Thursday, December 15, 2016

I am Frozen Just Like My Compost Pile

Guest Blogger Brad Miller

Winter has fully arrived and both my compost pile and I are frozen.  Since your pile freezes during the winter and goes dormant, the food scraps tend to build up uncovered.
One trick I learned was to save a bag or two of leaves from the fall. As my layer of food scraps build up on top of the pile, I then spread a layer of leaves over it. Based on how long winter lasts I can have many alternating layers of food scraps and leaves.
Once spring arrives and the compost pile warms up, having the leaves layered with the food scraps will help the materials break down until you can turn your pile. Just remember as you look outside at the frozen winter wonderland and your frozen compost pile, spring is only a few months away.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

World Soil Day

With all the hustle and bustle of the major holidays, you probably overlooked a very essential yet little known holiday just around the corner. December 5th is World Soil Day!

Of course we love soil! As composters we do our part to replenish the soil so why not take part in the celebration and raise awareness on the importance of soil to life on earth?
Perhaps you can give the gift of homemade compost to a gardener in your life, or share the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations videos, posters, infographics, and even t-shirts to help spread the joy of soil. You will also find great information on what we can do to help reduce the threats to our soil.



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Squeezing Every Penny out of my Produce

Like most of the people on this planet, I love food. My love affair with food and my lack of budget to dine out every night, results in a fair amount of cooking which I enjoy almost as much as eating the food.

Over the last year, I’ve come to appreciate even more the value of food. Everything we eat tells a story filled with the labor of the farmer, the soil and water to grow the food, the fuel to transport the food, and the energy to keep the food fresh in the store and your home. Everything we eat requires…

So many resources!

So, when a recipe calls for half an onion, I am faced with a choice. I could throw caution to the wind, chop the whole onion, and toss it in hoping for the best. I could store the half-onion in my fridge for a few days waiting for another recipe needing half an onion. I could, of course, compost the other half of the onion. But as much as I love compost, I hate to see perfectly edible food not used.

Just think of the resources!

So I’ve started something new. I took a gallon-sized freezer bag and labeled it “BROTH.” Every time I have a half-onion, carrots about to go bad, or the ends of mushrooms or leeks, I place them in the freezer bag and into the freezer. Last weekend the bag was full so I pulled out my stock pot and made a giant pot of delicious vegetable broth.


The spent veggies I pulled out of the broth? My compost welcomed them with open arms (millions of tiny outstretched arms). It felt good to make something out of the veggies before composting them and I generally pay good money for broth at the store. My efforts were rewarded with a delicious soup that evening.

If you want to feel an unnatural emotional attachment to a fruit, check out this fantastic video detailing The Extraordinary Life and Times of a Strawberry from the Ad Council and NRDC. Like any good drama, it is filled with romance, promise, and despair. J




Thursday, October 27, 2016

Compost Ghost: A Halloween Ghost Story

Darkness comes early this time of year. So often, by the time I have a chance to take the kitchen scraps out, the sun has long set and I only have the light of the moon and a dim porch lamp to guide me back to my compost pile.

I don’t mind though. I walk this path every day, leaves crunching under my feet, the familiar rock path winding through small trees to the back of my yard. I still hear crickets chirping and our resident owl’s occasional call “who cooks for you” echoing across the yard.

I lift the lid of my compost bin and am about to pour out the contents of my kitchen collector when I see it. A tingling runs up my spine, goosebumps prickle my flesh, that sinking feeling of dread gnaws in my stomach.

What is that?

I lean closer into the bin, squinting in the darkness.

A white gossamer shape stretches across most of my compost. My heart races. A ghost? Could it really be a compost ghost?

Naturally, I do what any logical person does when confronted with something unknown. I pick up a stick and poke it. The fine thin arms like spider webs seem to reach out and grab the end of my stick.

Ah! It’s attacking!!!

The light of the moon hits the filaments and now I see. Now I understand.

Actinomycetes! A natural bacteria that looks more like a fungus, actinomycetes grow in the soil and sometimes in compost bins. Their enzymes help break down cellulose, bark, and woody stems. They give your finished compost a nice “woodsy” odor.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I drop my stick, empty my kitchen collector, and bury the food scraps, and the actinomycetes, in leaves.

“Compost ghosts,” I chuckle to myself as I walk back to the house. But I pick up the pace all the same.


Happy Halloween, composting friends!

