Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Composting for Wine Lovers (or Haters)

“I love cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in my food.” -Unknown

I won’t pretend to be a wine connoisseur. Usually, I’m just happy if I have enough time to relax and enjoy a glass. But every once in a while I’ll open a bottle and (gasp!) not finish the wine. Despite my best efforts, the non-wine drinking portion of my life takes over and the wine goes bad.

Can that old wine be dumped in the compost bin?

Reduce, Redrink, Recycle
Before we get to composting, let me say that old wine can be recorked (or recapped), refrigerated, and consummed within a few days. If you want some great tips on storing wines (including champagne) check out this blog.

Other Uses for Old Wine
For those wines you no longer want to drink you can use them in other ways such as cooking or even bathing (next you’ll be swimming through piles of money Uncle Scrooge style). Follow this link for other ideas on reusing that old chardonnay.

Happy Compost Bugs
Much like beer, wine acts as a compost accelerator for your pile. Wine is full of nitrogen and moisture which will make your compost bugs roar into action. Too much of a good thing can cause moisture issues, so be sure to balance  the wine with dry materials until your pile is like a wrung out sponge.

Even this time of year, your compost pile will drink up your cast offs.  

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and less wasteful New Year. Happy 2014, everyone!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Why a compost bin isn’t a great gift

(A guest post from Michelle's coworker, Megan)
Yes, I ♥ Compost. And since you are reading this blog, I’m going to assume that most of you do too. During this holiday season of giving, we’d all like to share our love of composting with our friends and family. But today I’m going to share why a compost bin really isn’t a great gift.

Now, before I get ahead of myself I need to admit that, yes, I have given a compost bin as a gift. It was to my little brother for his graduation from medical school. What do you possibly give to a very particular newly minted doctor? Well, I knew he was moving into a house and he’s also very eco-conscious. He had also taken an interest in the composting going on at my house. So I was certain the compost bin would get some good use.  

But let’s consider this a special circumstance. There’s an exception to every rule, right?

A few years ago when the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District was still holding the annual compost bin sale, a friend of mine purchased 10 compost bins with the thought of giving them as gifts. Despite her best intentions, most of those compost bins are still hanging around her house waiting to be filled with food scraps, leaves and coffee grounds.

Here are five reasons why a compost bin isn’t a great gift:
  • It’s too preachy: Sharing information and tips to help folks be more environmentally-savvy may be well-natured, but it may come across as eco-bullying. 
  • It could be wasteful: Just think of that sad compost bin, sitting there empty.
  • It might not be the bin of their dreams: Even if the receiver wants to start composting, they may have space limitations or would like to use a certain type of compost bin. Unless you know their plans ahead of time, you may end of giving a compost bin that they don’t want to use.
  • It could seem more like punishment than a gift: Ever given someone a vacuum or exercise equipment? Yikes. Just because we all love composting, doesn’t mean everyone does. Giving a compost bin as a gift might make the receiver feel inadequate or judged. This goes back to our eco-bullying point.
  • All the same reasons you shouldn’t give someone a pet as a gift. Cute, but you get the idea.

If you’d like to encourage your friends and family to start composting, consider giving a gift certificate to a store where they can pick out their own compost bin. That way they can get the compost bin that suites their style, or something else if they just haven’t caught the composting bug.

Happy holidays from all of us composters at Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

How to Train Your Thanksgiving Guests to Compost

"Oh no, you don’t,” my mom says as Uncle Jimmy attempts to scrap leftover green beans into the garbage.

“That goes in my compost!”

Acting as the compost police at holidays is perfectly acceptable with close family members but you may not want your in-laws to think you’re cuckoo for compost. Here are some tips to offer more gentle suggestions to your Thanksgiving guests about how to separate food scraps for composting.

1. Place containers near trash
Everyone seems to congregate in the kitchen at gatherings, so make your compost container easy to access in a crowded kitchen.

2. Upgrade and label container
Especially during food prep you may need extra capacity so upsize to a large bowl or small trash can. You can label the bowl with a list of what you can compost.

3. Assign a compost watchdog
After a little education, a niece or nephew would make the perfect junior compost police while coming off much cuter than you would saying the same thing.

4. Pre-screen questionable dishes
Just how cheesy are those potatoes? Since we don’t want meat or dairy in the compost, make sure you know what ingredients go into Grandma Carmen’s sweet potato casserole beforehand. A little beef bouillon is fine but two cups of butter and a half gallon of heavy cream may cause some smelly issues in the compost bin.

5. Don’t forget the decorations
Remind guests that the decorative gourds and fall flowers can also be composted. Save the plastic pilgrims for next year.

6. Offer a compost bin tour
An after dinner stroll to your compost bin may help convince your Aunt Eileen to start a compost pile of her own. But good luck competing with football and food comas.

How do you coach guests on composting in your home? We would love to know in the comments below.

Happy Thanksgiving!

You can't put me in the compost bin.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Until we meet again, composting your garden and flower remnants

Saying goodbye to my little friend, the hummingbird, is just one reminder that winter is approaching. The hosta flowers she once graced are now part of my compost pile as are the impatients, tomato plants, and other bits and pieces of summer glory.

Not being one to spend much time on the shredding and chopping end, I have found the stems from my hosta flowers and tomato plants are not decomposing as quickly as the more tender and moisture-filled stems of say, my begonias and impatients. To hasten decomposition I have a new tool in my arsenal, one I use regularly in other areas of the garden, the hand pruner.

This year as I clean up my gardens and put them to bed for the winter, I am using my pruner to chop these stringy and woody stems into smaller pieces. The more surface area provided for those wonderful micro-organisms to feed off, the quicker I get finished compost. If you prefer power equipment, shredders and chippers will also make short order of the task, although stringy stems such as the tomato plant aren’t very shredder-friendly.

Just as we Northerners need shelter to survive in winter, so do the bacteria and insects in our compost piles. Not turning your pile in the winter allows these critters to stay as snug as a bug in a rug. I will allow them their rest now for in the spring they will be back on the treadmill, working my organics into that beautiful black, garden-aerating, moisture-retaining, and nutrient-packed addition to my soil.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Compost Like a Vampire

In honor of the best holiday of the year, I’ve traveled in a horse drawn carriage through creepy woods all the way to Transylvania to bring you the best backyard composting advise from Dracula himself. Vampires have had centuries to perfect backyard composting (what better to do between stalking human prey and brooding over their own immortality).

Sink your teeth into these juicy tips.

1. Be Selective in Your Food Choices

An exclusive regimen of human blood works well for a vampire and you should consider being equally picky when it comes to choosing what to compost. Only place materials that will safely decompose in your bin. No meat, dairy, carnivore manure, oil, plastic, or metal. Here’s a good do and don’t compost list. Old garlic is optional.

2. Wear Black

Maybe vamps know that black attracts heat which helps warm old food scraps and undead bodies alike. Black compost bins work well to hold and trap heat to keep your pile decomposing.

3. Use the Old to Make the New

It’s common knowledge that you need old vampire blood to make a new vampire. Use a little finished compost when you’re starting a new pile to jump start your compost into action.

Composting does not have to be a pain in the neck, you can follow the advice of these blood-thirsty, creatures of the night to make your life easier. After all, the environment is at stake, so suck it up and compost everything possible, your effort will not be in vein.

More Halloween themed posts: Smashing Pumpkins and Three Warning Signs Your Compost Pile is a Zombie.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Composting on the Cheap

Hi, I’m Megan – your guest blogger for today. I work with Michelle (your composting guru) and I also love composting. I love how easy it is. But even more, I love a good bargain. And what could be a better deal than composting? If you do it right, all the set-up materials can be free and you end up with a (free) rich, valuable product for the garden or houseplants.

Let’s start with the bin
Sure, commercially-made compost bins are attractive and have cool features like turning handles and lids. But if you look around your garage and basement, I bet you’d find plenty of discarded material that could make a suitable compost bin.
Mine was made with leftover chicken fence, some metal posts and wire. I’m proud to say it cost zero dollars and took less than 10 minutes to assemble (thanks to my very handy hubby). Look around for extra fencing, old pallets, blocks, bricks or scrap treated lumber.

My DIY compost bin does not have a lid, so I have to be extra careful to bury food scraps.

Now, let’s move to the kitchen
Sure, kitchen collectors come in a variety of colors and even sophisticated chrome versions. But I can’t justify spending any amount of money on something to collect my unwanted (and sometimes yucky) food scraps. Here’s my lovely kitchen collector that works great and might otherwise have ended up in a landfill.

It meets all of Michelle’s criteria for a good kitchen collector: tight fitting lid, material that won’t leak, and space to collect food for 3 or 4 days. Since I’m reusing a container, I have no qualms about taking a black marker to the lid and writing COMPOST, with the hopes that others in my household will start putting food scraps there instead of the trash. Other free container ideas include those that you already purchased with bulk margarine, kitty litter or coffee. These containers aren’t currently recyclable in your curbside bin/cart, so it’s a great way to reuse them so they don’t end up in a landfill.

Saving money by preventing food waste
Oh I could go on and on about this one! Actually, I’ll do a follow-up post dedicated to how composting helps combat food waste. Stay tuned.

Composting lets me reuse water
Nope, I don’t have a rain barrel attached to the side of my house (kudos to the folks who do!). I’m talking about looking for ways to save water for use in your compost during dry spells. I reuse water from the dehumidifier and water for rinsing fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go down the drain. I’ve already paid for the water – why not get twice as much use out of it? Just be sure not to include water that has soap in it. Another plus is the free exercise you get hauling that water out to your compost bin!

So anyone who hasn’t fully committed to composting because of the expensive gear has no excuse. I say embrace your inner cheapskate and have fun composting!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Simple Method for Composting Leaves

Autumn is my favorite season. Warm sweaters, perfect camping weather, Halloween, and, of course, an abundance of wonderful, compostable leaves.

I know… I can almost hear you sigh as the leaves blanket your yard in crunchy, brown work. But cheer up! Gathering those leaves now will make composting the rest of the year a breeze.

Step One: Shred

Whether you prefer the old fashioned serenity of a leaf rake or the instant satisfaction of a turbo blast leaf blower, your leaves will end up in a giant pile. These leaves will decompose faster if you shred them into little bits.

Run them over with a lawnmower or attack them with a weed eater if you can. Maniacal laughter is optional.

Step Two: Hoard

Pile all the shredded leaves into a bin (wood, wire, plastic, whatever). You may need multiple bins if you have a lot of trees or if you choose to “borrow” leaves from your neighbors. Just make sure the containers are at least 3 feet by 3 feet in size.

Step Three: Dig

Now you have the base of a pile with a bunch of carbon to which you can add food scraps throughout the year. Just keep a hand rake or small shovel next to the bin and bury the food scraps in the leaves as you create them.

The act of digging in the food scraps adds air and adds nitrogen to the pile which will make the leaves decompose more quickly.

The Shred-Hoard-Dig method of composting will create finished compost at a slower pace than the traditional method of adding leaves as you go. You may also feel a bit like a squirrel burying little bits of treasure in your backyard.

But a wise woman once said- “Tis better to behave like a fuzzy squirrel now than hunger for leaves in the summer.”

Okay, that was just me, but you get the idea. Happy Autumn Composting, everyone!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Become a Composting Champion of the World

Are you an amateur composter and ready to step into the championship ring?

HamiltonCounty Recycling and Solid Waste District and the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati join forces to provide you with three evenings of intensive training. Learn about a wide array of topics including: Why we compost, reducing waste, saving our soil, growing healthy plants, soil biology, composting methods and finally, composting in small spaces: vermicomposting and Bokashi.

Each class begins at 6:00 p.m. and ends at 8:30 p.m., on three Wednesdays, September 4, 11, and 18, 2013. The classes are free of charge. For a nominal fee, students may cut and take home a wire compost bin, and have the option to make a vermicomposting system or Bokashi bin. 

Class size is limited – please register by calling (513) 221-0981 x 18 or email thouston@civicgardencenter.org.

You’ll be floating like a butterfly, and stinging like a bee with the wealth of information you’ll be able to share with adoring fans.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bluegrass Breakdown

To compost or not to compost, that is the question: whether 'tis nobler to leave the grass lie where it falls or add it to the compost bin?

Making up about half of our yard trimmings by weight, the most important factor in disposing of grass is that it doesn’t end up in the landfill. I contend just mowing it is the best option for grass clippings and here are five reasons why:
  1. Saves time as there is no need to stop and empty your bag attachment.
  2. Reduces work as you don’t have to bag or rake.
  3. Feeds your lawn. Grass clippings contain nutrients that can generate up to ONE THIRD of your lawn’s total fertilizer needs.
  4. Decomposing grass clippings may enhance soil microbe activity.
  5. Clippings shade the soil surface and reduce moisture loss due to evaporation.
I know some of you are thinking, “what about that nasty thatch?” According to the U.S. EPA, “thatch is actually a layer of organic material made up of grass roots, not mown grass blades. Grass clippings are about 90 percent water, so they decompose very quickly”.
Okay, so now you’re thinking, “I don’t have enough fruit and vegetable scraps to add the needed nitrogen to my compost. I need my clippings!” Solution found: eat more fruits and veggies, bring home your coffee grounds and tea bags from work, buy a bunny and add its droppings~ you get the picture!
BTW, my blog title: BluegrassBreakdown was written by Bill Monroe. If you’ve never heard it, look it up. It’ll get you motivated to get out and cut that grass!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Does Composting Cost?

“What?”  You may think, “I am only composting stuff that would otherwise go into the landfill.”  TNSTAAFL, I say…

Since the age of 19, when my Economics 101 professor first uttered the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch, aka TNSTAAFL” I’ve had a different world view. When I compost, I am giving up the next best alternative and for me that is normally sitting on the couch with a good book.  As noble as it is to read, there are a myriad of reasons why composting is worth the time. My last blog post touched upon the benefits of compost itself. Below I will argue the reasons why the act of composting is also beneficial.

  • Composting saves money. When you separate fruits, vegetables, and grains from your trash, you are acutely aware of the waste generated. Use this visual reminder as a tool to regulate what you buy. Preparing and buying only what you eat not only saves money, but reduces your carbon footprint. American families throw out approximately 25 percent of the food and beverages they buy. The cost estimate for the average family of four is $1,365 to $2,275 annually, according to The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) article: Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill.
  • Let me hear your body talk: When you compost, you are getting physical. It takes calories to walk from the kitchen to the pile, not to mention turning the pile helps your metabolism rev-up. Some composters enjoy chopping their fruits and veggies into tiny pieces in the kitchen; I prefer the Lizzie Borden method, hack them with my garden spade.

Composting as with any gardening activity is good for the soul. Time spent in my garden or caring for my pile is a welcomed gift away from the stresses of modern life. When my compost is ready, there is double satisfaction in knowing I helped create a valuable resource.

What is your favorite reason to compost? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Meanwhile, I’ll be communing with my compost friends: the worms, sow bugs, and even that which can’t be seen but I know are there anyway. Om…

Guest Blogger: Jenny Lohmann

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Tale of Two Trees

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, or how vertical mulching almost helped save my tree...

Most of us are aware of the five basic uses for compost. Do you know another use for backyard compost? Vertical mulching keeps your trees healthy and helps conquer some of their most ardent antagonists. It will relieve soil compaction and in turn, increase aeration, moisture permeation, and add beneficial micro-organisms to promote feeder root growth.

I was introduced to vertical mulching the middle of last summer when within a matter of a week, my sugar maple lost all of its leaves. I turned to a Master Composter who explained how I could save my maple. With this new information I set out to revive this most beloved shade tree. With willing (ok, some coercion) help from my husband, we purchased a bulb auger for our drill. Next we drilled holes in the soil at about 2 feet intervals around the drip line of the tree. A tree drip line can be thought of as a wine glass with the base being the roots, the stem being the trunk, and the bowl the crown. Turn your wine glass upside down and you have the drip line.

My husband drilled down approximately 18 inches and I filled each hole with compost. After a few weeks of keeping the tree watered, new leaves emerged. We strutted around like peacocks as our neighbors marveled at our accomplishment.

This spring we held our breath to see if the maple would leaf out to its full glory. Alas, it did not. Our tree had been granted life support but was unable to recover from years of neglect. We will be replacing the tree with another sugar maple and this time I vow to water and vertical mulch on a regular basis. Being pro-active is my new battle cry.

