Monday, April 24, 2017

How to Discreetly Compost with a Trench

Nosey neighbors? Annoying homeowners association? You can compost in your backyard for free without anyone knowing.

Composting in a pit or a trench allows you to:
  • Improve poor soil
  • Compost without worry of smells or attracting raccoons and other furry critters
  • Spend $0 to compost

How to Compost in a Trench
  1. Dig a pit or a trench as deep as you can comfortably dig. One foot deep is perfect. It can be as long or wide as you need.
  2. Place food scraps and leaves into the trench, leaving 5 inches of air space to ground level.
  3. Fill the rest of the pit or trench in with soil.
If you do not have enough material to fill your trench right away, cover food scraps with soil, leaves, or a tarp. Exposed food scraps will attract flies and other hungry creatures to your compost.

Cold Composting

Trench composting is cold composting so it will take longer to decompose than in a compost bin or pile. You will also not need to harvest the finished compost. It is already there, incorporated into your soil.


Free! Woo-Hoo!

Of course, aside from the cost of a shovel, which most people already have, trench and pit composting are free.

But, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yep. Trench composting won’t cost you money, but it will cost you time and sweat while digging a big hole. Or a bunch of holes. Or a bunch of trenches.

You will have to dig. A lot.

I Buried My Food Scraps, Now What?

The decomposing food scraps could steal nitrogen from whatever you plant, so either wait a year to plant anything on top of a composting trench or add fertilizer.

If you want to get fancy with your hole of decomposing food scraps, check out these sites:

A different kind of buried treasure

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring Brings Green

Guest post by Brad Miller

With the start of spring, everything begins to green and we see many beautiful colors. With your compost pile, color is also very important. The two most important colors for your compost pile are green and brown.

Green materials, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and fresh grass trimmings provide nitrogen to your compost pile. 

Brown materials include leaves, straw, and shredded newspaper provide much needed carbon.


Ideally, you would like to have a three to one ratio of browns to greens. Three parts brown for every one part green. Enjoy the beautiful spring colors and your compost pile as the weather turns nice.

Friday, March 31, 2017

How Compost Heals Your Soil

Guest blogger Charlie Gonzalez
Compost is often described as a panacea for improving all types of soils. Whether you have clay or sandy soils, adding compost (or organic matter) improves the soil structure, and increases its ability to retain moisture and nutrients.

Storing Water for Drier Days
Organic matter acts like a sponge, soaking up excess water and nutrients, and making them available when plants and soil life need them. For every 1% increase in organic matter, soils can store an additional 1/2 gallon of water per square foot (that's 25,000 gallons per acre).

Keeping Carbon Where It's Needed
Not only that, but did you know that organic matter is 58% carbon, and that by adding compost to your soil you are sequestering carbon? In fact, leading soil scientists estimate that if we increased the carbon content of the planet's soils by just 2%, it would offset 100% of our current greenhouse gas emissions (Source: Dr. Rattan Lal).

While we should certainly continue pursuing ways to reduce our carbon footprint by moderating our consumption and increasing efficiency, the excess carbon in the atmosphere still needs to go somewhere. The solution is in building healthy soil!

Turning Waste into a Resource
In the United States we waste 40% of all food produced - an estimated 133 billion pounds each year. Only 3% of that wasted food is currently diverted from landfills. So that other 97% breaks down anaerobically and contributes nearly 25% of all our methane emissions!

By composting you are converting that waste into a valuable resource, building healthy soil and mitigating climate change. That's something to celebrate!

Keep up the good work!

For a wonderful short film on the amazing power of soil, check out “The Soil Story”.


Charlie Gonzalez is an intern at the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and a business certificate in Sustainable Agriculture Management from Cincinnati State. He is about to complete the M.A. in Urban Sustainability and Resilience at Xavier University, where his thesis is focused on composting.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Grass, Butterflies, Rain Barrels, and Composting?

Guest post from compost-fanatic, Jenny Lohmann.

Grass: I’m not talking about the grass you mow or the grass some states have legalized. I am speaking of ornamental grass, the tall reedy type. I never cut my pampas grass back in the fall. I love the way it looks in comparison to the stark winter landscape especially when blanketed in snow. Of course this year, I never got the chance to gaze upon a snowscape and it is time to cut the dead as new life emerges from the soil.

Butterflies: Little did I know I have been helping the butterfly population in this yearly routine. According to a recently read article on butterflies, some butterfly chrysalis overwinter in ornamental grasses as well as perennials therefore we should not cut them back in the fall. I’ve been a butterfly hero without even knowing it!

Rain Barrels: As a devout re-user, I have installed a few rain barrels to my downspouts. I use them to give my plants and compost non-chlorinated drinks during the growing months. During the winter, they go into storage as do my other garden tools. I recently pulled one out to assist in yard clean up. They’re perfect transport for the tall grasses I just cut back.

My rain barrel came from Save Local Waters' rain barrel art project auction. You can get one for your home too either by bidding online or going to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Party for the Planet on April 20. If you do go, please stop by and say hi.  We set up every year at this fun and free event.

