Friday, December 21, 2018

My New Year’s Composting Resolution

Although I am a dedicated composter, I have a confession. My composting habits could use some improvement and I intend to do better in 2019.

Here are my New Year’s Composting Resolutions for all of the world (well, at least you blog readers) to see:

1. I will take out my compost pail at least every other day. 

It seems like before I know it, my compost pail has grown a little annex bowl and then another. This year I plan on making it a regular part of my daily routine. Wish me luck. 

2. I will aerate my pile once per month. 

My compost bins have multiplied over the last two years and it has allowed me to be a little lazy with the turning. As in, almost never aerating my pile. This results in slower composting and it can lead to odors if you are not careful.

3. I will write more regular blog posts. 

Sorry, friends, but we have been super busy here in the office (working on lots of great projects, I swear). But sharing our love of composting is important too and we have several exciting 2019 composting projects to announce this year. Stay tuned!

What are your New Year’s Composting Resolutions? Share in the comments below.

Wishing you all a happy and regenerative new year!  

Monday, December 3, 2018

Bokashi 101: Intro to Composting Wizardry

Guest Post by Randall Martinez

By now you’ve learned the basics of composting and maybe some readers even have a couple of worm bins. But, have you dared trying your hand at the wizardry of Bokashi?

It really is a quite simple premise and technique:

  1. Take all of your food scraps - No need to worry about sorting and separating foods, but you might want to avoid concentrations of highly fatty and salty foods.
  2. Layer them in an airtight container (a 5 gallon bucket works great) and inoculate with mixture of beneficial microbes for two or more weeks (anaerobic activity goes counter to what we’ve learned so far about compost.. but stick with me here - the food scraps will ferment , not go rancid).  
  3. After two weeks, bury the contents of the bucket in compost pile, bury in a hole or trench in the ground, or in flower pots/containers.
  4. After two more weeks in the earth with Mother Nature’s help, you will have ready to use compost - Magic? No. But it will feel that way.

You may be asking at this point, “why would I do all those extra steps? ” or “what the heck are beneficial microbes?”

Bokashi Bran full of beneficial microorganisms.

First, let’s discuss where Bokashi comes from:

Origin Story:
Bokashi comes from a Japanese method of fermenting organic wastes using beneficial microbes known as Effective Microorganisms (EM). Back in the 1960s an agricultural scientist, Dr Teruo Higa began experimenting with naturally occurring microbes in conjunction with natural farming methods to help relieve farmers of the stress of relying on expensive and harsh chemical treatments for their crops. By the 1980s, he had formulated what is considered an ideal combination of microorganisms to improve soil health - yeast, photosynthetic bacteria, and lactic acid bacteria. He named it EM1 and it is widely used as a soil conditioner. Today, more applications have been discovered, including the bokashi method of fermentation.

Now, for your answers:
  • It’s a very low maintenance process. No turning piles, no carbon to nitrogen ratios to worry about, no moisture monitoring, and by fermenting (aka pickling) the food scraps, you speed up the breakdown process of the food - delivering a nutrient-rich compost to your garden faster (approximately 4 weeks from table to garden)
  • By increasing the variety of foods you can safely compost, you have little to no food waste for the trash.
  • You can actually do this indoors - it’s great for apartment living or homes with little access to large gardens or compost piles. You just need space for a 5 gallon bucket.
  • With an airtight lid in place there is no odor present, and when the lid is removed to add more food scraps, it will smell fermented - not rancid.
  • The beneficial microbes are combination of microorganisms that work symbiotically to ferment the food waste. These may be cultivated in your kitchen with an easy to follow recipe, or purchased online.
All you need to start a Bokashi system of your own.

I have found that using Bokashi in my composting toolbox has been an effective way to eliminate all food waste from my household and deliver amazing soil all year long. There are a few simple rules to follow, but beyond that - the limits to how creatively you wear your own wizard’s hat is up to you.

