Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Compost Like the Zoo

You probably don’t have elephants, giraffes, and rhinos creating 2,700 lbs of manure every day at your home (although it may seem like fluffy is creating that much). But you can still learn a few tips from the Cincinnati Zoo to compost successfully in your own backyard.

The Right Equipment

The Cincinnati Zoo recently started collecting manure from herbivore exhibits to ship to Marvin’s Organic Gardens to compost. The Zoo received a grant from the District to purchase equipment like a large forklift needed to collect the material separately from waste going to the landfill. Forklifts and large dumpsters are not recommended for your home, a good compost bin and a kitchen collector bucket will do just fine.

No Lions, Tigers, or Bears

Oh my! The zoo is starting with herbivore poo- so only manure from animals that eat a vegetarian diet. You should do the same. Only compost “droppings” from your rabbit, hamster, mice, etc. Composting manure from carnivores or omnivores (i.e. cats or dogs) can lead to harmful pathogens in your bin. And that’s something worthy of an “oh my.”

Go With What You Know

Focusing on the material you have the most of (like leaves) helps make composting easier. The Zoo chose herbivore manure to start because they have a lot of it and its fairly easy to keep separate. Think about what you’re throwing away and if anything could be sent to the compost pile instead.

Mix Your Green and Browns

Or in the Zoo’s case your darker browns and lighter browns (you’ll get it in a minute). Manure is high in nitrogen like other “greens” such as grass, banana peels, and plant trimmings. Luckily, the Zoo doesn’t have just animal poo to compost but lots of bedding which is high in carbon (browns). Your “browns” include leaves, shredded paper, and straw. Getting the right mix of browns and greens makes your pile break down evenly, quickly, and without any smell.

Whether you’re composting pounds of material in your backyard or tons of material at a commercial facility, the basic principals remain the same. We’ll both end up with beautiful piles of finished compost from what was originally “waste.” A virtual pat on the back to all composters both big and small!