  guide for anyone who is interested in composting. I found it most interesting when Campbell describes some of the things that you can compost which I never thought of before, including leather dust and seaweed. Check this book out from your local library to find out more.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin (2008)



Each of us compost stewards need our go-to composting book, this one could be yours! With a focus on various methods of composting, this will give you a lot of ideas of how you can create and use compost. The colorful graphics and photography caught by eye when choosing a book to read. Also, the book provides a gardening guide in the back, sharing how to use compost when growing various vegetables, fruit, and flowers.

Did we miss your favorite composting book? Leave the title and author’s name in the comments.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Three Ways to Compost at Schools


Guest Blogger Cher Mohring

Thinking of composting at school? Well you have options:  

1. Compost Onsite
Onsite outdoor composting is probably the easiest and least expensive option. Now when I say “easy”, I don’t mean totally maintenance free. You will need to turn the compost, make sure you have a good balance of carbon and nitrogen rich material, monitor for moisture, and most importantly teach your students and staff what should (plant based material) and should not (animal products and oily food) be composted. 

My advice to any school wanting to compost onsite is to think of it as a teaching tool and not a waste reduction activity. Start small by just collecting fruit and vegetable scraps from one grade; or garden trimmings, leaves and coffee grounds. You can always increase collection if everything is going fantastic. Check with your local government on zoning restrictions, keep it away from streams and storm drains, and make sure it does not exceed 300 square feet.

Compost Kids Field Trip at the Civic Garden Center

2. Vermicomposting (with worms!)
Vermicomposting uses special worms in a container to compost fruit and vegetable scraps. Some of the advantages are that you can actively compost year round, vermicompost is superior to just about any other compost, you can use the vermicomposting system for all kinds of experiments, and you have enough class pets for each student to name one (good luck telling them apart). Some challenges are that you need to buy worms to get started, you need to separate the finished compost from the worms when you harvest, the finished compost should be used inside, and if not managed properly you could get fruit flies.

Learning about worms is fun


3. Offsite Composting
Having organics hauled away to a commercial composting facility diverts the most material from the landfill because you are not limited by space and you can usually include animal products (meat and dairy). Before you get too excited, I feel obligated to tell you that there are limited commercial composting facilities in Southwest Ohio right now, so it will likely cost you more to have the material hauled away for composting than landfilling it.   

Whatever option you choose, be sure to educate your students about composting. If your school is in Hamilton County, Ohio, consider one of our classroom program or Compost Kid’s field trips.

We Are Here to Help
Before you get started, check out our Composting at School web page . Email or call (513-946-7737) Cher Mohring for important information about local regulations and assistance starting composting at your school.


Compost Science

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Become a Master Composter!


Guest blogger Kylie Johnson

As a fellow compost enthusiast, it’s an honor to be a guest blogger for Michelle. My love for composting began when I lived at the Ohio University Ecohouse during grad school. However, I had been composting for years before that without even realizing it! Growing up on a farm, we would throw our food scraps in a pile over the hill. I noticed that the pile would break down, but it wasn’t until grad school that I learned those food scraps were being transformed into “black gold.” 

At the Ecohouse, we had a simple 3-bin compost system made out of pallets and a worm factory for vermicomposting. The process of composting fascinated me so much that I dedicated my graduate thesis to the topic. Thanks to funding from Georgetown University and the USDA Forest Service, I was able to conduct research in Edinburgh, Scotland, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland focused on the viability of composting in urban areas.

Fast forward to today. As the Green Learning Station Coordinator at the Civic Garden Center, it is a dream come true to share my passion for composting with the community by teaching basic backyard composting classes, leading field trips, and now managing the Master Composter Certification Program. Little did I know when I was first introduced to composting that there’s so much to learn that you can fill entire books on the topic! If you have basic composting knowledge and a desire to dive deeper into the topic, the Master Composter Series is for you.

Students in the 2017 Master Composter class learn to screen compost in Walnut Hills.


The Master Composter Series is a unique opportunity offered once a year at the Civic Garden Center to gain a more in-depth understanding of the composting process. Through a combination of lectures, demonstrations, and field trips, attendees are trained to become composting ambassadors in their communities. A sneak peek at some of the topics covered include:
  • In-vessel composting
  • Vermicomposting
  • Bokashi
  • Chemistry of compost
  • Biochar
  • Much more!
This series includes 20 hours of intensive composting instruction during Wednesdays in August (1, 8, 15, 22) from 9 am – 3:30 pm. Wednesday morning lectures will be complemented by afternoon field study sessions that will introduce participants to different types of composting operations in the Cincinnati area. The final piece to obtaining certification as a Master Composter is the completion of 30 volunteer hours in which participants pass on their knowledge and contribute to local composting projects.

A small fee of $40 includes 10 hours of classroom instruction, 10 hours of field study experience, and the opportunity to earn certification with perfect attendance and successful completion of 30 documented volunteer hours. Please note that this is an advanced course, some basic composting knowledge is expected.

Ready to sign up? Follow these two easy steps: 1) Register for the course on our website. 2) Complete a simple application and pre-test which will be emailed to you once you register online.

Don’t miss your chance to join this unique opportunity! Contact Kylie Johnson at kjohnson@civicgardencenter.org for more details.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Compost Impacts More Than You Think


Sometimes we need to step back from our day-to-day drudgery to really appreciate the impact of our actions. A new infographic from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) helps us see the big picture of the importance of composting. 

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back and learn how composting your banana peels and dried leaves:
  • Enhances soil
  • Protect watersheds
  • Sequesters carbon
  • Creates jobs

And much more! Wow, you really are a super hero.



The above infographic comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (www.ilsr.org), a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission. Should you wish to include this infographic on your website, please visit https://ilsr.org/compost-impacts/ to download the original content.