Thursday, January 27, 2011

Ode to My Kitchen Collector Bucket

There are times of the year that I find every excuse to go outside- “Oh look, I better throw this apple core in the compost bin…” And then there is the cold, gray Cincinnati winter. When my delicate (ok, wimpish) side would rather hibernate in my warm house with a plate of cookies and fuzzy slippers. There is one glorious piece of kitchen equipment that proves my favorite this time of year (even above my cookie pan), my modest but mighty kitchen collector bucket.

It sits, seemingly innocuous, between my recycling bin and trash can waiting patiently for my scraps. While nothing fancy, just a green plastic pail, that baby really pulls its weight in the kitchen. I sometimes go a week without having to empty the bucket (more if my sweet hubby takes it out :)

A designated kitchen container for compost is a must-have for people who want to compost all winter. Especially for us unfortunates who leave for work in the dark and come home to the dark. Some containers have very fancy designs with stainless steel bodies and carbon filters in the lids. Others (like mine) are less stylish but work just as well.

The most important features to look for are: 1) a material that won’t leak or rot, 2) a large enough capacity for 3 to 4 days worth of scraps, 3) a lid if you have curious pets, and 4) a handle. Check out Park + Vine  or Greener Stock to browse a few different options.

I know quite a few people who just use an old margarine tub or kitty litter bucket. This is a great eco-conscious option if it works for you. Bucket technology has not advanced too much in the last few hundred years. They all carry your stuff from point a to point b.

And while I fill my bucket to overflowing, you never want to leave compostables sitting in your kitchen too long. They will start to compost in the bucket. And it smells. And grows colorful fuzz. And is just gross. So work up your courage, put on your snow boots, and bring your scraps to the compost bin. You’ll be happy you did when spring rolls around and your compost bin is full of wonderful scraps ready to break down. For more winter composting tips, read this post.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How to Build a Layered Compost Pile

To kick off the new year right, Madeline Dorger from the Civic Garden Center of Cincinnati has submitted a guest post about building a layered compost bin, compost crabs, and googly eyes (you will just have to read the post to understand). Layered compost bins are a great, low maintenance way to get the right balance of carbon and nitrogen and a good amount of circulation without turning.  

 Compost is possibly the most concrete life cycle example we have in the garden. We pull our frosted tomatoes, animal waste, and fallen leaves out of gardens, barns, and yards – put them in a pile – and in a couple months we have living soil full of bacteria and bugs that aerate, nourish, and sometimes even water our crops for us. The composting gardener is not a vegetable gardener but a micro-organism farmer.

Now our compost piles are frosted and snowy, but it’s never a bad time to be thinking about compost. A couple weeks ago Max and I were working in the Race Street Children’s Garden taking all the slimy frosted tomatoes and putting them into compost piles.

We loosened the soil as deep as we could go. (Ideally it should be 2 feet, but I think I only did 1 ft). We laid down sticks and old corn and sunflower stalks in a 2 ft by 2 ft square. The sticks help with aeration. Air can get underneath the pile as well as on the sides. Then we piled 2 inches of old dried out yard waste – flower stems, straw, and some bean pod shells – 2 inches of manure and green waste – those frosted tomatoes – and 2 inches of soil or finished compost. Then we layered our inches of waste until there was no more room and covered the whole pile with leaves.

When we were finished the little domes of compost had a couple stray sticks poking out of the bottoms that looked like little legs. We named our piles the compost crabs. Maybe before summer starts we’ll go back and put big googly eyes on our little compost monsters.

Layered Compost Pile
Layered Compost Pile

Adjectives like cute or beautiful are odd attachments to piles of poop and rotting vegetables, but decay is beautiful and alive. Perhaps the googly eyes are not the best method for teaching kids about life in a compost pile. In the early summer, we’ll peel back the leaves, scrape some compost with our trowels and watch the worms and rolly pollies scuttling and squirming. The kids will gather round and tentatively hold the crawling, inching, critters in their hands and learn about the farmers living in our soil.

More and more scientists are looking at the biodiversity of soil rather than the nutrient content. You can actually have your soil tested for beneficial bacteria and fungi. Bacteria counts can tell you how much nitrogen and phosphorus your plants are getting, how much air is getting down to the roots, and what kind of diseases live in your soil. ATTRA lists a number of places you can send soil samples for alternative soil test: ( ).

And in the meantime, as the seed catalogs are coming in and you are getting antsy about planting your garden, plan to give a little treat back to your garden beds this spring. Toss in a little compost.

- Madeline Dorger
Youth Education Coordinator
Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati

Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District also offers soil testing for residents. Call 513-772-7645 for more information.

Check out the Civic Garden Center's blog with some great tips about gardening here: