Thursday, December 13, 2012

Top 5 Gifts for Composters

Tra la la la la, la la la la. Tis the season, right? In order to bring more jolly to your favorite composter, I’ve compiled a list of presents any composter will appreciate (and some are even handmade).

Feel free to forward this to a struggling spouse, there’s nothing wrong with dropping a little hint.

1. Turner/ Aerator Tool: These fantastically designed ergonomic tools make adding air to your compost pile a breeze. They are basically fancy metal sticks, but to a composter they are time-saving gems that will bring a smile for usually less than $25. Park + Vine.

2. Screener: You can make a screener if you're handy with a hammer and saw. Finished compost run through a screener is like pure happiness in a wheelbarrow to a composter.

3. Compost t-shirt: Compost Happens…Worm Hugger… A Rind is A Terrible Thing to Waste...what better way to show your love than a shirt with a funny or ironic saying? $20-$30 at Cafe Press.

4. Fancy kitchen collector: I received a stainless steel kitchen collector a few years ago and have to say it looks awful purty sitting on my counter. They come in bamboo, stainless steel, copper and a range of prices. Worm's Way or Park + Vine.

5. Origami liner: this present is purely DIY, but the reduction in kitchen collector cleaning will be appreciated just as much as an expensive gift. Grab yourself some old newspaper, a pair of scissors, and head over to this post which explains how to easily make compost liners out of old newspaper.

Bonus gift: if you want to spruce up your present with a I Love Compost magnet, just send me an email. You can pick one up for the bargain price of free from our office in Corryville.

Happy Holidays, composting friends!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Santa’s Top 3 Winter Composting Tips

The Elves are very busy this time of year preparing for the impending Christmas holiday (OMG, only 25 shopping days left!), but I like to imagine even the Elves take the time to prepare the North Pole compost bin for winter.

Let’s face it, the Elves are doing all the real work up there. Mrs. Claus is probably too busy making cookies or hot chocolate and Santa, puh-leese, he’s sitting by the fire double-checking that long, long list.

So leave it to the Elves. They know how to compost in cold weather (hello, they live in the North Pole). And since the weather will be unseasonably warm in Cincinnati this weekend (60’s !!!!) we should all take advantage of the chance to be outdoors getting our compost bins ready for the cold weather to come.

Here are some of Santa’s the Elves tips for winter composting.

1. Make Space for Winter Food Scraps. The Elves, just like us, still create compostable fruit and vegetable scraps during the winter. And don’t even get them started on the volume of reindeer manure they shovel every day.

But decomposition in our compost bins slows and even stops in the winter and sometimes our frozen food scraps start to pile up. Harvesting your compost in the fall clears space for the winter scraps and all that reindeer manure.

2. Keep Adding Carbon/Browns. In the barren North Pole landscape, the Elves resort to using toy shop sawdust in their compost bin as a source of carbon but most of us have no shortage of leaves this time of year.

Even though our piles will slow or stop, continue to layer food scraps with leaves or shredded paper. Imagine that you are preparing your bin for the spring when everything thaws. Without the brown material the food scraps will turn into a wet smelly sludge in the spring. With the brown material the food scraps will turn quickly into a beautiful compost after the thaw.

3. After the Harvest- Do Not Turn the Pile. Once your fall compost is harvested, don’t worry about turning the pile for the next few months. There is no point since the pile is mostly dormant and what little life is left in the warm center would just be destroyed by turning.

The Elves have enough to do over the winter (including a post-Christmas vacation) so they are happy to not turn the compost pile for a few months.

There will be plenty of time for shopping and toy making in cold December. Get outside and spend some quality time with your compost bin. That’s where you’ll find the Elves and me this weekend.

Happy Holidays Compostingdays!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Three Warning Signs Your Compost Pile is a Zombie

Your compost pile probably doesn’t let out an inhuman groan while stiffly walking towards you in a mindless quest to eat your brains but it still could be among the walking dead. Ever so slowly decomposing, lifeless, the shell of a once warm vibrant active pile.

Here are some zombie compost warning signs:

1. The pile is a dry dusty mass. Does your pile never seem to get any smaller and make crinkly, bone-crunching sounds when you poke at it?

2. Leaves from last year still look like leaves. Finding the fossilized remains of stuff you added last year? The point of composting is decomposition not embalming.

3. You see no bugs…ever. You need beetles, millipedes, and other creepy crawlies chomping up stuff in your pile.

How to bring your pile back to life

If your compost pile were a real zombie, you would cut off its head and move on. Luckily, you have a much less gruesome solution that involves minimal machete use and spattered blood.

1. Add water. All living things need water (I imagine even the living dead get needed water from all the brains they eat). For happy bacteria and fungi that decompose your material, make the pile as wet as a wrung out sponge.

2. Mix it up. Grab your pitchfork and attack the pile head on. Stab it, pull apart the guts, and repile it back in the bin.

3. Add “green” material. The freshly dead stuff like food scraps, grass clippings, or weeds add heat to your pile. You could also use a nitrogen booster if you wanted a quick fix. Although high in nitrogen, I would not recommend adding actual zombie corpses to the pile to avoid a strongly rancid decomposing smell.

Have you ever brought a pile back to life? I would love to pick your brain (ha ha ha) and learn how you did it. Please leave a comment.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Composting Nuts

“Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.” -Anonymous

Yes, we may be “composting nuts” but this post is actually about composting nuts, you know, walnuts, pistachios, and almonds. More specifically about composting their shells since we will likely be eating the nuts.

That’s a Tough Nut to Crack
Nuts are supposed to be tough. They are built to withstand forces of nature like torrential rain storms, freezing temperatures, and squirrels.

As you might imagine, whole (unshelled) nuts take a long time to break down (and may even sprout) in your compost bin.

So, the first rule of nut composting is EAT YOUR NUTS. Raw, glazed, on a salad, in cookies, whatever. Crack ‘em, eat ‘em, and then compost the shells.

Nuts and Bolts
Nut shells are high in carbon, so be sure to balance with high nitrogen material like food scraps. Also, know that nut shells take a while to break down so you may need to screen them out once or twice.

But if a few pistachio shells incorporated in your soil with your finished compost drives you nuts, you probably need a new perfectionist-friendly hobby. Like building tiny ships in a bottle.

Warning: May Contain Traces of Nuts
I issue two warnings regarding Black Walnuts and salted peanuts.
  • Use caution when composting Black Walnuts. These are the native walnuts that look like green tennis balls on the ground not the English walnuts you buy in the store.
Black Walnuts contain a chemical called “juglone” which inhibits the growth of many plants, including tomatoes. The OSU Extension recommends composting Black Walnut bark and shells for at least 6 months to make sure the “toxic” juglone has broken down.
  • If you enjoy unshelled salted peanuts, beware. Too much salt in your compost is a bad idea which you will add if the peanut shells are still salted. Rinse the salt off in the sink before adding to your compost.
Otherwise, go nuts with your nuts.

Have you ever composted nut shells? How long did it take them to break down?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Composting Secrets of Findlay Market

What do you have in common with an iconic Cincinnati landmark that serves 881,000 shoppers a year?

You both compost!

Findlay Market has been composting successfully on-site for the last three years and they were willing to share their secrets with you.

1. Compost your food scraps. Findlay Market vendors generate over 37 tons of food scraps a year but you likely have the same mix of fruits, vegetables, and grains, just in smaller quantity. Food scraps add nitrogen and moisture to the pile and act as a consistent additive to keep your pile humming.

2. Balance food scraps with high carbon material. Findlay Market likes to mix shredded waxed cardboard (not recyclable) with wood chips to help soak up all the moisture from the food scraps and add necessary carbon to the pile.

3. Make collection simple. Consider yourself lucky. Instead of having to educate over 100 vendors, you only have to educate a few family members or roommates. The secret is to make it simple. Findlay Market uses color-coded buckets to make composting and recycling just as easy as landfilling.

4. Turn frequently. Findlay Market turns their in-vessel composters daily but you only need to turn your pile weekly at the most.

