Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Do’s and Don’ts of Composting Pet Poo

“Dogs have owners; cats have staff.” – unknown

As I kneel down before my smelly cat box, I believe no truer words were spoken. Oh, the joys of rooming with feline companions. Of course, whether you’re scooping through cat litter or following your dog around with a baggy, you know you would do just about anything for the unconditional love of a pet.

Even clean up their poo. In a seemingly never-ending supply.

So first the bad news: you cannot and should not compost pet waste in your backyard compost bin from your cat, dog, or any other carnivorous or omnivorous animal. Besides being stinky it can also contain harmful pathogens. Yuck and double-yuck, don’t do it.

Now the good news: if you have an herbivorous pet, like a gerbil or rabbit, compost away. Chillman, my resident rodent, regularly contributes to the compost bin. My pint-sized, hopping, squeaking, housemate prefers shredded pine bedding to “do his business,” so to speak. And since he’s an herbivore, I can safely mix his used litter (which smells pine fresh unlike the cat box) into my compost.

Pet waste from our lovable herbivores is high in nitrogen and aerobic bacteria. In fact, urine contains urea which is one of the best and most plentiful sources of nitrogen around. It breaks down fast in the compost bin and really helps the pile heat up. Plus, the high carbon bedding that most of these pets use balances out the nitrogen perfectly.

Hamster Poo
Gerbil Poo
Rabbit Poo
Guinea Pig Poo
Chinchilla Poo
Mouse Poo
Horse Poo
Alpaca Poo

Cat Poo
Dog Poo
Ferret Poo
Snake Poo
Lizard Poo
Bird Poo
Kinkajou Poo

As far as I can tell, bird droppings are fairly dicey and contain many seeds so it’s best to avoid those in your bin. Although, I hear quite a few people compost their chicken poo.

Next time you’re cleaning up after your herbivorous pet, think of them as little compost additive makers, just doing their part to help with your compost bin. Yet another reason to love our furry friends.

And yes, I did win the bet of how many times I could say “poo” in a post.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Composting Coffee to Make Your Garden Grow

I have to admit, I’m not a regular coffee drinker. It’s tea for me, but I love, love, love the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Every once in a while, I’ll cheat on my tea habit and splurge on some frou, frou chocolaty mocha deliciousness with lots of whipped cream. Of course, my coworkers then make fun of me as I uncontrollably bounce around the office and speak in caffeinated double time.

But there is another reason to love coffee besides its delightful aroma and jolting caffeine high. Spent grounds from your cup of joe make a fantastic addition to your compost bin and provide plants with important nutrients. The used-up grounds contain loads of nitrogen which speeds up the composting process, giving you finished compost sooner (cup of steaming hot nitrogen booster, anyone?). And, while we may love the smell of coffee, many animals do not, so mixing the grounds with food waste will actually deter raccoons and other nosey critters from messing with your compost bin.

Compost Buzz
Gardeners in the know covet finished compost for its ability to improve soil structure, retain moisture, and create healthy productive gardens. Spent coffee grounds “sweeten the pot” even more by adding phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper, all minerals your plants need. And, after the grounds decompose, they release oodles of the nitrogen your plants love.

If you’re a regular java drinker, you probably have enough spent grounds to satisfy a backyard compost pile. Simply throw the grounds, filter and all, into the bin. Us non-coffee drinkers have to go about getting our coffee ground fix creatively. You can pilfer the coffee maker at work, sweet talk your neighbor, or even ask a local coffee shop. Most cafes will gladly set aside some spent grounds for you, and some even package the used-up grounds for people to take for free.

House Blend
Of course, don’t get in over your head. If you add enough grounds to keep your compost bin awake for a week, make sure to add plenty of carbon based material, like dead leaves, to balance out the nitrogen. Otherwise, you risk the pleasant coffee aroma being replaced by a far less pleasant rotting odor. Not the sort of smell you want to wake up to, trust me.

Other than remembering to add leaves, the process of composting coffee grounds is super simple with definite rewards for your garden. Now, if you’ll excuse me, a tall iced mocha is calling my name.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Learn to Compost Like a Master

Wax on. Wax off.

Do you want to earn a black belt in composting? Then reserve your space now in the Master Composter Training happening this fall. The District and the Civic Garden Center join forces twice a year to put on this intensive “action-packed” training.

You probably won’t learn to karate chop boards or high kick on command, but you will learn almost everything you need to know about composting. Topics include: which type of compost bin is best for you and how to build it, how and when to turn your compost, how to incorporate compost into your existing garden, and the fascinating biology of a compost pile.

Students will each build and take home a wire compost bin (perfect for combating all those extra fall leaves), and have the option to make a vermi-composting system for a nominal fee. This three-week course, offered each spring and fall, is completely FREE! All we ask, young grasshopper, is that you take what you learn and pass it on. You’ll need to complete fifteen hours of volunteer service to be considered a true Master Composter. Hii-Yah!

Fall, 2010 Class Dates
September 13th, September 27th, and October 11th
Monday's from 6 pm - 8:30 pm.
Attendance at all three sessions is mandatory.

Classes held at the Civic Garden Center, 2715 Reading Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45206. Class size is limited so reserve your space now by calling 221-0981, ext. 18.