Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Headless Horseman’s Guide to Backyard Composting

“His appetite for the marvelous, and his powers of digesting it, were equally extraordinary”
  -Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

To gather these composting tips, I traveled to the mist covered, rolling hills of 18th century Sleepy Hollow, New York. With the glow of a full moon visible through the newly bare tree branches and the cold breeze just hinting of the winter to come, I interviewed everyone’s favorite Headless Hessian to see what wisdom he could share about backyard composting. Here is what I learned.

  • Never Stop Collecting – whether it is food scraps for your compost pile or the heads of unsuspecting victims, persistence and consistency are key. Even in the winter, continue to add to your collection (e.g. compost pile) and your perseverance will pay off.
  • Mist is Your Friend – nothing makes creeping up on horseback behind Ichabod Crane easier than a nice cloaking mist. A full out rain would be too wet and a clear night would provide no cover at all. Likewise, your compost pile should be as wet as a wrung out sponge (link) for optimal composting.
  • Sunshine is Not Necessary – we imagine Sleepy Hollow as forever shrouded with gray cloud-covered skies but you could still manage a steaming compost pile with the right materials. Compost piles create their own heat through microbial activity and do not need the sun, or paranormal influence, to transform “waste” into a dark, crumbly soil amendment.

Luckily, I managed to escape my interview with the Headless Horseman with my head intact. Perhaps bonding over the shared passion of composting will make me and the Hessian forever friends.

If you love Halloween and composting as much as I do, check out past Halloween posts:

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Harvesting a Compost Tumbler in Three Steps

In the last post, I explained the step-by-step process of harvesting compost from a standard, sit-on-the-ground compost bin. But what about composters who use tumblers? Yes, you’re special and deserve your own post.

Before we begin, this post covers harvesting compost from a tumbler. For other tumbler-related advice check out this post.

Step One: Stop adding food scraps for three weeks before harvest. This one is hard, guys. But unless you have a really fancy double-barrel unit or you are okay screening out the unfinished compost, you have to stop adding food scraps and let the compost “cook.” You could stash the scraps in the freezer during that time or invest in a backup compost bin.

Step Two: Keep turning the bin during those final few weeks of composting.

Step Three: Dig out your brown gold and enjoy.

You can screen the compost for an extra satisfying finished product. If after three weeks of “cooking” your compost is still not progressing, you may need to troubleshoot. 

  • Is it really dry? Add water. It should be as wet as a wrung out sponge.
  • Is it really wet? Add shredded leaves or newspaper. 
  • Is it still not breaking down? Add a few shovels of good garden soil to boost the microorganisms.

Any other tips to add? Please post them in the comments below.

Photo credit: Cara Harpole

Friday, September 27, 2019

Compost Harvest Time

This is my favorite time of year. Not only will I start wearing sweaters and boots soon, but the weather is perfect for being outside, camping, and harvesting my finished compost. So grab your pumpkin-spice latte, cable-knit sweaters, and a pitchfork and let’s harvest some black gold together.

Step One: Gear up
I always bring a few five gallon buckets (old kitty litter containers in my case), my pitchfork, my screener, and a little container for garbage (usually an old flower pot). You may also want a shovel.

Step Two: Remove all obstacles.
If you have a conventional backyard composter, pick the thing up and move it off your pile. This may be easier said than done. It usually involves me shimming my composter back and forth like we are slow dancing. Maybe we are.

Step Three: Put the half-baked compost into buckets
When you only have one bin, you often have recently added food scraps. Shovel or fork these items into your handy buckets. These can go back in your pile in the end.

Step Four: To screen or not to screen
This step is optional, but if you have not heard me gushing about compost screening before, I offer this post for your reading pleasure

Step Five: Use your finished compost
I fork my compost into a wheelbarrow and bring it to the parts of my yard that need it the most. My fall harvest generally acts as mulch in my beds. Here are some other ideas for how to use finished compost. 

If you don’t have a wheelbarrow, buckets work too. Here is a photo of my harvesting set-up last fall when my husband was using the wheelbarrow for a wall project. 

Step Six: Start a new compost pile
Now you can add some shredded leaves to all of your unfinished compostables to start the cycle all over again.

Fall is an ideal time for harvesting because before we know it we will be buried in leaves and need a place to stash them. 