Be on the lookout for Bokashi 102: Recipes and methods for the DIY wizards

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Compost Lessons from the Swamp Monster

Of all the Halloween ghouls, I think the Swamp Monster (or Muck Monster or Swamp Thing, if you prefer) likely knows the most about decomposition. He does, after all, live among murky, slowly decaying gunk in a mist-covered swamp.

Since we do not want our compost bin to smell like a swamp, however, we will pay homage to the Swamp Monster by taking lessons to avoid his decomposing mistakes:

  1. Aerate: without air your pile will go anaerobic, inviting bacteria more suited to a swamp. These bacteria create methane as they slowly decompose your food scraps. Not only will your pile take forever to break down but it will also smell bad.
  2. Add Browns: adding all “green” material like food scraps or freshly cut grass provides too much nitrogen and not enough carbon for our decomposing microorganisms. They need both, ideally in a balance of one part green to three parts brown, to break down your compost efficiently and without odors.
  3. Limit Water: the Swamp Monster may need murky, slimy, water to creep around in stalking humans strolling through the swamp, but your compost bin does not need so much water. It should be as wet as a wrung out sponge.

Should your backyard have a mini-swamp of its own with any standing water, never choose that location for your compost bin. You will create slimy, stinky compost and may even attract a scaly, part-amphibian, part-human creature who will unexpectedly pull you into the depths of your compost bin when you take out your scraps. Probably not, but you never know…

Happy Halloweeeen!

Love Halloween and composting like me? Check out our creepy posts from past Halloweens:

Three Reasons Werewolves Make Terrible Composters

Watch out, little birdy!  

Monday, September 24, 2018

Outsourcing Leaves

Around this time of year many of us face a similar issue: we still create the same amount of food scraps but our leaf piles have dwindled (or composted) to almost nothing. In order to keep that happy balance between green and browns, WE NEED LEAVES.

Here are a few ideas of where you can score some carbon:
  1. Consider alternatives, like shredded newspaper or cardboard.
  2. Rake your elderly neighbor’s yard (ask first!). Who knows, maybe you will get some homemade cookies and a bag of leaves for your good deed.
  3. Ask your community (or a surrounding community). Often your community will allow you to take leaves from their pile.
  4. Join (or start) a leaf exchange Facebook group. We have one in Greater Cincinnati.

Don’t fret too much, fellow composters. Fall is in the air and before we know it we will be swimming, sometimes literally, in piles of leaves.

Happy fall, y’all.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Becoming a ‘Text-Book’ Composter!

Guest blogger Angela Rivera

As summer comes to an end, it’s time to snuggle up with a composting book to prepare for your next garden season. All three of these books are available at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Worms Eat My Garbage; How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System by Mary Appelhof (2017)

You have seen it on the blog many times, but still haven’t started a worm bin yet? Well, everything you need to know about vermicomposting is found in this book. Learn all about your new friends (the Red Wigglers), how to maintain and troubleshoot with your worm bin, and how vermicomposting has the potential to transform communities to be zero waste in their own homes. Are you an educator? Check out Appelhof’s classroom activities book about integrating vermicomposting in your classroom.

Let it Rot! The Gardener’s Guide to Composting by Stu Campbell (1998)

Unlike some composting books, Campbell’s guide goes beyond the “how to’s” and teaches its readers more about the science behind composting. Don’t fret, this isn’t a college textbook, but a useful and relatable  guide for anyone who is interested in composting. I found it most interesting when Campbell describes some of the things that you can compost which I never thought of before, including leather dust and seaweed. Check this book out from your local library to find out more.

The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant & Deborah Martin (2008)

Each of us compost stewards need our go-to composting book, this one could be yours! With a focus on various methods of composting, this will give you a lot of ideas of how you can create and use compost. The colorful graphics and photography caught by eye when choosing a book to read. Also, the book provides a gardening guide in the back, sharing how to use compost when growing various vegetables, fruit, and flowers.

