Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Can you Compost Wine Corks?

I have a hard time throwing away wine corks. After all the work of screwing in the wine key and pulling out the cork to open the wine (and then the following “work” of drinking), I can easily toss the bottle into the recycling bin, but then I have this cork.

Since my “cork” consumption peaks during the holidays, I recently found myself staring at a collection of discarded corks and I had a revelation. Could these be composted?

Natural cork is an amazing resource made from sustainably harvested tree bark. They don’t even need to cut down the tree, they just pull off the bark and then it grows back like a sheep’s wool.

So, being natural and wood-like, cork should break down in the compost pile, right?

After some research I discovered if you want your wine cork to compost in this century you need to grind them up in a blender first. Cork is naturally impermeable- which makes it perfect for plugging a bottle of vino but makes composting a bit tricky. Grinding the cork will speed up the decomposition process.

Fortunately, there are many other uses for your unused cork if blending sounds too tedious:

1. Use them in the bottom of planters as an alternative to Styrofoam. The lightweight cork will help with plant drainage.

2. If you’re a crafty person, there are a myriad of projects you can take on. Here are some ideas: http://craftingagreenworld.com/2009/01/21/crafty-reuse-ten-projects-for-old-wine-corks/

3. You can also bring your corks to Whole Foods to recycle. http://wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/cincinnati/

One final note, make sure your cork is real cork. Synthetic cork will not decompose like natural cork and will not work well for the options above either. Here’s a website that should help you tell the difference and you'll learn more about natural cork: http://100percentcork.org/cork.php/why-cork.

Since I do not have a crafty bone in my body, I think I’ll start using corks in planters. I may try to compost a few too just to see how it works.

What do you do with your wine corks?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Here’s a Quick Way to Harvest Vermicompost

Worm composting is an easy way to compost food waste indoors without taking up too much space. But harvesting the vermicompost has always been labor intensive- until now.

This little trick was developed by a local teacher (always masters of innovation) who has a worm bin in her classroom.

Step One
Get a mesh bag like the kind used to hold oranges or onions in the grocery store.

Step Two
Eat the oranges or the onions and then fill the mesh bag with a generous amount of yummy-to-worms food scraps, like apple cores and banana peels.

Step Three
Bury the bag in your worm bin and wait a week or two. Don’t feed the worms anything else during this time. They will be drawn to the food in the bag.

Step Four
Pull the bag out and see the wormy goodness. Check out this video to see all the worms we attracted.

Squirmy Wormy Composters

Step Five
Move the worms into a new worm bin. There will still be some worms in the old bin so you can do the bag trick again until all the worms have been relocated to their new “digs.”

What’s left behind? Amazing, nutrient rich, vermicompost.

If you don’t have a spare worm bin, you can create a temporary holding container for the worms that is moist and dark. Then pick a sunny day, find a tarp, and head outside to mound the remaining vermicompost into small cone-shaped piles. The worms will move to the bottom of the cones and you can scoop the compost off the top.

Make sure all of your worms are separated before using the finished vermicompost outside so you don’t introduce an alien species in your yard. Let me know in the comments if you have any other tricks for vermicomposting.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Smashing Pumpkins

Halloween is the best holiday of the year. Okay, in my opinion it’s the best. I mean, what could be better than wearing costumes while eating candy and celebrating spiders, zombies and all things “scary”? But now that the spooky fun has past, it is time to retire the old, drooping jack o’ lantern to the compost bin.

The most important part of composting pumpkins is in the title of this post, and it has nothing to do with Billy Corgan. Pumpkins can be quite bulky (especially if you have multiple jack o’ lanterns like me) so we need to condense the size by smashing them up. A great way to relieve stress and a fun activity for the whole family.

Here are some ideas for ways to smash pumpkins:

• Stomping on them (wear old shoes!)
• Thumping them with a mallet
• Stabbing them with a shovel
• Throwing them against the wall

Pumpkins add valuable water and nitrogen to your pile at a time when it is mostly dry leaves. Just be sure to remove the candle before tossing the smashed pumpkin bits in the bin.

If you'd like to smash your pumpkin in public, go to Mt. Washington's annual Pumpkin Chuck this weekend: www.mwcc.org/

For 18 other great tips on how to recycle your pumpkin check out the Metro DC Lawn and Garden Blog.

Next, I guess I should also take care of those “decorative” cobwebs around my house.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Six Rules of Composting

“Dang hippies” I muttered as I desperately navigated through a slow-moving sea of people who were exactly like me. The ‘Innovative Composting’ lecture would start at 3:00 pm. It was 2:57. Of all the lectures I highlighted in my Mother Earth News Fair Program, I wanted to see this one the most.

Why do I find myself 300 miles from home with a 20 pound infant on my hip walking miles through beekeeping workshops and solar water heater displays?

Because I love learning (I know, you may as well grab a marker and write “dork” on my forehead). The prospect of discovering a better method of composting, organic gardening, or other “earthy” goodies led me to the Mother Earth News Fair last month. And it was as wonderfully hippytastic as the name promised.

I eventually did find the ‘Innovative Composting” talk. The speaker, author and garden expert Barbara Pleasant, offered advice useful for any level composter. She came up with 6 Rules of Composting:

1. Choose labor-saving sites

2. Work with what you have

3. Help decomposers do their job

4. Reuse and recycle

5. Remember the magic is in the mix

6. Customize composting to suit your garden needs

Read the expanded version on her website: www.compostgardening.com/basicsfromthebook/sixbasicrules.html.

One of my favorite points Ms. Pleasant made is to be patient, “compost time is slow time.” Any task that allows me to just sit back and wait for the results is good with me.

By the end of her talk I had enough compost blog fodder to last a few months. Then I was off to learn how to spin my own alpaca yarn. Hmm…I wonder what my husband would think of a pet alpaca?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Compost Like George Washington

George Washington, our first president whose handsome mug graces our $1 bill, also built the nation’s first known compost bin! (Woo hoo, history!!!) Not surprisingly, the father of our country has much to teach us about backyard composting.

Cover Your Pile
Washington was worried about too much rain leaching nutrients from his “dung repository” so he built a roof and open-walled structure over the 31 x 12 foot compost pit. Covers are, of course, also great for keeping out unwanted pests and maintaining the proper amount of moisture in the bin.

Compost Everything Possible
Washington believed you should throw trash “of every sort and kind” into the compost pile. Obviously he didn’t have to worry about plastic trash but he was on to something. If you look into your garbage there are probably items you could be composting.

Along with “leaves of trees, corn stalks, thistles, and coarse weeds,” Washington also likely composted “tanner’s bark, woolen rags, cuttings of leather…hair, bones ground or powdered…human urine and soap suds.” Eww, sometimes it’s good to live in the 21st Century.

Location, Location, Location
A compost bin has to be convenient to use, otherwise most of us will be too lazy to compost. Washington’s compost pit was actually close to his Mount Vernon mansion and very convenient to the horse stables.

George Washington believed that agricultural advancement was important for the new America and he fashioned Mount Vernon to serve as a model for the “new” science-based agriculture. Washington made composting an integral part of that model. Hmm, composting as an integral part of America…I like the sound of that.

“Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.” -George Washington

Visit the Mount Vernon website for more information www.mountvernon.org/visit-his-estate/preserving-his-estate/archaeology-projects/repository-dung/history.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Five Ways to Use Finished Compost

Thar’s gold in them thar hills!

Or at least “brown gold” in that thar compost pile. Have you seen how much non-composters pay for high-quality compost at the garden store? Here are five easy ways to cash in your harvest and make use of finished compost.

1. Amend Your Soil
Compost is not exactly fertilizer. The real “pay dirt” of the compost is that it improves soil tilth and helps feed soil microbes. The HCSWCD recommends adding 25% compost if possible before planting a new area and then testing the soil to see if you need anything else.

2. Substitute for Mulch
Finished compost is beautiful stuff. You can spread 2-3 inches around flowers as an alternative to store bought mulch. Compost “mulch” will help hold moisture around plants and eventually incorporate into the soil.

3. Brew Some Compost Tea
“Steep” a shovel full of compost in a 5-gallon bucket of water for a few days. The result will look similar to tea (do I really need to say “Don’t Drink This”?). Use the “tea” to water your plants. Compost tea makes the finished compost go further in the garden.

4. Improve Your Lawn
If your yard is more lawn than flower bed, simply sprinkle 1-3 inches of finished compost over the grass and rake it evenly. In a week or two the compost will settle and disappear into the lawn, improving the soil, and making your grass look as good as gold.

5. Create a Potting Mix
Your potted plants will enjoy compost too. Mix 1/3 finished compost, 1/3 soil, and 1/3 sand to create a DIY potting mix.

Isn’t the beauty of composting that we are making something valuable out of what other people think of as garbage? I’ll be pondering this as I dig for brown gold this week in my compost bin.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Become a Master Composter

Be honest, are you considered a master of anything? Well, you can learn everything you ever needed to know about composting (and brag to your friends with a cool new title) by attending our free Master Composter training this fall.

The three week Master Composter Class is the most intensive composting training available in Cincinnati. You will become a whiz-bang virtuoso on a wide array of topics including: where to locate a compost pile, how to build a compost bin that is best for you, how and when to turn your compost, the fascinating biology of a compost pile, and how to incorporate compost into your existing garden.

Whew, I feel smarter already.

You will build and take home a wire compost bin and also have the option of making a vermi-composting system for a nominal fee. Classes are Wednesdays September 7, 14, and 21 from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. Visit this site for more information and registration details: www.hamiltoncountyrecycles.org/index.php?page=master-composter-training.

Class size is limited, smarty pants, so register soon!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How to Cheat at Composting

Diligent composters will make sure their pile is balanced, turned frequently, and watered when needed. But if your pile is too slow and impatience gets the best of you, here is an “ace up the sleeve” trick that works to create a winning pile.
Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin Eater
Sometimes called inoculants or starters, compost activators generally add a boost of nitrogen to heat up a pile and make finished compost faster. Some people swear by them, others think they are a waste of money. Either way you look at it, activators have proven results to speed up the composting. And they say cheaters never prosper…

You can buy prepackaged activators which usually contain blood meal, bone meal, or some other grim sounding meal, dried manure, enzymes, and bacteria. Avoid products with ammonium sulfate, I hear they are toxic to worms. ):

Fair and Square
There are plenty of “free” materials that will act as a compost booster without breaking the bank:

Old Beer
Coffee Grounds
Grass Clippings
• Comfrey (a plant)

You can also toss a shovel of healthy garden soil in your bin if you want a boost of microorganisms.

If you keep a balanced, moist pile you will not need to use an activator to create compost quickly. But in the end, there is no shame in using an activator- store bought or homemade- to give your pile a little umph.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Chance to Talk with a Composting Expert

Sometimes the best way to learn new composting skills is to speak face to face with a composting expert. The Civic Garden Center is offering just an opportunity this weekend. Take a composting class, peruse the compost demonstration area, and explore their beautiful gardens.

Composting is not as difficult as it may seem.

It’s amazing how efficient all those little microbes are at doing their job. Compost happens whether we want it to or not. But there are some key skills to master to get the most out of your compost pile. Come to the Civic Garden Center’s Backyard Composting class to see different styles of composting, learn all the troubleshooting tricks, and ask those burning questions about the mystery of compost. The class runs from 10-11:15 am this Saturday, August 6.

You can register by calling 513-221-0981 or online. Or just show up Saturday morning with your burning compost questions.


Ryan Mooney-Bullock is a Program Manager at the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati and contributes to the Garden Cincinnati Blog.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Here’s a Quick Way to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

Ah, fruit flies. The pesky flying insects that seemingly appear out of nowhere to swarm your compost collection bucket and the rest of your kitchen. Aside from pulling out the miniature fly swatter, there are a few good ways to banish the annoying little buggers once and for all.

Stop Them at the Source
Fruit flies do not materialize out of thin air. You unknowingly bring fruit flies into your house in the larval stage on fresh fruit and veggies (just another reason to wash that apple before eating it). So if you wash fruit as soon as you bring it home, you may never see another fruit fly again.

You Catch More Flies with...
Make a simple fruit fly trap using a small plastic container with a clear lid. Poke holes in the lid with a toothpick and set a banana peel and some apple cider vinegar inside. Place the trap where the flies congregate.

They will be drawn in by the smell of the sweet banana and vinegar and then won’t be able to escape (evil laughing). If the plight of the poor imprisoned flies pulls at your heart strings, you can always release them into the wild (a.k.a. your backyard) but away from your compost bin.

Bye Bye Buggies
If every time you open the compost bin you wildly wave your arms around swatting at fruit flies, you need to take action there as well. Be sure to bury your food waste under leaves or shredded paper. This goes for backyard composting or worm bin composting. Fruit flies will not burrow into the pile to lay their eggs. Also, try simply taking out the kitchen collector more often so the flies don’t get a chance to settle in.

With any luck these tips will keep your kitchen and compost bin fruit fly free. Are there any other bugs bugging you? Leave a comment and I will address them in a future post.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bringing Back the Romance

I have a real confession to make this week. For almost three months I sadly neglected my compost bin. No turning, no assessing the moisture level, no balancing the carbon and nitrogen. The poor guy only saw me for a few fleeting minutes a week to drop off the kitchen scraps. If you find your bin in the same neglected state, here is how to add some heat back into your relationship.

Assess the Situation
Is the bin giving you the cold shoulder with no sign of decomposition in the dry stale mass? Or is the pile too wet and slimy, slowly rotting away? My bin had the worst of both worlds with a too wet soupy mess on the bottom and a thick layer of petrified flower stems on top.

Make the First Move
Turning the pile adds oxygen which is the surest way to speed up the decomposition. As you mix up the pile, add water or moist material to a dry bin or add shredded leaves and paper to a bin that is too wet . The pile should be about as wet as a wrung out sponge.

Luckily, all I had to do was mix the wet and dry layers in my bin. Once the moisture was balanced and oxygen was introduced, the pile really heated up and dropped six inches in a week.

Feel the Love
The great thing about compost bins is that, unlike our human relationships, they don’t require much affection. You can completely forget about a compost bin and he will still give you gifts (although more slowly).

Now that I’ve made up with my very forgiving compost bin, I think I’ll try to keep the romance alive. Which do you think he would like better, an old bouquet of flowers or a rotting fruit basket?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Compost Bin/Rain Barrel Sale - Saturday, May 14 2011

You probably have a compost bin since you read this blog. But I’ll bet you know people who do not compost (unless you hang with a ridiculously eco-conscience crowd). Now is the time to spread the word with our unfortunate family and friends still tossing banana peels in the trash.

For one day only, Saturday, May 14th from 9-2, Hamilton County residents can purchase discount compost bins that retail for $100 for only $35. Our compost bin event will be at two locations:

Village Crossing
10400 Reading Road
Evendale, OH 45241

Green Township Administration Complex
6303 Harrison Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45247

We will also have compost turners, kitchen collection pails, and compost thermometers available to purchase.  Our popular “I heart compost” magnets will also be available with purchase of compost bin or supplies (while they last).

Want to collect rain water too? Well, we will have discount rain barrels available for $50 thanks to a partnership with Metropolitan Sewer District.

So send a link to your family and friends about the sale or go a little further and share the event on your Facebook page.

We appreciate your help in spreading the compost love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Surprising Things You Can Compost

Welcome to the world of creative composting. Chances are some of what ends up in your trash could actually be composted so here are three common items you may not know are compostable.

Dryer Lint
Not the belly button variety (he he). Dryer lint consists mainly of cotton fibers and a little pet fur, both of which compost just fine. Unless you exclusively wear polyester track suits (throat clearing sound), the small amount of synthetic fibers will not be noticeable in your finished compost.

Stale Crackers and Cookies
Cookies never make it to the “stale” stage in my house but crackers do on occasion. You can easily crumble these up and toss them in the compost bin. Your grateful bug pals will make them disappear faster than a box of girl scout cookies placed on my kitchen counter (well, almost).