5. Evaluate your waste to find new compostables. Now that they divert 68% of their waste stream to composting and recycling, Findlay Market is evaluating the remaining 32% to see what further reductions they can make. If you think about every item you throw away for a week, you’re sure to find new items you can divert to composting, recycling, or reuse.

A national trade publication, BioCycle, highlighted Findlay Market’s composting efforts in their September issue. See the full article here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Can’t Keep Up? 3 Ways to Simplify Composting

Sometimes life can be a little overwhelming. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves but composting does not need to add to your stress. Here are three tips to simplify composting and one big secret that will put your mind at ease.

  1. Keep a collector in your kitchen. This will make composting as easy as throwing food scraps in the trash. Sure, you’ll have the “chore” of taking out the compost but I see this as a little break. A chance to stroll through my backyard while still being “productive.” 
  2. Turn the pile less frequently. Yes, you read that correctly. Once a month, every other month, or even less and you will still have a great compost pile. Just accept the fact that your finished compost will come more slowly. AND THAT IS OKAY. Really.
  3. Harvest once per year. If you’re turning the pile infrequently, it will compost more slowly which means that you will only need to harvest once per year. Harvesting less often also means you get more finished compost at once, which is of course, very satisfying.
You cannot oversimplify composting. You want to know why? Here’s the big secret:

Your pile will compost without you.

Maybe a little slower (okay, a lot slower), but don’t you have enough to worry about? That’s the beauty of composting, you can do it at your own pace. You can compost quickly with a little more work or you can sit back and let nature take its course.

How do you simplify composting?

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Review/ Experiment/ Story of Compostable Bags

I peeled back the gift wrap and politely smiled, trying to hide the confused look on my face. Why in the world would I need “compostable bags”?

The first half of the gift was a beautiful new stainless steel kitchen collector. The kind all my composting friends envy when we hang out in my kitchen (which is surprisingly often). I know the new collector is fancy dancy but does it really need protection from my banana peels and apple cores?

After sincerely thanking my brother and his wife, the sparkly new bucket won a prize spot on my counter while the bags sat unused in a drawer for six months. In June my inner scientist found the forgotten bags and became curious. I wonder if these bags made of “compostable plastic” really work?

So for a month I conducted an uncontrolled, relatively unscientific experiment. I lined the bucket with the bags and dumped the contents, bag and all, into my compost bin.

Did they work?

Observations/ Results
Let me preface my results section by saying it has been a very dry summer in Cincinnati. And I’ve been very busy, so I have not watered or turned my bin nearly as much as my dutiful composter side would have liked.

When I turned the bin last weekend, I found bags that had been composting for about two months. More they found me because they kept getting stuck on the end of my pointy metal compost aerator. It was only mildly annoying pulling the bags off.

Inside the bags I observed the food scraps had completely composted into fine humus matter (i.e. my banana peel turned into dirt). Of course, since one of the joys of composting is witnessing the transformation, seeing this change on a small scale was fun. This would be great way to show children what is happening in the compost bin.

However, this also demonstrates that the bags were still intact. At least until my compost turner impaled them.

I still believe they will eventually break down. The material was noticeable thinner and more stretchy. And now that they are torn apart, sitting in a watered and turned pile, they have the optimum environment for composting.

It’s still too early to tell, I may have to follow up in a few months to give you an update (I know, the anticipation is overwhelming…). But here are my preliminary pros and cons of using compostable bags for backyard composting:

Did not have to clean the collector after emptying
Every scrap of food went into the composter
Fun to see food scraps composting on a small scale

Bags cost money (not my money, but still…)
Bags did not compost as quickly as food scraps
Bags got stuck on the compost turner

If food scraps really gross you out or you take out your kitchen collector infrequently, bags may be helpful to you. However, in the future I think I'll stick to rinsing out the bucket or using the fun origami newspaper trick.