Did we miss your favorite composting book? Leave the title and author’s name in the comments.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Three Ways to Compost at Schools

Guest Blogger Cher Mohring

Thinking of composting at school? Well you have options:  

1. Compost Onsite
Onsite outdoor composting is probably the easiest and least expensive option. Now when I say “easy”, I don’t mean totally maintenance free. You will need to turn the compost, make sure you have a good balance of carbon and nitrogen rich material, monitor for moisture, and most importantly teach your students and staff what should (plant based material) and should not (animal products and oily food) be composted. 

My advice to any school wanting to compost onsite is to think of it as a teaching tool and not a waste reduction activity. Start small by just collecting fruit and vegetable scraps from one grade; or garden trimmings, leaves and coffee grounds. You can always increase collection if everything is going fantastic. Check with your local government on zoning restrictions, keep it away from streams and storm drains, and make sure it does not exceed 300 square feet.

Compost Kids Field Trip at the Civic Garden Center

2. Vermicomposting (with worms!)
Vermicomposting uses special worms in a container to compost fruit and vegetable scraps. Some of the advantages are that you can actively compost year round, vermicompost is superior to just about any other compost, you can use the vermicomposting system for all kinds of experiments, and you have enough class pets for each student to name one (good luck telling them apart). Some challenges are that you need to buy worms to get started, you need to separate the finished compost from the worms when you harvest, the finished compost should be used inside, and if not managed properly you could get fruit flies.

Learning about worms is fun

3. Offsite Composting
Having organics hauled away to a commercial composting facility diverts the most material from the landfill because you are not limited by space and you can usually include animal products (meat and dairy). Before you get too excited, I feel obligated to tell you that there are limited commercial composting facilities in Southwest Ohio right now, so it will likely cost you more to have the material hauled away for composting than landfilling it.   

Whatever option you choose, be sure to educate your students about composting. If your school is in Hamilton County, Ohio, consider one of our classroom program or Compost Kid’s field trips.

We Are Here to Help
Before you get started, check out our Composting at School web page . Email or call (513-946-7737) Cher Mohring for important information about local regulations and assistance starting composting at your school.

Compost Science

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Become a Master Composter!

Guest blogger Kylie Johnson

As a fellow compost enthusiast, it’s an honor to be a guest blogger for Michelle. My love for composting began when I lived at the Ohio University Ecohouse during grad school. However, I had been composting for years before that without even realizing it! Growing up on a farm, we would throw our food scraps in a pile over the hill. I noticed that the pile would break down, but it wasn’t until grad school that I learned those food scraps were being transformed into “black gold.” 

At the Ecohouse, we had a simple 3-bin compost system made out of pallets and a worm factory for vermicomposting. The process of composting fascinated me so much that I dedicated my graduate thesis to the topic. Thanks to funding from Georgetown University and the USDA Forest Service, I was able to conduct research in Edinburgh, Scotland, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Maryland focused on the viability of composting in urban areas.

Fast forward to today. As the Green Learning Station Coordinator at the Civic Garden Center, it is a dream come true to share my passion for composting with the community by teaching basic backyard composting classes, leading field trips, and now managing the Master Composter Certification Program. Little did I know when I was first introduced to composting that there’s so much to learn that you can fill entire books on the topic! If you have basic composting knowledge and a desire to dive deeper into the topic, the Master Composter Series is for you.

Students in the 2017 Master Composter class learn to screen compost in Walnut Hills.

The Master Composter Series is a unique opportunity offered once a year at the Civic Garden Center to gain a more in-depth understanding of the composting process. Through a combination of lectures, demonstrations, and field trips, attendees are trained to become composting ambassadors in their communities. A sneak peek at some of the topics covered include:
  • In-vessel composting
  • Vermicomposting
  • Bokashi
  • Chemistry of compost
  • Biochar
  • Much more!
This series includes 20 hours of intensive composting instruction during Wednesdays in August (1, 8, 15, 22) from 9 am – 3:30 pm. Wednesday morning lectures will be complemented by afternoon field study sessions that will introduce participants to different types of composting operations in the Cincinnati area. The final piece to obtaining certification as a Master Composter is the completion of 30 volunteer hours in which participants pass on their knowledge and contribute to local composting projects.

A small fee of $40 includes 10 hours of classroom instruction, 10 hours of field study experience, and the opportunity to earn certification with perfect attendance and successful completion of 30 documented volunteer hours. Please note that this is an advanced course, some basic composting knowledge is expected.

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

Don’t miss your chance to join this unique opportunity! Contact Kylie Johnson at for more details.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Compost Impacts More Than You Think

Sometimes we need to step back from our day-to-day drudgery to really appreciate the impact of our actions. A new infographic from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) helps us see the big picture of the importance of composting. 

Go ahead, pat yourself on the back and learn how composting your banana peels and dried leaves:
  • Enhances soil
  • Protect watersheds
  • Sequesters carbon
  • Creates jobs

And much more! Wow, you really are a super hero.

The above infographic comes from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (, a national nonprofit organization working to strengthen local economies, and redirect waste into local recycling, composting, and reuse industries. It is reprinted here with permission. Should you wish to include this infographic on your website, please visit to download the original content.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Technology Meets Food Rescue

Guest Blogger Karli Wood

If you're already composting, you know the immense amount of food that can go to waste. Thanks to ever-evolving technology, you can now make an even bigger impact on wasted food, often from the comfort of your own home.

Take a look at these three apps that are changing the game when it comes to reducing wasted food, rescuing food, and feeding people.

USDA FoodKeeper - This app offers multiple tools to reduce the food you waste in your home. Considering the fact that the average American family wastes approximately $1500 a year in uneaten food, you'll be saving money and resources. With food storage guides, cooking tips, and more, you'll be a pro in no time.

Olio - Picking up steam in the US, this app connects community members who have surplus food. Did you grow too many tomatoes? Post them on Olio and rejoice as your neighbors claim them for their summer dishes.

Food Rescue US - This app connects food donors with volunteers who transfer surplus food to community kitchens and food pantries. If you volunteer to transfer food, you are directly participating in feeding hungry neighbors!

While there are many similar apps on the market currently, these three are available and ready-to-use in Cincinnati and the surrounding areas. So, what are you waiting for? Download them today and expand your food rescue horizons.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Ode to a Worm

Digging in the dirt, I am reminded of your beauty
You wriggle quickly away from my spade
Please stay!
You are the air in my soil
You make it loose and richly brown
You add the nutrients my baby plants need
Thank you, my garden friend
And Happy Mother-Father’s Day!

You know your garden soil is healthy when it is alive with worms, but did you know the micro-nutrients produced through their castings are the true stars of compost? The earthworms in our yard tunnel through the soil providing vital air while increasing the micronutrients available to our plants.

If you can’t get enough good compost, perhaps are landlocked in an apartment or condo, you may want to try vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is done inside with special worms called "red wigglers." These worms are different than our earthworms and cannot survive in the heat of our summer or our frigid winters.  Their home is a bin you can make. The worm casting they provide are dense with microorganisms that in-turn provide an abundance of micro-nutrients our plants need to grow strong and fight diseases.

If you’d like more information about these special composters, please join us at the Civic Garden Center the evening of Tuesday, June 19. We are partnering with the Civic Garden Center to hold a special worm bin workshop where you can learn how to vermicompost and can even build your own worm bin if you choose. Learn more when you click here.