Oh you may ask, why a tale of two trees? The maple’s neighbor, an ash, has been infested with the emerald ash borer and too has to be put down.

… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Eek!!! There are Insects in My Compost Bin!

Help! It’s attack of the giant, mutant macro organisms!

Wait, what are they attacking? Your food scraps? In your compost pile?

And that’s bad, because….?

Let’s face it- most of our multi-legged, exo-skeletal neighbors have a bad reputation but they are actually great for your compost pile. Here’s some help in how to sort the good, the bad, and the ugly so you encourage the friendly creatures and discourage the annoying ones.

The Good

Many of the creatures squirming and crawling through your pile actually help break down material. You’ve probably seen the mini armadillos, a.k.a. pill bugs and sow bugs, and may also see the occasional millipede,
earthworm, nematode, mite, or springtail. All of these “bugs” shred plant material creating more surface area for bacteria and fungi to do their work.

The Bad
More annoying than bad, sometimes composters encounter fruit flies  or ants in the pile. Simply burying your food scraps under leaves or shredded paper will deter fruit flies- they will not burrow down into the pile to find a meal or lay their eggs.

I’ve heard of ants colonizing in the occasional bin as well. While these won’t hurt the composting process they
are a sign that your pile is not getting very hot. Turning your pile  will add oxygen and heat things up sending the ants packing and giving you finished compost sooner.

The Ugly

I confess, the thought of roaches in my compost bin gives me the heebee jeebees so I am grateful to never have had this problem. But I have heard a few times of this occurring. Roaches will not bother your compost bin, in fact they will help in the decomposition. Try heating up your pile  if you find it impossible to ignore them.

Another shiver-inducing creepy crawly are the always lovable baby bugs- squirmy white maggots.
If these cuties are a consistent problem you may need to bury your food scraps better since they may be house or fruit fly larvae. Maggot-like larvae can be any number of baby bugs though, so don’t automatically assume they are bad. They are part of the circle of life, the mini ecosystem you have created in your bin.

Most of the organisms you find in your bin are helpful so don’t get too worked up. Try not to pay them too much attention and they will return the favor.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Lowdown on Compost Tumblers

Do you tumble? Some composters swear by their compost tumblers with devout enthusiasm. “Once you go tumbler, you’ll never go humbler,” they say in my imaginary rhyming conversations.

Compost tumblers come in models ranging from horizontal and vertical barrels with a cranking arm to large balls you fill up and push around your yard. They can yield impressive results, creating compost faster and with less “work” than a regular compost bin. But compost tumblers can also turn into a fancified waste of money if you don’t use them correctly.

We’ll weigh the pros and cons and go over a few tips for getting the most out of your tumbler.

Let’s Get Ready To Tumble!

First the pros. Compost tumblers create finished compost fast- some models claim in just a few weeks. The primary reason is that most tumblers are exceedingly easy to turn (or crank or roll). You end up aerating more often which heats the pile up and generates usable compost at lightning speed (well, lightning speed in compost terms).

Some models allow you to wheel the composter around the yard cutting out the wheelbarrow middle man. They are also fairly pest resistant but flies will still bug you if you’re not careful.

Tumbling Without Stumbling

Now the cons (more points of caution than cons). The moisture level in tumblers have to be monitored. If you add just grass clippings and food scraps you will end up with a slimy mess sloshing around your bin. Add a good balance of browns like shredded leaves or paper.

Since compost tumblers are not next to the ground, you should add microorganisms to speed up the decomposition. A few handfuls of finished compost or good healthy garden soil will work.

The last point to consider is that compost tumblers can be pricey. Be ready to invest at least $100 if not more.

Tips for More Crumble from Your Tumble

1. Stop adding material at least three weeks before you want to harvest. Compost tumblers work best when creating “batch” compost. Just as you wouldn’t pull a batch of cookies out of the oven and add more flour, don’t continue to add material to your compost tumbler. Otherwise, you will be screening that finished compost just like the rest of us.

2. Monitor the moisture to keep it as wet as a wrung out sponge. Add shredded leaves or paper if needed (the exception to tip one) or leave the door open for a while to air out the compost.