Paper Plates and Napkins
Even if you try to avoid disposables, you’re bound to end up with a few paper plates leftover from parties or impromptu picnics. Unless the plates are greasy, you can just tear them up and toss them in the bin. Same goes for napkins and paper towels. They make a great source of carbon, especially in the summer when you’re running short on dried leaves.

Here are some other items you may consider adding to your composting repertoire:
• Cotton sewing threads
Old beer
• Old soup (non-creamy varieties)
Egg shells
• Dried herbs

Of course, there are many other unusual compostables I may not be thinking of. Do you add anything I haven’t mentioned to your compost bin?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Burn Calories Composting?

Well, its quickly approaching swimsuit season and everybody I know wants to lose weight (well, except for those few annoying skinnies who “try to put on weight and just can’t.” …..boo-hoo). I’ve gained 40 pounds in the last nine months (with good reason) but now I’m ready to shed those extra pounds and composting is going to help. Really.

Turning your compost bin adds oxygen to the decomposing matter which helps the aerobic bacteria (the good guys) speed up the decomposition process. The more you turn your bin, the faster you have finished compost. It just so happens that the turning action also burns calories- at a rate of 5 to 7.5 calories per minute!

You can use a special compost turner, a pitchfork, a shovel, even a stick to work air into the pile. And you can be doubly happy that you’re composting faster while making yourself healthier. Trim your waste while trimming your waist (ha,ha…see what I did there?).

I figure if I turn my pile for 10 minutes twice per week for the next three months, I’ll burn 1,800 calories. Every little bit helps, right? Now if I can just get my stationary bike to help me recycle….

Please don’t take the advice of a silly composter as medical advice- get a doctor’s opinion.

Labels: Composting Tips

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!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ashes From Your Fireplace- Compostable or Not?

Who doesn’t love gathering around a nice crackling fire in the winter, wrapped in a fuzzy blanket with a mug of hot cocoa in one hand and a toasting marshmallow in the other? Heck, I don’t even like marshmallows and it sounds like fun to me. But after the fire has died and the Norman Rockwellian merriment subsided, what do you do with the pile of ashes left in the fireplace? Is it okay to toss them in the compost bin?

Maybe, But Only in Small Amounts.

Be careful, and not just because leftover embers could burn you or start a fire in your compost pile (I know, you know fire = hot, no need to roll your eyes).

Wood ash is very alkaline so adding too much can raise the pH of your compost bin, which can wreak havoc on your little microorganism buddies breaking down materials in your bin. A neutral pH is the best environment for microorganisms.

So just a sprinkle is fine, but you don't want to dump a whole bucket in there.

That said, adding a light layer of wood ash can be a good source of lime, potassium, and trace elements. And sometimes you may want to neutralize an acidic bin. For example, if you frequently make fresh squeezed lemonade or orange juice (yes, I feel your eyes rolling again) and contribute lots of acidic peels to your bin, the wood ash can help neutralize the pH of the bin.

Curious Minds Want to Know

The reason wood ash is alkaline is that when it comes in contact with water it creates caustic lye. This is how you would make soap if you lived say, in a little house on the prairie.

Another reason you should use wood ash in moderation is that Cincinnati sits on a giant bedrock of limestone (also a higher pH) and shale. So we usually do not have acidic soils that you would need to neutralize. As always, we recommend testing your soils before using too much wood ash on your garden or in your bin.

Wow, two science lessons in one post- hold onto your hats.

Did I Mention the Answer is Maybe, with Caution?

One last tip- never use ashes from a barbeque pit or charcoal grill. These ashes can contain chemicals which could be harmful to the soil.

So you can compost wood ash if you 1) wait until it’s completely cooled, 2) use in moderation, and 3) don’t use BBQ ash.

If you burn a lot of fires in the winter, you should find another method of using your wood ash. Has anyone ever found a good use for this stuff? If so, leave a comment!

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: (http://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/soil-lab.html ).

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: http://cincinnati.com/blogs/gardening/