Post by guest-blogger and compost-lover Jenny Lohmann

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Children’s Books to Spark Composting Curiosity

Guest blogger Angela Rivera

As parents, grandparents, teachers, and neighbors, we hope the children in our lives carry on some of the habits we teach them growing up. Composting is no exception. In today’s blog I suggest three books to share with your young ones to inspire passion about, and get them helping with, composting! All three of these books are available at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

The Little Composter by Jan Gerardi (2010) is a great resource to engage your toddler. With flipbook pages that allow for even the youngest child to partake in the book, this book reviews a few of the items we can put in the compost bin. And for those kids beginning to read, the story is written in rhyme! Although simple, if you remember back when you first started to learn about composting, answering “what should go in the bin?” was where we all began!

Compost Stew: an A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary Mckenna Siddals (2010) makes an excellent book that lists items we can compost for each letter of the alphabet. The reading level is for upper elementary, but the content is aimed at younger elementary aged children, making it a great read-aloud story! With this book, you can encourage children to take responsibility for where they should put their food scraps.

Garbage Helps our Garden Grow: A Compost Story by Linda Glaser (2010) follows a group of children on their composting endeavor. The book explains how composting can divert organic material from the garbage and make something useful out of it. This is a great nonfiction text that demonstrates for your child not only what goes in our compost bin/site, but explains the entire process of how to make compost and what we can do with it!  This book is intended for upper elementary age students.

As you embark on your summer of composting, get youth involved! They are our future composters after all!

Did we miss your favorite children’s composting book? Leave the title and author in the comments. Be on the lookout this fall for a blog post about great composting books for adults! 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Three Ways to Celebrate Composting Awareness Week

Whoop whoop! Hey there, composting peeps! Did you know that this week is International Compost Awareness Week? 

Here are three easy ways to spread the composting love and celebrate this week.

  1. Give your own compost a little attention. Now is a great time to turn or aerate those piles to avoid odors and speed up your compost. As you pull all those spring weeds, toss them in the compost bin or leaf pile to reap the benefits of all that nitrogen.
  2. Tell your friends and family about our free composting class this week. On Thursday, May 10 we will be in Deer Park with a one-hour Get the Dirt on Backyard Composting. You can share the event on Facebook.
  3. Make sure everyone knows your deep love of composting by proudly displaying an “I heart Compost” magnet. If you want to pick one up for free from our office, just shoot me an email

Wear your “compost geek” badge proudly this week, fellow composters; it is our week to shine. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Does Our Prolonged Winter Affect My Compost?

Guest Post from Brad Miller

As I was taking the compost out in my winter jacket in mid-April, I started wondering how this delayed spring has impacted my compost pile. Spring has definitely been slow to arrive this year as noted by four measurable snowfalls in April.

As with most of the spring flowers and trees, the composting process in your pile has been slow to get going. No need to worry though. Warmer temperatures are arriving and your compost pile will be back on track in no time.

The optimist in me says:

Just remember to keep mixing in your food scraps and coffee grounds. Now that the weather is a little warmer, you can start turning your pile.

By fall, you will have a compost material which can be added to your gardens. 

Happy Composting!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Are You a Zen Master?

Be a Zen master of your yard. You have the gift to use nature to reduce non-point source pollution when you choose to backyard compost. More on that after this commercial break…
It’s time to forward this post to your friends and family as we are once again holding our yearly compost seminars. Quick! It’ll only take a minute. Now! J

Okay, back to reducing potential pollution through composting.
So March 22 happens to be World Water DayI’m glad water has its own day, Earth Day just has so many issues already! This year’s theme is Nature for Water’ – exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century - this is where composting comes in.
When you add compost to your yard, you improve the soils ability to absorb and retain water. Compost is light and fluffy and acts like a sponge, compared to our typical clay-heavy, compacted soil. When we have downpours, amended soil that is rich in compost has a greater ability to absorb more of the rain leaving less run-off going into our storm sewers and streams. 
Compost enriched soil has the added benefit of providing nutrients to our plants and strengthens their root systems so they can grow deeper. Compost gives you beautiful, healthy plants with less water and fertilization. Using less fertilizer also reduces the chance runoff will have chemicals that contribute to non-point source pollution in our water ways.
Congratulations my wise, forward-thinking friends.

