Thursday, October 9, 2014

Fast and Furious or Slow and Easy?

Guest blogger: Jenny Lohmann

Some people like it slow and easy, others fast and furious. It’s the yin and yang of life. What’s this got to do with composting, you ask? Well like life, sometimes the way you treat your compost pile changes with the times.
Your leaves are ready to come down and you can happily collect them for a year’s worth of brown stuff (carbon). What you do next is up to you-slow and easy or fast and furious.
photo courtesy of
Any seasoned composter knows decomposition occurs quicker when leaves are shredded and food scraps chopped. This type of composting is for those who fit the fast and furious type. When you decide raking is all you need, not bothersome shredding and chopping, you’re of the slow and easy persona.
Either way, you’re guaranteed to generate compost, it’s just a matter of how quickly. I get frustrated with my slow decomposing oak leaves, so I’ve taken to running them over with the mulching mower to shred them. Others have nice chippers and shredders but until I come upon one at a flea market or the like, it’s not in my budget.
Besides the size of your leaves and food scraps, turning and watering are other factors which will determine the rate of decomposition, but please remember not to turn in the winter .
No matter your type or if you fluctuate between the two, in the end you will create an organic, microbial love fest for your soil.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

When Garden Season Winds Down, Compost Season is Just Beginning

It’s official. Garden season is winding down. Although I’m sad that the fresh and juicy tomatoes are gone and the abundance of zucchini is finished, fall is actually my favorite season. Not only do we get to wear sweaters and enjoy pumpkin-flavored everything (seriously, is anything not pumpkin-flavored right now?) – compost season is just beginning!

Five reasons composters love the fall

  1. Leaves – Soon the leaves will be falling and these are the perfect addition to your compost bin. Leaves add essential carbon and if you shred them and save them, they can be available throughout the year. 
  2. Decaying plants – Removing spent crops can be therapeutic. They’ve given you delicious produce all summer, and now you can give the decaying plants new life in your compost bin. They will live on in your garden for seasons yet to come.
  3. Pumpkins – Old jack-o-lanterns and other fall decorations can decorate your compost bin when the season is over. 
  4. Rainfall – The Cincinnati area has experienced a lot of rain this summer, but typically we have hot days with lots of dry spells. The fall brings a welcome reprieve with rain to moisten compost piles.
  5. Active living – Composting is a great activity and easy way to be healthy. It’s much more active than other fall past times like watching football, eating pumpkin pie or bobbing for apples.

So put on your sweaters, grab your pitchforks and get outside for some fun fall composting!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

(Compost) Tea Time

I’m thinking about making compost tea. I like tea and I like compost so it seems like a natural next step. Compost tea helps make the benefits of your compost stretch farther in your garden (yay), provides soluble nitrogen and beneficial microorganisms to your plants immediately (yay), and it seems very easy to do (double yay).

So I steeped myself in compost tea videos and compost tea articles. Lots of great information out there but with one problem  there are as many different ways to make compost tea as there are flavors of Celestial Seasonings (that’s a lot for you non-tea drinkers).

In lieu of how-to, step by step instructions, I’ve prepared a piping-hot list of the most common tips to consider when making compost tea:

1. Use de-chlorinated water. Set your bucket of water out for at least a few hours before adding the compost.

2. Add compost. Vermi-compost is best but you can use regular compost as well. You will want a good shovel-full for a five gallon bucket.

3. Only use sweet-smelling finished compost.

4. Stir in about 2 tablespoons of molasses (a spoon full of sugar helps the bacteria grow, the bacteria grow-oh…)

5. Aerate. Either stir it occasionally or buy an aerator to get it nice and frothy.

Oh, and the best tip of all, don't drink compost tea. Even with two tablespoons of molasses, it will still taste like dirt, literally.
Most sites I looked at said to give it 24 hours and then use it on the plants. One video had the great idea of using an old pair of pantyhose to hold the compost in the water like a tea bag. Another explained in detail how you should use a garden stake to create a whirlpool vortex to stir the compost tea every twenty minutes.

