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.