Happy Harvesting!

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Are you Guilty?

An Ohio State University study revealed that individuals who compost tend to waste more food. Creating our own compost, we don’t feel as guilty putting that entire mushy banana or bruised apple into the compost. So what to do?

On Sunday, September 8th from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., you can come learn all about preventing the waste of food while having fun eating, participating in a creative cooking demonstration, and following a passport journey to more food adventures at our zero waste event “For the Love of Food” at Washington Park.

This event is family friendly and is entirely free. Have questions about the event or want to volunteer? Check out our event page here.

Guest Blogger, Angela Rivera

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

When Your Leaf Stash Disappears

Often this time of year, us composters run out of the nice, dry brown leaves we had in plenty in the fall. We remember, with longing, those bags of brown leaves set out on the curb that didn’t quite fit into the leaf bins. If only we could go back in time…

If you have run out of leaves, don’t fret. We have other sources of “brown” or “carbon-rich” material that can substitute for leaves in a pinch. I will say that leaves are, hands down, the best carbon source for backyard composting, but below are good alternatives.

Alternative sources of carbon:
  • Dead plants in the yard
  • Shredded paper (shred to avoid matting)
  • Paper plates and napkins 
  • Egg cartons
  • Hay or straw
  • Untreated sawdust (use sparingly, very high in carbon)
  • Untreated wood chips (use sparingly)
  • Dryer lint (link)
  • Cardboard (torn into pieces)
  • Pine needles (brown)
  • Junk mail
  • Prunings from woody shrubbery (cut into small pieces)
  • Tea bags
  • Expired spices
  • Corn cobs (cut up into pieces)
  • Wood ash (use sparingly)

You still need to bury your food scraps even if it is under a bed of shredded pizza boxes. Happy composting, friends, and don’t worry, your yard will be buried in leaves before you know it.

Friday, July 19, 2019

How to Master the Art of Composting

While your body may not like the hot temperatures we are experiencing this month, your compost pile sure does! Summer is not only a great time for composting, but it is also a great time to LEARN about composting. If you’re a compost enthusiast looking to deepen your knowledge, join us at the Civic Garden Center for our Master Composter Certification program. 

This year, the class will meet Thursdays in August (1, 8, 15, 22) from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Through a combination of lectures, demonstrations, and field trips, attendees are trained to become composting ambassadors in their communities. 

When CityBeat heard we are the only organization to offer this type of training in the region, they stopped by to learn more and explore our outdoor composting classroom. Read their article here and click through the pictures for a lowdown on how composting works.

Ready to sign up? Follow these two easy steps: 
1) Register and learn more about the course on our website
2) Complete a simple application and pre-test that will be emailed to you once you register online.

Spots are filling up fast, don’t miss your chance to sign up! Contact Kylie Johnson at for more details.

Guest Blogger Kylie Johnson from the Civic Garden Center

Monday, July 1, 2019

Compost Bin Sale!

Need to update your composting supplies? 

Know a friend who wants to start composting? 

Need a good gift? 

On August 10th, 2019 Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District will host a Compost Bin Sale at St.Xavier High School from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. This is a great time to start that second (or third or fourth…) compost bin and maybe add some tools to make it easier. Here is what you can purchase:

Compost Bin $45
This 11 cubic feet bin is sold as one piece and is made from 100% recycled plastic. The bin includes a twist locking lid and has side ventilation slots.

Kitchen Collector $10
A 1.9 gallon plastic container to collect your food scraps to carry out to your compost bin. 

Aerator $10
Solid steel winged aerator is designed to open pockets of air within the compost pile.

Thermometer $10
Mercury free, bi-metal compost thermometer.

Mesh Base $10
The mesh base sits under your compost bin to deter unwanted animals from tunneling into your bin

All items will be sold on-site the day of the event, while supplies last. Pre-order HERE to guarantee your purchase.

Are you a Hamilton County, Ohio resident? Interested in a $10 off coupon for the compost bin? Attend one of our upcoming “Composting 101” Webinars for a basic composting refresher course and ask your composting questions! Webinars will last approximately 30 minutes. Webinars are July 9th, 2019 at noon or July 31st at 7 p.m., register here.

Have questions about the Compost Bin Sale? Contact Angela Rivera at