I couldn’t find one video I really loved, so I would recommend you peruse and choose your own method.

Well, let’s get this par-tea started! Is anyone going to try making compost tea with me?

I pity the fool who doesn't enjoy compost tea.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Location, Location, Location

Guest post from Belinda Bankes Frykman

Several years ago I decided to venture out and start backyard composting. My backyard is rather small and I wanted to make sure to keep any furry friends out of the compost, so purchased a compost bin. I cleared out a level space behind my detached garage that was discrete and protected from winter wind. I kept a pathway through the small wooded area next to the bin maintained so I could get to the bin. The first year or so, it worked well. I didn’t have a lot of material to put in the bin, but felt good not wasting what scraps I did have.

Then, as does happen, I got busy. I started clearing the path less often, didn’t take scraps out to the bin nearly enough and my kitchen collector got really gross. Like furry mold and maggot-filled gross. (I kind of forgot I sat it on the steps next to the back door.) I tossed the putrid kitchen collector and vowed to start fresh in the spring.

Only spiders can access this compost bin!
This spring brought lots of beautiful new growth in the wooded area behind my garage. My postage stamp-sized yard became my own little slice of heaven. The problem was, my compost bin was also surrounded by lush greenery, literally. There were several vines wrapped around the bin and access to the little door on the side was impossible. Not that I needed to harvest the compost—after neglecting it for over two years, there wasn’t much going on in there. It was basically a spider hotel. Behind the garage is a great location for a spider hotel, but not for an accessible compost bin.

So last weekend, I grabbed my garden gloves and pruning shears, and got to work. I cut the vines from around the bin, pulled back the ground cover, trimmed honeysuckle branches out of the way, and carefully avoided the poison ivy. The thick ground cover didn’t give me easy access to the plastic screws that secure the bin to the earth, but I kept trimming until I found them. Once the screws were removed, the bin lifted easily. I rinsed the spiders off from the inner walls (sorry guys) and scouted out a new location for my cleaned-up bin.

Two 8 oz. glasses of juice produce all these scraps!
After years of neglect, my compost bin deserved a good location for it’s new home: shaded, level, somewhat protected from wind. And this time around, I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t get swallowed up by my little slice of heaven. More than anything, I wanted easy access to my bin. I’m making my own vegetable and fruit juices, which tend to have a decent amount of unusable scraps, and I just can’t send all those colorful scraps off to waste in the landfill!

It's super easy taking scraps out to my compost bin now!
I chose a spot close to the edge of my property line, near my green space, but not in it! I can see the bin from my kitchen window—a good reminder to use it. And now the bin is only a few yards from my back door. No more hacking through a small wilderness just to drop a few rotten berries into the bin! I know my compost will be happier and healthier in its new location. And so will I—now that I can juice with abandon and not feel guilty generating a mound of unusable scraps every day. My compost bin will certainly welcome all the vegetable and fruit scraps I have to give…along with other yard and food scraps, of course.

Now I’m off to the farmers market to gather the ingredients for my next delicious juice creation. Cheers!
Delicious and nutritious!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How Composting Helps Fight Food Waste

I’m Megan and I’m a food waste fighter. I hate wasting food. Hate it. It breaks my heart to see food that was once perfectly good, get trashed. And it’s not only the food – all the resources it took to grow, water, transport that food was wasted too. I know, I know, this is a blog about composting, not food or waste reduction or anything else. But for me, composting and food waste go hand-in-hand.

Once I started composting, I really began to pay attention to my food waste. All those moldy and slimy fruits and vegetables past their prime were there, staring at me from the compost collector. I just can’t bear it.

I’ve learned to pay attention to my fruit bowl and crisper drawer. I’m using up odds and ends for salads and casseroles. Anything that’s really starting to go gets tossed in the freezer for use in soups or smoothies. Food waste 0. Megan 1.

Most of you smart readers are already doing this though, right? Well, here’s my favorite way to avoid food waste and also add material to my compost pile.

Vegetable stock.

Plain and simple.