Other ghoulish composting stories:
Was Frankenstein an Outstanding Composter?
How to Practice Compost Witchcraft
Compost Like a Vampire
Three Warning Signs Your Compost is a Zombie
Smashing Pumpkins

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Here's a Neat Trick for Harvesting Vermicompost

Have you ever tried to harvest vermicompost from your worm bin? Instead of spending hours picking worms out of the desired vermicompost (a.k.a., worm poop), we tried this simple method of getting the worms to separate themselves. Check out this video to see how it works.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Bounty of a Lazy Composter

Hi, I’m Cher your guest blogger for today.

Anyone who has heard me talk about composting will confirm that I readily admit to being a lazy composter.

I do not chop my food scraps into tiny pieces to help them decompose faster. I do not worry about monitoring my compost for moisture – if it looks dry I take the lid off before it rains. I do not turn my compost every two to four weeks. 
And between you and me, I am not even avid about covering up my food scraps with carbon rich material. I just got myself two compost bins so I always have room (my lazy composting takes a little longer than active composting).
I may be lazy, but I’m no procrastinator.  I knew I was going to need room for my fall leaves, so I harvested one of my compost bins for the first time in two years.  The result:

I had so much finished compost I had to find innovative ways to store it until I could use it. I utilized my old recycle bin (I no longer need now that I have a 95 gallon recycling cart). I also used empty cat litter buckets and some old plant pots. And when I got really desperate, I repurposed a sturdy bird food bag.

Buddy was impressed.
Mission accomplished! Look at all the room I created for my leaves.

To conserve room and energy (my energy) I set my mower to bag the leaves and just emptied the chopped up leaves into my compost bins.   

Cher is a Program Specialist for the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Ever Composted 70,000 Pounds in a Year?

Guest blogger Catherine Walsh

We have a couple of gems in our area – composting gems, that is. Two venerable institutions have taken matters into their own hands, so to speak, and addressed a large waste stream for each of them through on-site, in-vessel composting (composting in a very large, metal contraption).

Findlay Market, located right smack in downtown Cincinnati, is special for many reasons – it’s an historic landmark, it has continuously operated in the same iron-framed building since 1855, it’s an economic driver for the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and it’s a really fun place to do your grocery shopping or just walk around. On top of all that, Findlay Market operates the first Class II composting facility in an urban area in the state of Ohio.

Class II composting facility, you ask? Well, that’s a designation that indicates it’s not a backyard composting pile (like the one at your house), but a regulated and managed operation that is permitted to accept and process food scraps from a business, in this case from Findlay Market itself.
Since it started managing food waste in 2010 by actively composting it in the Earth Tubs, Findlay Market has kept an average of about 70,000 pounds per year from going into the landfill. That's something to crow about! 

In-vessel composting system at Findlay Market.

Up the hill from Findlay Market is another long-lived institution that provides our region with education, community service, and some pretty darn good basketball. Xavier University, located in Norwood, Ohio, is home to more than 6,000 students, many of whom live and eat on campus. In fact, in a week during the school year, 30,000 meals are served and, about 3,500 pounds of food scraps are generated at the main student dining hall.

In 2013, Xavier installed in-vessel composting equipment and began to work toward the goal of keeping all organic waste out of the landfill. With the help of grant money from Ohio EPA, Xavier purchased special equipment they use to dehydrate cafeteria food scraps before processing that material in their in-vessel composting units.

The magnificent compost that this generated throughout the school year is the "X factor" that groundskeepers use to keep the 189-acre campus healthy and looking beautiful.

Thanks to all you regular readers and backyard composter for doing what you do. And thanks to these two major institutions for committing time and money to turning food scraps into a valuable resource for a healthy community.

Earth Tubs used to compost food scraps and yard trimmings at Xavier University.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Compost Garden

A few weeks ago John and Amy Duke, composters and gardeners extraordinaire, gave me a tour of their very special and very fun garden. They have filled the garden with beautiful plants, well-tended beds, and whimsical statues and signs that leave you feeling plain happy.

John is a master gardener and a master composter and Amy (the boss) says she spends at least 20 hours a week just working in the garden. They have an impressive composting area and actually name their compost bins (Grateful Dead, A Frond Farewell, Leaves of Thyme). John and Amy credit the health of their garden to all of the compost they add.

Here are a few of the photos I took. I felt like I needed to snap one everywhere I looked!

Samples of different types of bins.

Making compost tea to boost the microorganisms in finished compost.

The Anheuser Bush (ha ha) 

Yes, that is an adorable pot man using the john.
Fairies have taken up residence.

Part of the children's garden.

This squirrel thinks I am the paparazzi.
Don't you just want to wander through?

Friday, July 29, 2016

Aerate Your Compost with No Work?