3. Shred material into smaller sizes. This will speed up the decomposition for any composting method, but is very apparent when you use a tumbler. The smaller the pieces you add, the faster they will turn into finished compost.

4. Add at least one part brown to one part green (two or three parts brown will make the compost easier to manage but also slow it down).

5. Turn, crank, or roll that tumbler as often as you can. Some models suggest doing it daily, so read the instructions that come with your bin.

Mother Earth News tested and reviewed a few different styles of tumbler, which they spell out in this helpful article.

Do you have a compost tumbler? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments below.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Can You Compost Bread?

We’ve all been there. You pull out the fixings for your favorite sandwich, set a nice plate on the counter, and pour yourself a tall cold drink. Reaching into the bread bag you gently pull out two slices. But what’s this? Ugh….. your heart sinks with a pang of disappointment.

Mold lines the edge of your bread.

Well, you can’t save the sandwich now. Unless you’re the type to shrug, pull off the moldy crust, and keep eating (I’m making my silently-judgmental, grossed out face right now). But you can put that moldy bread to good use in your compost bin.

Bread, while not a vegetable, is made from a plant and will break down in your compost bin rather quickly. Pretty much any food scrap made of flour or grains can go in your bin. This includes:

Donuts (without cream filling)

I don’t think a single cookie has ever made it to my compost bin, even the burnt and stale end up being consumed. But technically, they could be composted.

And what’s the most important thing to remember about composting bread and the like? Bury your food scraps. I’ll say that again.


Otherwise, you will end up attracting animals or creating a “garbagy” smelling bin.

Once in contact with a moist compost pile, bread doesn’t typically last long. Think of a hotdog eating contest without the dog. You know how the contestants dip the buns in water to easily cram down 20 hotdogs in 5 minutes? Now I’m making my grossed out face again.

That bun soaks up the moisture and starts breaking down immediately. The same thing happens in your compost pile. And then the micro and macro organisms alike devour the bun in what I can only imagine is a very competitive sport with millions of contestants and only you cheering them on.

Do you compost bread? If so, am I missing any “bread” categories that you can compost?

I think this croissant is upset about being tossed in the trash.
Or maybe he's just trying to lift his "arms"?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Turn Baby Turn, Compost Inferno

If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend you hustle on over and turn your compost, especially if you’ve added food scraps all winter. Just as good as pulling out the lawnmower or turning on the hose, the inaugural first turn of the compost bin marks an important rite of passage into spring.

Turning will aerate the compacted pile and kick start the microorganisms into full dance fever mode. You’ll notice a significant drop in the pile over the next week from the compostables heating up and decomposing (more disco inferno than inferno inferno). You can almost hear the microorganisms singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” (in high pitched voices, of course) as they come back to life.

Troubleshooting and Tools (Disco Ball Optional)
My tool of choice is the wingdigger, but you can use a pitchfork, shovel, or even a sturdy stick. The idea is to get air down into the bin.

You may notice a slight ammonia smell and some squishiness if you’re compost is a little funky (and not in a good way). That’s okay. Just fluff up the pile well with air and even add shredded leaves or paper to give it some umph.

If your pile is more dry wallflower than dancing queen, add some food scraps and water to those parched leaves. Leaving the lid off before a good rain (of water, not men) will let mother nature water the pile for you.

Stayin’ Alive
Once you’ve heated up your pile, consider turning it on a regular basis for the rest of the season. More than once a week is really unnecessary and every other week or once a month will work.

Can you dig it? I knew that ya could.

Friday, April 5, 2013

How to Take Charge of Your Unruly Kitchen Collector

Here is a picture of my real kitchen collector bucket. I’ll be honest, it rarely looks this picture perfect. Most days you would see an embarrassing mess of overflowing asparagus ends, pineapple tops, and banana peels hanging out the top. Perhaps all accompanied by an additional bowl with even more food scraps awaiting the walk to the bin.

So, who am I to suggest ways to tame the food scrap hoarding/ lazy-composters-r-us behavior?

I’ve made a resolution and you can too. We can keep our kitchen collectors tidy together. Composters unite!

Here are five tips for reducing or even eliminating mess and smells from your kitchen collector.