Here’s what I do:

  1. Save all the odds and ends from veggies such as onion and garlic peels, ends of carrots and celery, mushroom stems, parsley stems, etc. Keep them in the freezer until you have enough to fill a pot. 
  2. Put your vegetable scraps in a pot and fill with water. Add a bay leaf and some salt and pepper if you’re feeling saucy. 
  3. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for about an hour. 
  4. Strain.
  5. See all the vegetable mush left in the strainer? Add it to your compost pile!

Food waste 0. Megan 100 million. Victory!

Vegetable scraps make some delicious stock to use in soups and stews, but also add nitrogen to my compost pile to keep it balanced. Once it breaks down, I add the finished compost to my vegetable garden. Those vegetables eventually end up in the stock pot and then … you guessed it – more material for my compost pile!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Why I Like Composting Better Than Gardening

Don’t get me wrong, I like gardening but, honestly, composting is my true love. Why? Here’s my top four reasons I prefer composting over gardening:

1. Composting Requires Less Time

Even in my small yard, I always feel like there is more work to be done. Weeds popping up, beds to mulch, landscaping to plan. My compost bin is relatively simple. I put stuff in, do as much “work” as I want with it, and out comes my beautiful finished compost.

2. Composting is So Productive

If you consider the small footprint of a compost bin compared to the rest of your yard, the compost harvest outperforms the harvest of tomatoes, peppers, and raspberries. And it is arguable just as beautiful.

3. My Compost Bin is Forgiving

I can be lazy with my compost and he forgives me. If I neglect my garden it starts to resemble a jungle or a parched desert depending on how much rain falls.

4. Composting Makes Me Feel Like a Rebel

This one is hard to explain. I can’t help but feel like an old lady as I plant petunias in my window boxes. Gardening is a pastime of responsible people. Composting makes me feel like I’m cheating the system. Down with the establishment! I’m going to keep my food scraps and make something awesome!

I know they are interconnected. My compost pile adds to the garden and the garden, in turn, gives back to my compost (cue “Circle of Life” soundtrack).  

Somehow I am more proud of my compost than I am of my garden. That black box full of rotting banana peels and dead plants holds a special place in my heart. J

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Waste Not, Want Not and Other Old Sayings that Helped Me Compost.

Hi, I’m Cher – Michelle’s guest blogger for today. I grew up in the country, and my family never raked leaves unless we wanted a pile to jump in. In 1993, I purchased a home on a residential street in North College Hill and after watching my neighbors dutifully rake all their fall leaves, I followed suit. 

But raking wasn’t the only problem. At the time, North College Hill had a pay as you throw waste program. There was no extra charge to recycle, but you had to purchase stickers for every garbage can you put to the curb. I was house-poor, but knew I couldn’t put leaves in the recycling bin. So I called the thriftiest person I knew, my grandfather (“Peepaw”), for advice. 

Gordon Maham "Peepaw" with a giant turnip
Peepaw’s favorite saying was “a penny saved is a penny earned.” He was a smart man and an avid gardener and told me to just make a pile in my backyard where the leaves can decompose instead of paying to throw them away. He said in a couple of years I could dig up the compost to use in my garden, which went right along with another of his favorite sayings, “waste not, want not.” 

I got right to work wheelbarrowing all my leaves to an appropriate place in my back yard, because Peepaw said, “when a task is once begun never leave it till it’s done” (I always hated that saying). I could have turned , watered, and balanced my carbon rich leaves with some nitrogen rich material to speed up the decomposition process. But I remembered my Peepaw always saying “let’s simplify more,” so I just left my pile alone to do its thing in its own time.

A couple of years later, I removed overgrown bushes that had been planted decades ago.  The soil was almost completely clay, so I mixed wheelbarrows full of my leaf mold compost. It added nutrients, improved the soil’s structure, and increased water retention before I planted some beautiful flowers and hostas.
I saved thousands of pennies by avoiding landfill costs and not having to buy top soil or compost, produced no waste, and best of all, it was really simple. 

Can you think of any other old time saying that relates to composting?

“Be a Peaceful Planet Person” -Gordon Maham