For years I have thrown all sticks landing in my yard into our backyard fire pit. Aside from loving a good campfire, I know any stick larger around than my thumb will take a very long time to decompose in my bin. I even try to break other materials up to make decomposition faster.

But recently I started deliberately adding sticks to my compost hoping to provide something every compost pile needs: AIR.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Adding a small layer of sticks every so often, especially when you are starting a new pile, helps the material from becoming too dense for air to move through. Keeping air in your pile helps encourage our friends the aerobic microorganisms to break down our compost even faster.

Of course you can also aerate your pile by turning it but I’m experimenting to see if sticks offer the same effect with little to no effort.

Another material with a similar effect to sticks would be straw. Last fall after harvesting my compost, I piled some old straw in the bottom to help air flow through the bin.

Free As A Bird

Other composters have tried different methods to add air into the pile without having to turn.

PVC pipe with holes drilled in it 
Stalks from plants
Bunched up cardboard or egg cartons

Feel free to air your opinion: do you use anything else to keep air in your pile?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Top 10 Signs You Are a Compost Geek

You know you're a compost geek when you find yourself nodding in agreement to at least half of the following...

10. You have 3 or more compost sites on your property.

9. You instantly like someone more when you find out they compost.

8. You keep a bin of worms so you can compost year round.

7. Attending a compost class is the highlight of your week.

6. You ask for composting accessories as gifts.

5. You carry a banana peel home in your purse.

4. You find yourself talking about compost at parties.

3. You get excited when you see your compost steaming.

2. You constantly find new things that can be composted (my most recent is soymilk).

1. You light up when you see an "I heart Compost" bumper sticker on a car.

Are you a compost geek? Tell us how you know.

Post written by Compost Geek Cher Mohring, with help from all of her compost geek colleagues at the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Compost Like Jack Johnson

In this video produced by Sustainable America, musician Jack Johnson takes us to a special zero waste elementary school in Hawaii to learn how they compost.

Good music
Adorable kids
Beautiful setting
Composting-loving artist

Do you need any more reasons to watch this video?


Thursday, June 16, 2016

Just Mow It

Most “green” habits people ask you to adopt require more work, not less. Bringing your own grocery bags (check).  Riding a bike or walking instead of driving (check). Installing a rain barrel (check). All which I’m happy to oblige since my tree-hugging, granola-eating, hippie side is generally most dominant.

But when I learned there was a way to feed my lawn and avoid fertilizers that required less work than my current method of raking up grass clippings for the compost bin, my lazy side almost did a back flip. Almost, meaning she considered it while lounging in a lawn chair and sipping a home-grown mojito.

Let me introduce you to my new best friend: Just Mow It.

Just Mow It is the simple practice of leaving your grass clippings on the lawn. Yep, you just leave them there and they quickly break down to fertilize your grass and add biomass to the soil.

Just Mow It requires three important steps:
  1. Keep your grass at about three inches. 
  2. Mow twice per week in spring and fall. You should remove about 1/3 of the grass’s leaf surface each time. Any more and you hurt the grass. Ouch.
  3. Mow when the grass is dry so you don’t get clumps.

If you are interested in learning more about this lovely and slightly lazy “green” method of maintaining your lawn, check out our website. You too can be sipping mojitos, watching your lawn fertilize itself.

Monday, June 6, 2016

The First Graduating Class of the Year

Post by guest-blogger and compost-lover Jenny Lohmann

Having had some glorious weekend weather has permitted me to get out and tend to my garden and compost pile. I have two different compost piles, one for leaves and one “working” pile.
Gathering my equipment: pitchfork, rake, shovel, and tarp, I get to work. First, I use my pitchfork to move the unfinished compost on the top over to my leaf pile. Next, I rake the stragglers, bits of twigs, seeds, and vines to the side and… voila!

Hello beautiful compost, my homemade, plant-loving nutrient.

I happily shovel the finished compost onto a tarp to be mixed later into my soil and potting mix. Any I have left over will be sprinkled about my yard to add organic matter.

Before I disperse my home-cooked compost, I invite my neighbor to view my labor of love. As any successful composter knows, it’s a proud moment to see your compost finished and ready to nourish the life in your yard. I look forward to a summer of coaching many classes of food scraps and yard waste into seasoned do-gooders who make our soil a better place.

Friday, May 20, 2016

When Composting, Reuse, and Tomatoes Collide

I love reuse. I love growing tomatoes. And, of course, I LOVE COMPOSTING. That is why I'm sharing one man's genius idea of growing tomatoes.