Composting: Back to my pampas grass and composting. If you’re a seasoned composter, you know these types of reedy plants are not quick to breakdown but they do offer “fluff” or air pockets in your compost bin. However, sometimes you just want to get rid of the reedy plants and twigs from your property. If you happen to live in a community that picks up your yard trimmings and composts them then congratulations. Mine does not L

Fortunately, this great county organization (us) has contracts with private companies so you can take unwanted yard trimmings to a drop off where they will be composted and guess what? It opens this weekend! You can find all the details here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Confessions of a Soon-To-Be Composter

Guest blog post from future composter, Karli Wood
Prior to starting work at Hamilton County, I had admittedly never composted. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed confusing and labor-intensive.

After starting to work here, I can safely say that it’s neither.

40% of food in America is tossed in the trash, clogging landfills, not feeding people who need it, and not maximizing the power of food.

When you eat fresh produce, scraps are inevitable. Avocado skins, banana peels, and much more are part of the daily output when you make your own meals.

Separating Food Scraps is Easy
I always felt wasteful throwing these items away, but never realized how simple it was to divert them.

Each day at work, when I have a banana, I save the peel until I return to the lunchroom. Then I simply drop it into our kitchen collector.

When I bring in avocado to top my lunch, I drop the skin into the collector.

When I’m suffering from all-too-common Cincinnati allergies, I toss my tea bag into the collector.

Our Small Actions Create Big Change
These small actions may seem insignificant, but imagine over the course of a year how those everyday items add up.

It’s one thing to throw food scraps into the collector, but I can’t wait until the weather (consistently) warms so I can jump into the composting fun. I want to directly see where my food scraps are going, and what they’re turning into.

Thanks to working at Hamilton County Environmental Services, I can fully see that “small” tasks can have a large impact.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
-Vincent Van Gogh


Friday, February 17, 2017

Is Mother Nature in Menopause?!

If you know personally or have heard about the symptoms related to menopause, then you probably understand where I’m going with this. Last weekend I was out turning over my compost as I did three weeks before. I’ve been cleaning out garden beds as well, happy to be outside in the dead of winter.

Typically I never turn my pile in the winter and even if I wanted to (I don’t) it is frozen solid, but not this year. Mother Nature has kicked Old Man Winter out. Sure, he’s been allowed to come back here and there but not without a price to pay. Mother has been wreaking havoc with tornados and flooding while old man winter pays her back by dumping huge amounts of snow.

Moldy pineapple and birthday flowers in the center.

Luckily for our area, we haven’t been in the middle of their fight, just on the fringes. The hot flashes affecting us have allowed my compost pile to cook even though the calendar says February. My pumpkin from Halloween is but a mere stem and a bit of orange mush, there are a couple old hollowed out corn cobs to be found, as well as moldy skin of a pineapple, but the peels of other fruits and veggies as well as my coffee grounds have been transformed into what we all seek: that lovely organic matter-compost.

Pumpkin stem at the bottom. Can you find the millipede and worms?

Like a frightened child I wonder what Mother will do next and if it will have a negative impact on me. Will her banishment of Old Man Winter (except for a few short visits) and hot flashes lead to a change in what insects I have to deal with in my garden this summer, or other issues? Dear readers, if you have knowledge of what we can expect, please do share. Meanwhile, I’m going out to play in my compost pile.

Guest Blogger,

Jenny Lohmann

Friday, February 10, 2017

Compost Experiment: Can You Compost Paper Muffin Liners?

Guest Post from compost-lover Cher Mohring

I love a yummy lemon poppy seed muffin!

But what about the paper liner?
Can you compost it?  Let’s see . . .
First, I put the liner in a plastic mesh bag and buried it in the office worm bin.

Five days later...
When I check on it 5 days later I found some hungry worms in the bag. And the liner was noticeably smaller. So I reburied it.
Then, five more days later...
Not as many worms, but a little bit of liner left, so I decided to bury it for a third time.
By day 14: no worms, and no liner!
The answer to my question . . .YES you can compost paper muffin liners!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Who Else Wants to Build a Compost Garden?

If you are like me, you spend a fair amount of time in the winter dreaming of the warmer days to come when you can get out in the garden and get your hands dirty. Recently, I visited a community garden in Walnut Hills that included a really cool garden I had never seen before: an African Keyhole Garden.

Why is this special? This type of garden bed has a compost bin in the center to provide water and nutrients to the surrounding plants.

A compost bin in the center of a raised garden bed. Brilliant!

We all know the fantastic benefit compost has for our soil. But I never considered actually building a garden around a compost bin.

African Keyhole Gardens originated in (you guessed it) Africa as a way to provide families with small-scale vegetable gardens. The climates where these gardens flourish are hot and dry and the soil is very poor quality. With African Keyhole Gardens people build a circular bed around a compost bin. By adding food scraps and other materials to the bin, the surrounding bed receives a steady supply of water and nutrients.

The “Keyhole” piece comes in because the bed is not a complete circle. A keyhole walkway gives access to the center compost bin.

Here are a few photos of the garden in Walnut Hills.

A shout out to Gary Dangel, community garden enthusiast and fellow composting nut with Elevate Walnut Hills  for giving me the tour! It was Gary's idea to weave the compost bin out of grapevines with a very pretty result.

If you want to build your own African Keyhole Garden, I recommend checking out the creative and varied designs here.