1. Empty Daily. Don’t think of it as a chore. This is a daily ritual, a meditative stroll through the backyard, bringing your food scraps to commune with nature and giving back to the Earth. (Or just 5 minutes to get away from the whining kids and pile of dishes, while pretending like you are actually working).

2. Use Liners. I’ve tried the “compostable” plastic liners and the origami newspaper trick. The jury is still out on the “compostable” plastic but both of these options will keep your kitchen collector clean.

3. Add Ventilation (a.k.a. holes). If you’re not taking out food scraps daily, allowing some holes in the side or top of your collector actually keeps scraps from getting too yucky. If fruit flies are an issue in your kitchen, however, you may want to skip this option.

4. Sprinkle Bokashi Bran. This Japanese import will semi-ferment food scraps if you sprinkle a little on top and allow you to go longer between emptying the material. (Check out Park + Vine or www.bokashicomposting.com/  if you want to give it a try).

5. Rinse Once Empty. Yes, I know you know that cleaning stuff makes it smell good. But this is a step I sometimes skip. A quick rinse will get any yuckiness out of the bottom and hopefully keep the bucket smelling fresher.

I’ve also heard that sprinkling baking soda on top of the food scraps or rubbing vinegar on the lid will help with smells. But if you’re going to take the time to do that why not just take out the food scraps?

My goal is to take out the bucket at least every other day which should be easier with spring here (spring is here, right? Right?). What do you do (or will start doing) to keep your kitchen collector in order?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Could Black Walnut Leaves Ruin Your Finished Compost?

EeeeK! Tomato plants RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! It’s the horrible, abominable, monstrous Black Walnut leaf!!!

In all seriousness, Black Walnut trees create a chemical called juglone that really is toxic to many plants we grow, like tomatoes, blueberries, and azaleas. So will the leaves from Black Walnut trees create a toxic compost causing our favorite plants to bite the dust?

No. The OSU Extension says the toxin in these leaves breaks down within 2 to 4 weeks of composting. Let the leaves thoroughly break down in your compost bin and you’ll be fine.

Really, relax.

Woodchips and nut shells from Black Walnut do require a longer period to decompose, so give them at least six months to break down before applying the compost to sensitive plants.

Still nervous your applying a kiss of death with your compost?

You can test the finished compost by planting a few tomato plant seedlings and see if they survive. If sacrificial experiments are not your thing, you can always use the finished compost on the many plants not sensitive to our Black Walnut friends. OSU provides a handy list of these plants as well.

Have you ever composted Black Walnut leaves? Let us know how it worked out in the comments.

Yes, this is poison ivy, but I couldn't resist scary leaf clip art.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Get the Dirt on Backyard Composting!

Back by popular demand! We will be traveling around Hamilton County talking about composting and giving away free composting swag.

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
Beginner and seasoned composters will benefit. 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).

Get the Dirt on Backyard Composting will be coming to a community near you:

3/6/13 Springdale Community Center

3/18/13 St. Bernard Municipal Building

3/27/13 Mt. Healthy City Park

4/2/13 Wyoming Civic Center

4/15/13 Westwood Town Hall

4/23/13 Madeira City Council Chambers

5/9/13 Harrison Community Center

5/14/13 Amberley Village Community Room

For exact locations and registration information visit: Get the Dirt on Backyard Composting.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How this Wacky Weather Helps Your Compost Bin

Sometimes I wonder if Mother Nature just likes to mess with our heads in Cincinnati. 20° one week and 65° the next.


But she’s actually doing your compost bin a favor.

Every time it freezes the water inside your food scraps and wet plant material expands, helping to break apart the material’s structure. Water expands by about 9% from the liquid to the solid state and since food scraps have a high water content (40-70%) that means a lot of expansion.

After dozens of freeze-thaw cycles, that banana peel is basically “pre-chewed” and on the fast track for spring bacteria and fungi to finish the job.

The result? If you continue to add food scraps all winter, once the weather warms you won’t have to wait very long for a batch of beautiful finished compost. Meanwhile, your snow-phobic neighbor misses out on the winter composting bounty.

So, as you bring out your winter coat again, you can smile a secret smile because you know what that freeze will do to your compost pile.

Thanks, Mother Nature (with an almost completely sincere, non-sarcastic smile).