James Bryan had the fantastic idea to use an old garbage can with holes drilled in it as a way to deliver water and fertilizer (via compost) to four tomato plants surrounding the garbage can.

Here are his photos from when the plants were first planted and then at the end of June.

Check out the final photo (those are big plants!) and his full yet very simple instructions at Hometalk.

And then get out there and use that compost!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wanna Call Yourself 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 the Civic Garden Center’s Master Composter training in June.

The four week Master Composter Series 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 also learn how to make a vermi-composting bin. Classes are Wednesdays June 1, 8, 15, and 22 from 9am to 3:30pm. Visit this site for more information and registration details:

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



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Composting in Paradise

Guest blogger Cher Mohring

I love my job so much it’s hard to even take a vacation without thinking about reducing waste. That’s why during a recent trip to the Bahamas I discovered I had as many pictures of compost as I did of the beach!  Because most of my Facebook friends are not that interested in seeing compost pictures, I decided this was a good place to share them.

Here in Southwest Ohio, we use compost to loosen our clay soil for better root penetration, improve its capacity to hold water, and add essential nutrients. 

Grand Bahama Islands soil is very sandy.  Sandy soil has large air spaces between particles, allowing water to drain very quickly and microbes to consume organic matter quickly.  For this reason, amending their soil with compost is essential to hold water and add nutrients for plants to grow.  

Wish you lived in the Bahamas? Me too! Let’s live vicariously through these Bahama residents and see how they compost in their backyards.

Mary has a beautiful, eclectic landscape.  She has a constant supply of palm tree leaves to feed multiple compost sites.

This three bin unit is overflowing with material.

Piles of palm leaves.

Karl and Eva have amazing vegetable gardens that require lots of compost.  As you can see from their pictures below, they are also excellent at reusing!
One of three compost bins made from old skids.

Check out the size of this bin!


They like to sift their compost before using it in the garden.

Here are some of their container gardens where they use the compost.

Tom and Marilyn have piles of palm leaves like Mary, but they are just getting started with composting food scraps.  It will be interesting to see how long those coconuts take to decompose...

Ol’ Freetown Farm grows papaya, bananas, sugar cane, green beans, tomatoes, peppers, and various other vegetables and herbs.  They also keep chickens, horses, and goats. What a great combination to make and use compost!
Compost pile of horse manure and sugar cane.
Finished compost pile with volunteer potatoes growing in it.
One of their sources of compost material.
Just in case you’re not as much of a compost geek as me, here’s a picture of the beach.
This guest blog is written by Cher Mohring, Program Specialist at Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District.  Cher assists schools, events, and multi-family residences to set up waste reduction programs.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

Composting Coffee to Make Your Garden Grow

Reposted with updated information.

I have to admit, I’m not a regular coffee drinker. It’s tea for me, but I love, love, love the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Every once in a while, I’ll cheat on my tea habit and splurge on some frou, frou chocolaty mocha deliciousness with lots of whipped cream. Of course, my coworkers then make fun of me as I uncontrollably bounce around the office and speak in caffeinated double time.

But there is another reason to love coffee besides its delightful aroma and jolting
caffeine high. Spent grounds from your cup of joe make a fantastic addition to your compost bin and provide plants with important nutrients. The used-up grounds contain loads of nitrogen which speeds up the composting process, giving you finished compost sooner (cup of steaming hot nitrogen booster, anyone?). And, while we may love the smell of coffee, many animals do not, so mixing the grounds with food waste will actually deter raccoons and other nosey critters from messing with your compost bin.

Compost Buzz
Gardeners in the know covet finished compost for its ability to improve soil structure, retain moisture, and create healthy productive gardens. Spent coffee grounds “sweeten the pot” even more by adding phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper, all minerals your plants need. And, after the grounds decompose, they release oodles of the nitrogen your plants love.

If you’re a regular java drinker, you probably have enough spent grounds to satisfy a backyard compost pile. Simply throw the grounds, filter and all, into the bin. Us non-coffee drinkers have to go about getting our coffee ground fix creatively. You can pilfer the coffee maker at work, sweet talk your neighbor, or even ask a local coffee shop. Most cafes will gladly set aside some spent grounds for you, and some even package the used-up grounds for people to take for free.

Coffee Emporium would love to share their coffee grounds or check with your local coffee shop.

House Blend
Of course, don’t get in over your head. If you add enough grounds to keep your compost bin awake for a week, make sure to add plenty of carbon based material, like dead leaves, to balance out the nitrogen. Otherwise, you risk the pleasant coffee aroma being replaced by a far less pleasant rotting odor. Not the sort of smell you want to wake up to, trust me.