Still, I’m interested to hear from you. Have you ever tried compostable bags? How did they work?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

When Composting is the (Fruit) Pits

(Singing) It’s the most won-der-ful time of the year…for fruit lovers like me anyway. Few can resist a perfectly ripe peach or a bowl of sweet red cherries. But what happens to all of those seeds or pits? Will they break down in a compost bin?

Yes…eventually. Stone fruits like peaches, cherries, nectarines, apricots, and plums, as well as some other fruits like avocados, mangos, and olives have rock hard pits that do not compost easily. They can withstand floating across the sea and passing through the guts of animals so your compost bin doesn’t really intimidate them.

But that doesn’t mean you should give up.

These tough fruit pits take a few years to decompose in the compost bin but they will eventually break down. When you screen your finished compost you’ll find these seeds along with eggshells as some of the last holdouts. Just toss them back into the bin for another year.

But what if you don’t screen them out and that peach pit ends up being planted with your newly spread compost? Well, there are worse weeds than a volunteer peach tree. Heck, let it grow for a few years and you could be picking your own fresh peaches.

Now that really is just peachy.

If patience is not your best virtue, you could soak the seeds in water to speed up the decomposition process. Discarded boiling water (like when you strain spaghetti) will soften the pits even more.

Of course, there are lots of creative folks out there coming up with alternative uses for seeds rather than composting. Here are a few ideas:

Grow new trees

Use as a filling in bean bags and heating pads

Make your own natural jewelry

Can you think of other uses for tough fruit pits?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Creative Carbon Sources

Inevitably at some point during the year I run out of leaves to add to my compost bin. My heart sinks with regret when I think of the 8 full bags of precious leaves I willingly gave away to the yard trimmings drop off site last fall. Oh, what I would give for one of those bags now! (Well, not that much actually, but you understand the sentiment).

So now I have to get creative. Without a steady source of carbon, or “brown” material, to add to my bin, the nitrogen will take over creating anaerobic (a.k.a. stinky) conditions.

First, I scour my yard for leaves. Behind piles of rocks, in the messy storage area beneath the house, under shrubbery, and within dense flower beds. Word to the wise: wear gloves when digging out these piles of leaves, spiders and other creepy crawlies especially love making their homes in these hidden spaces.

When I’ve exhausted all these sources, there are a number of leaf alternatives that pack a high-carbon punch:

  • Dead plants in the yard
  • Shredded paper (shred to avoid matting)
  • Paper plates and napkins 
  • Egg cartons
  • Old hay or straw
  • Sawdust (use sparingly)
  • Wood chips (use sparingly)
  • Dryer lint (link)
  • Cardboard (torn into pieces)
  • Pine needles
  • Junk Mail
  • Prunings from woody shrubbery (cut into small pieces)
  • Tea bags
  • Expired spices
  • Corn cobs (cut up into pieces)
  • Peat moss
  • Wood ash

I try to use non-recyclable items first, like paper plates and napkins, but will use recyclable newspaper and cardboard as a last resort. Sawdust and wood chips take a long time to break down, so use these items sparingly.

Another idea: offer to “clean up” a neighbor's yard of leaves if they haven’t gotten around to yard work in a while. While not completely altruistic, it is a gesture some neighbors would appreciate. Who knows, along with free leaves you may get some complementary cookies or lemonade.
Where do you get “browns” in the middle of summer?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Composting Tools- What You Really Need (And What Not To Waste Your Money On)

Some tools prove essential for maintaining an active happy compost pile. Some tools, not so much. Here’s a breakdown of what you need, what you can make yourself (for those DIYers), and what you and your compost pile can live without.

1. Turner/ Aerator

Compost turners add essential oxygen that your pile needs to stay active. You can buy specially made tools, like the Wing Digger shown here, which is what I use weekly to aerate my pile. The pointed end stabs into the pile and then the wings flip out as you pull, making larger air pockets deep in the compost.

You can also use a shovel or pitchfork to aerate but this is more work if you have a single bin system.

A stick or piece of rebar would also work, you just have to poke more holes to get the same effect.

DIY tip- you can make your own inexpensive auger-aerator by purchasing an anchor used for mobile homes at a recreational vehicles supply store. The auger base has an “eye” hole at the top. Put a piece of wood in the eye as a handle and you have a turning tool for less than $5. (Here are pictures of something similar).

2. Hand Cultivator or Fork handy tool helps add food scraps to the compost bin without actually touching the compost. Not to turn all prissy valley girl on ya, but accidently grabbing a handful of half-rotted melon or moldy bready is like sooo totally gross (exaggerated eye-rolling).

I keep my hand trowel right next to my bin to lift the material on top so I can bury food scraps easily underneath. No flies, no yuck, just clean, happy composting.

3. Screener

I touted my new-found love of screening in a post a few months ago. Screeners give you a BEAUTIFUL end product and are relatively easy to make.

However, if you just dig finished compost into your garden, you can save yourself time and money by skipping the screener.

4. Pitchfork don’t own a pitchfork but I wish I did. Somehow, I feel silly buying one with such a tiny urban backyard. But pitchforks are really the most efficient tool for moving and harvesting compost. You move more material faster and with less work.

That said, a trusty shovel will do the job.

So, if anyone was looking to buy me, say, a birthday present, a pitchfork would be perfect. (Just kidding…unless you’re my husband and, in that case, just know that my b-day comes right before the next compost harvest).

5. Kitchen Collector

Is a bucket a tool?

Regardless, its making this girl’s tool list. A bucket for collecting kitchen scraps is so helpful and acts as a great reminder to compost.

Of course, an old margarine tub, kitty litter bucket, or any lidded container also works.

6. Compost Thermometer

I can see how it might be fun to measure the temperature of your pile, but really it’s not essential. You know your pile is hot when it starts to reduce in size.

7. Wheelbarrow
I can think of no easier way of moving finished compost around. Unless you want to hang a yoke over your shoulders and trudge around your yard as if in the middle ages.

Buy yourself a good wheelbarrow, you won’t regret it.

Are there any tools you use when composting that I missed?

Friday, June 1, 2012

Why I Love Pulling Weeds

What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

One of my favorite activities is wandering around my garden with a basket to collect weeds. Instead of annoyances, I see each dandelion or clump of crab grass as food harvested for my compost bin. (Enter the chorus of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”… da-dum, da-da da-da da-dum…).

Here are the top three reasons I love weeds:

1.  Weeds are a great source of nitrogen and carbon. With a good carbon to nitrogen balance (20:1) fresh weeds only need a small amount of brown material to strike the perfect carbon to nitrogen ratio (30:1 for those number geeks).

2.  Fresh weeds (I love that phrase) help bury my food waste in the pile to avoid flies. This is especially handy when I’m running low on brown leaves.

3. More material into the compost bin = MORE FINISHED COMPOST!

Before I get too mushy about my love of weeds, let me say there are a few that really get under my skin (figuratively and literally).

When we first purchased the house, our yard was overrun by euonymus (think of the southern kudzu problem but on a smaller scale) and that sneaky vine still fills in every available open space. It takes for-ev-er to decompose and even when chopped into bits it will start growing out of the compost bin!

Poison ivy is another “weed” I could live without. Personally, I feel that calling poison ivy a ‘weed’ is like calling the Black Death that ‘bug going around.’ All I have to do is look at the stuff and I break out in itchy red bumps. Poison ivy may be the only plant not welcome in my beloved compost bin.

On a lighter note, I don’t worry too much about composting weeds that have seeded. When you compost weed seeds you risk planting the seeds when you spread the finished compost. I figure weeds are going to grow anyway and I obviously enjoy pulling them so the dandelions go in, puff balls and all.

I managed to reference Emerson, Monty Python, and the Black Death in the same post, I think it’s going to be a good Friday!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hot Composting Secrets for Faster Finished Compost

Hey, hot stuff.

Are you hot-to-trot for that first satisfying scoop of dark brown crumbly finished compost? You may consider “hot composting.”

Basically, this method, also referred to as batch composting or active composting, employs every possible advantage to create the optimal environment for microbial activity within a compost pile. That microbial activity generates heat causing the pile to increase in temperature and rapidly decompose.

Translation: hot composting is a lot of work but you are rewarded with finished compost very quickly.

People using this method, let’s call them “hot composters”, have been known to generate finished compost in as little as three weeks!

Hot diggity dog, let’s get started.

  1. Stockpile materials. Add all the material at once instead of building a pile gradually throughout the year. You can save food scraps in the freezer, hit up your local coffee shop, and stockpile leaves and yard trimmings until you have enough for a pile.
  2. Bigger is better. Hot composters build piles that are at least 3 ft x 3 ft or larger. If you are using a black plastic bin, fill it almost to the top if possible.
  3. Balance browns and greens. Add three parts brown stuff (leaves) to one part green stuff (food scraps). The perfect mix of carbon and nitrogen will make your pile sizzle. 
  4. Chop everything up. The smaller the pieces, the faster the microorganisms will decompose everything. Run over the yard trimmings with a mower and chop up the food scraps before leaving the kitchen.
  5. Boost microorganisms. Several shovels of finished compost will inoculate the new materials with microorganisms.
  6. Mix materials. Before you put the stockpiled material in the bin, mix all the greens and browns together. This will make sure all the slow decomposing browns have some green buddies to help them out. 
  7. Ban branches and unchipped wood. These items decompose too slowly for a hot composting pile. Chip the branches and sticks into small pieces before you add them.
  8. Consider airflow. Keeping the pile hot requires good airflow. If you place a layer of wood chips or straw at the bottom of the pile before adding your mixed materials, passive airflow will make turning more productive.
  9. Water. Keep your pile as wet as a wrung out sponge
  10. Turn weekly. Hot composters know that frequently adding air to the pile will keep those microorganisms chomping away.
Most of us will not use all of the hot composting methods nor do we really need finished compost every three weeks. But we can be hot composters some of the time by stealing a few of their tricks to heat up our compost piles.

I’ve never tried the passive airflow idea (#8) but the next time I build my pile, I’m going to add a bottom layer of straw and see how it works.

Will you try any new hot composting tip? Let me know in the comments.

Don't cha wish your compost pile was hot like me? Don't cha?
A hot compost pile from the ladies at Compost Gardening.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Secret to Outstanding Finished Compost

This is too much work, my inner voice complained.

After spending a good half-hour of a chilly Sunday afternoon raking my finished compost back and forth, I pulled the screen away with my cold, wet gloves and the beauty of what remained in the wheelbarrow left me speechless.

Never mind, it was worth the work.

I am embarrassed to say that before Sunday I had never screened my finished compost. I’ve taught several hundred people about compost screening, held meetings on how to build the best screener, and even watched videos of people touting the benefits of screening your harvested compost.

It just seemed like an unnecessary step to me. Why not just dig the finished compost into the soil and be done? It doesn’t need to be pretty.

But that was before I saw the exquisite perfection of screened compost. I am officially converted.

Screening Satisfaction

Most of composting is a waiting game. You spend months adding material to the bin, turning the pile, evaluating the moisture level. But when the process is complete you have the satisfaction of pulling out shovels of brown gold. Screening takes that satisfaction one step further, transforming your backyard compost into something you would pay top dollar for at a garden store.

Only better, because this compost is your creation.

Step-by-Step Screening

Okay, I’ll stop gushing and give you the how-to.

Step One: Build or buy a screen. Here is a great video from Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog about building a compost screener. 

If you are not handy, or just have zero free time like me, you can buy a compost screener at Building Value. They construct their $20 screens with recovered wood through a work training program for individuals with disabilities.

Step Two: Once you have a screen, plop a few shovels of your harvested compost on top of the screen and push it back and forth. I ended up doing this with gloved hands because I wanted to save worms from being decapitated by the shovel-screen guillotine.

Step Three: The amount of material left behind surprised me. Peach pits, sticks, egg shells and clumps of unfinished compost went back into my bin. The pantyhose (from nothing scandalous, just tying my tomato plants) and the “compostable” cups from a 2009 party ended up in the trash.

Scraps to Soil

I’m so proud of the dark brown, crumbly outcome, that I used it to mulch herbs in the most visible bed in my garden. The compost will amend the soil and the tiny shards of eggshells will deter slugs.

Here is a picture of the end result, what do you think, was it worth a half-hour of work?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fun Ways to Get Kids Excited about Composting

Kids love dirt (ask any parent who does laundry). And they will love composting too if you spark their interest.

Here are some fun ways to pull your kiddos away from the electronic and into the organic…

Explore a Miniature Food Web

Everything from predators to fungi can be found in the compost bin. Open your bin and dig around. What kinds of wildlife can you find?

If you keep your cool with all the creepy crawlies, youngsters will too. Use this entertaining food web sheet to identify composting creatures and determine who eats who!

Start a Worm Bin

Reluctant to take on pets?

This is a great way to give into their pleas without adopting a 50 pound fur ball. And the poop from these pets is actually valuable!

Little ones can monitor the composting process and they’ll never run out of new worms to name.

Read this post for tips on setting up a bin or attend an upcoming vermicomposting workshop.

Use the Finished Product

Finished compost makes a great potting mix if you add one part compost to two parts potting soil. Potting flowers or herbs with your kids is a fun way to get dirty and be productive. Mini-horticulturalists can then watch their potted plants grow.

It’s never too early to start nurturing a love of composting.

Here’s my one-year-old helper with our kitchen bucket.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Minimalist Guide to Moving Your Compost Bin

Sometimes you just need a change of scenery to alter your perspective and brighten your mood. The same can be said for your compost bin.

Here’s how I gave my compost bin a makeover (with before and after pics) by moving him into a great new location.

It’s Time to Move On
Nowhere in the composting rule book does it say that once you find a good location your compost bin has to remain there indefinitely. Moving your bin can give you the same fresh feeling as redecorating your house (just with more bugs and dirt) and it leaves a fertile spot in your yard for new plants.

My old location became problematic when a neighboring tree decided to grow roots up into my compost bin. I can’t say I blame the tree, you gotta take what you can get, but I would rather not battle roots when harvesting my compost.

Here are the steps I took to move my single plastic compost bin:
  1. Pull out all the unfinished compost. A pitchfork would have been better for this job but my trusty shovel worked just fine.
  2. Pick up the bin and relocate. This was easy peasy with my plastic bin but you may need to recruit help to move a bin made of wood or other heavy materials.
  3. Add a layer of shredded leaves in the bottom. This optional step provides a good base for your pile, especially if it’s full of winter food scraps like mine. 
  4. Put unfinished compost back in the bin. Since my compost pile was too wet I layered the compost with more shredded leaves. The layers of shredded leaves also “fluff up” the bin and keep the good aerobic bacteria happy.
  5. Cover unfinished compost with leaves or shredded paper.
Moving on Up!
My compost bin is now at the top of my terraced backyard. Dropping off my food scraps is more trouble, but so far I’ve enjoyed walking through the garden to empty the kitchen bucket. Come winter, I may be sweet-talking my husband into this task. (:

Here are the before and after pics.

Before: my bin is in the back. Notice the small tree.

After: Notice my neighbor's compost bin (and doggy) on the other side.

Have you ever moved your compost bin? Tell me why in the comments.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Join the Composting Road Show!

Come one, come all to the most composty show on earth!

Well, it’s not so much a “show” as a riveting power point presentation about backyard composting. There will be no acrobatics and minimal unicycle juggling involved but there will be lots of great information and free goodies!

In just one hour you’ll learn how to:

• Create the most effective backyard compost bin
• Produce a valuable soil amendment for your garden
• Significantly reduce waste from your kitchen and yard

We’ll cover the basics of balancing a compost bin and talk about troubleshooting issues. Bring your toughest (and easiest) composting questions, there will be time for those too!

At the end of the hour you will receive a free kitchen collector, a “Simple Guide to Composting in Your Backyard", an “I heart Compost” bumper magnet, and a $20 coupon redeemable at partnering stores toward the purchase of a compost bin (Hamilton County, Ohio residents only).