Guest post from compost aficionado, Jenny Lohmann

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Spring Composting Tips

Are you as ready as I am to jump into spring? Warmer temperatures and more rain will make your compost pile jump into action – if you follow these tips.

  1. Moisture: Watch the moisture level of your pile. All of the spring rain can add too much moisture if your pile doesn’t have good drainage. You want your pile to be as wet as a wrung out sponge. Too much water will cause the pile to go anaerobic (a.k.a. stinky).
  2. Aeration: Once temperatures warm up, aerate your pile. Food scraps tend to accumulate over the long winter months since the pile is mostly dormant. When your pile unfreezes all of those food scraps will start to decompose at once. Aerating will keep that decomposition going and speed it up.
  3. Additions: Add weeds and plant trimmings to your pile. I always have some old decorative grasses or sedums from last year to add. 

Spring is a fantastic time to start a new compost pile or maintain your old pile. Pretty soon you will want to harvest that finished compost to start new beds and for early summer planting. Take advantage of your ambitious spring gardening attitude to compost everything you can.

Happy composting!

Friday, February 9, 2018

How to Compost Logs in Your Backyard

Large logs and branches generally do not work well with most backyard composting. They take years, sometimes decades, to break down and they fill up a lot of space. But if you find yourself with a bunch of branches or large logs and want to try something new, I have an idea for you: Hugelkultur.

Hugel-what-tur? Hugelkultur is a method of building a garden bed using decaying wood. As it decays, the wood supplies nutrients to the soil and acts as a sponge, soaking up water when available and slowly releasing that water to your plants. Neato.

This is what you need: wood and other bulky material like brush and vines, a shovel, and space.

Just dig a one foot deep trench. Place hardwoods, then softwoods, and then brush into the trench. You can  mound even higher with straw, manure, and more traditional compostables. Cover the whole thing with the soil you removed to dig the trench.

Now you have a sweet Hugelkultur mound. How cool are you?

Graphic credit: Rich Soil permaculture blog.
Hugelkultur originated in Germany and Eastern Europe and means "hill culture" in German. The idea replicates what naturally happens on the forest floor- trees falling, decaying, and building the soil. 

Avoid planting on the mound for at least a few months as the material decomposing on top will steal nitrogen from the surrounding soil at first and the mound will settle some. Your Hugelkultur mound may take 10 to 20 years for the wood to slowly decompose but that is the idea. This would be a great addition to a garden with really poor soil or for someone wanting a raised bed.

For more details on Hugelkultur, check out:

Friday, January 26, 2018

Winter Scrap Pile Up

Raise your hand if your food scrap collection looks like this in the winter.

January teased us in Cincinnati, oscillating between absolutely frigid to almost balmy weather. I can take scraps out in snow or even cold, but freezing rain or biting winds? Nope. Those banana peels will just have to spend another day or two hanging out in my kitchen.

Although sometimes challenging, composting in winter has its benefits. The freeze and thaw actually breaks down your food scraps. And stockpiling all of those food scraps will mean when the warm weather hits for good in the spring, your pile will kick into high gear.

Follow these tips for winter composting and before you know it, spring will arrive.

Happy winter composting!!!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Join a Special Screening of Anthony Bourdain Documentary

40% of food produced in America is wasted each year.  

While composting is a powerful action we can take to reduce food going to the landfill, we would rather see food eaten if possible. You can be part of the solution.

A recent documentary produced by Anthony Bourdain brings attention to the problem of wasted food and the steps toward change. You can see a special screening of “Wasted: The Story of Food Waste” on January 28, at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati.

We’ll be sponsoring the event, alongside our partners: Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar, Edible Ohio Valley, La Soupe, Ohio River Valley's Chefs Collaborative, and The Madhouse Vinegar Co.

We hope you’ll join us for this screening and panel discussion, and walk away armed with more tools to fight wasted food.