Other than remembering to add leaves, the process of composting coffee grounds is super simple with definite rewards for your garden. Now, if you’ll excuse me, a tall iced mocha is calling my name.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why I Squirrel Away Leaves

I have a confession: I am way too emotionally attached to my leaves. Every year the story goes like this: First, these 100+ year old beauties dump mounds and mounds of leaves in the fall and winter. 


Then every fall and again in the spring we rake them up (leaving some for the critters). While my husband bags away, I desperately try to find places to compost them in my yard.
I could fit some more on that pile.
But there are just too many! Even if I shred the leaves I still have way more leaves than I can handle. So sadly we bag up the remainder of the beautiful brown leaves and with a heavy heart I wave goodbye as they ride off into the sunrise in the city’s yard waste truck.
I didn't have quite this many. Thanks Mary's Veggie Garden for the photo.
Oh, I know they will see a new life in a commercial-sized compost pile. But, alas, the lost potential in my own yard fills me with regret.


I pile up leaves next to my compost bin and pile more in another corner of my yard. Those leaves will be perfect for balancing out and burying the food scraps I add throughout the year.

Reminder! Now that spring has arrived you should aerate or turn your compost bin. Add some extra leaves if your pile is too wet from all the winter food scraps.

Happy spring and happy composting!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Spring Awakening

Doing the happy dance on this warm winter day! Getting outside and cleaning up the yard feels like fun rather than a chore.

The cold earth is showing signs of spring awakenings: bulbs are pushing through; snowdrops are in bloom; as well as those pesky wild onions. Another sure sign of spring includes our annual compost seminars.

Get your neighbors on the bandwagon. Preach the magic of this organic matter then send them this link to sign up for one of our workshops. There are four dates and locations to choose from, they only last one hour, and the first one is March 31. Whether new to composting or just need a basics reminder, this workshop is for you (or them). Are you a member of Nextdoor? Share our event in your community as well.

Those of you who are ready to become “masters”, our friends at the Civic Garden Center have an opportunity especially for you. Click here for more information on their Master Composter Series.
Note to deer: feel free to eat wild onions
guest blogger: Jenny

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Let Compost Hibernate

Guest post from Susan Schumacher.

Well, bears, skunks, prairie dogs, and bats do it, right? Let your compost hibernate for the winter.

I would love to be one of these creatures that can stay warm and sleep all winter. But, that thing called work/life gets in the way. One thing I don’t do in the winter is turn my compost pile (OK, so I don’t use a bin and you don’t have to either. That aside, the material is frozen anyway!)

Take all your compost goodies and freeze them in some sort of re-sealable bag, plastic container, etc. Yes, I realize they will get freezer burn but you weren’t going to eat it anyway. It’s much easier (and warmer) for me to put the compost scraps in a plastic bag and throw in my freezer.

Usually in February, there is a somewhat “warm” day that I can tolerate the time it will take for me to be outside long enough to use my pitchfork and lift up (or maybe I should say “pull the covers back” on) the compost bed enough so I can throw the frozen banana peels, coffee grinds, potato skins, apple cores, etc. into the center of the pile.
A lovely winter compost pile, but unfortunately it's not mine.
Check out our friends at Organic Gardening 365.

Once it finally turns spring, your pile will have a great head start to “working it’s magic” to create a beautiful lawn, flower garden, or vegetable garden (the food scraps from this will go where?).

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year’s Resolution: Feed my Soil

Out with the old and in with the new! It’s that time of the year when the gym fills up and diet foods are on sale. This year I resolve to provide healthy choices for my personal temple as well as my personal space.

Often in a hurry, it’s easy to reach for some pre-packaged processed food even though it’s not the most healthful. In my yard, I can do the same. I can purchase a synthetic fertilizer and sprinkle or spray it about, or I can create my own organic additive.

This growing season, I will only use compost to enrich the soil of my yard. I will do so after a heavy rain and not before, so I do not create nutrient run-off.

I pledge to not add to the growing problem of algae blooms caused in part by phosphorus containing fertilizers.

I want to play in local lakes and rivers!

I will create and use compost! Check out  five ways to use compost. Compost not only improves clay soil’s fertility but also structure and texture. I will apply yearly by scattering it on the surface of my garden while working or watering it into my soil. For my grassy lawn, I will sprinkle compost throughout the year.

After, I will nibble on a blade of grass and find shapes in the clouds, comforted in the knowledge that what I create is completely organic, sustainable, and resource saving.

Happy New Year! Guest blogger, Jenny