This “Road Show” will be coming to a community near you:

3/15/12 Colerain Township Government Complex
3/21/12 Loveland City Hall
4/3/12 Blue Ash Recreation Center
4/17/12 Cincinnati Zoo
4/26/12 Deer Park Community Center
5/15/12 Forest Park Senior Center
5/23/12 Delhi Park Lodge
6/5/12 Sycamore Township Sports Complex

For exact locations and registration information visit:

Please forward this to your composting-curious friends and family. Thanks for sharing the composting love!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Compost Origami- Never Clean Your Kitchen Collector Again

It never fails. Every time I empty food scraps into my compost bin I look in my trusty kitchen collector and…ugh….there they are, the hanger oners. A few wet carrot peels or a lone tomato slice sticking to the bottom of the bucket, loitering where they are not wanted. No amount of pounding on the bottom or shaking the bucket will convince the lagging food scraps to join their friends.

But now I’ve learned a cleaner way to collect kitchen scraps that doesn’t involve expensive plastic liners. Just simple old newspaper. You can think of it as a craft project for your compost bin. Compost origami, if you will.

Our dear neighbors to the north came up with this clever idea (Canadians, not Daytonians). You simply take three pieces of newspaper and after a few quick folds, the newspaper becomes a liner for the kitchen collector. The newspaper absorbs liquid from your food waste and keeps the carrot peels from sticking to the bottom.

When its full you just chuck the whole package (newspaper and all) into the compost bin. Your compost bin will benefit from the balance of carbon and the newspaper acts as a cover for the food scraps to deter pests and eliminate odors.

Pretty clever…eh?

You may even be able to add this to your kids’ chore list. I’ll bet they’ll complain much less while making origami than they would scrubbing out a compost bucket.

Here is the video Ottawa put together with a cute 6-year-old demonstrating the easy origami folds. If you want to print out instructions, you can find them here.

Have you ever tried to line your kitchen collector bucket? If so, how did it work?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Free Composting Seminar Coming to a Community Near You

We like to mix it up here at the District. Try new programs, throw ideas out there, and see what sticks. This spring we will go on a composting lecture road show of sorts, around Hamilton County.

Composting newbies and more seasoned veterans should both find useful information to get the most out of your backyard compost bin. During the one hour seminar we will discuss how to balance a compost bin, what materials are compostable, and some troubleshooting tips and tricks.

There will also be time to answer your burning composting questions (hopefully not actually burning, but we can answer that too).

At the end of the hour, you will receive a free kitchen collector, a “I heart compost” magnet, a simple guide to composting in your backyard, as well as a $20 coupon redeemable at partnering stores toward the purchase of a compost bin. Pretty good deal if you ask me.

Call 946-7734 or email to register. Space is limited. Coupons available to Hamilton County residents only.

  • March 15,  6:00 pm: Colerain Township Government Complex, Trustees Chambers (4200 Springdale Road, Cincinnati Ohio 45251)
  • March 21, 6:30 pm: Loveland City Hall, Council Chambers (120 W Loveland Avenue, Loveland, Ohio 45140)
  • April 3,  6:00 pm: Blue Ash Recreation Center (4433 Cooper Road, Blue Ash, Ohio 45242)
  • April 17, 6:30 pm: Cincinnati Zoo (3400 Vine Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45220)
  • April 26, 6:00 pm: Deer Park Francis R. Healy Community Center (7640 Plainfield Rd. Deer Park, Ohio 45236)
  • May 15,  6:30pm: Forest Park Senior Center (11555 Winton Road, Forest Park, Ohio 45240)
  • May 23 6:00pm: Delhi Township Delhi Park Lodge (5125 Foley Road, Cincinnati, Ohio 45238)
  • June 5, 6:00pm: Sycamore Township Robert Schuler Sports Complex, Community Room (11580 Deerfield Rd Cincinnati, Ohio 45242)
Please tell your friends, family, and co-workers. We would like to fill up each lecture and spread the composting love.