Friday, August 18, 2017

Why I Love Black Soldier Fly Babies in my Compost

Guest Blogger Cher Mohring

Two of my favorite things: baby animals and free stuff!

On my regularly-scheduled day to take the office food scraps out to the compost bin, I was excited to discover BABY BLACK SOLDIER FLIES! 



If video does not play in your browser, follow this link:

 
Ok, so baby black soldier flies are technically called “larvae,” and some people may even refer to them as “maggots,” which doesn’t sound as cute, but the real reasons for my excitement were...

Black soldier fly larvae (BSFL) are insatiable feeders of nitrogen-rich decaying materials, like food scraps and manure. In fact, some commercial swine and poultry farms use them to break down their abundance of animal manure.

People actually sell them. I’m not too concerned about someone breaking into our compost bin because the average cost I find online is $9/100, depending on size, but we got them without needing to use any resources to package and transport them.

BSFL are also an excellent source of sustainable protein for animals, like chickens, fish, etc. Some people even buy them to feed wild birds. (I’m going to stick to birdseed myself.)

The main reason I wrote this blog post is so that my fellow composters don’t freak out if they find the larvae or adults in or around their compost bins. The larvae can be rather big, reaching 3/4” in length. The adult fly is also big (about 5/8”) and closely resembles a wasp.  But have no fear – they don’t sting and since they do not consume any food as adults, they don’t even have a mouth to bite you.




I’m not the only one excited about these amazing insects.  Since you obviously like blogs, check out this Black Soldier Fly Blog.  

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

King of the Compost

Guest Post by Joy Landry.

It was a rare August day in Cincinnati – unseasonably sunny, dry and comfortable. Perfect composting weather! As I approached my backyard compost pile, shovel in one hand, rake in the other, something flitting about the pile caught my eye. As I drew near, its majestic deep gold and black coloring was unmistakable – a monarch butterfly had alighted on the compost, declaring the pile its temporary throne.



I was mesmerized by the insect’s simple beauty and its regal purpose as one of nature’s pollinators. As it flexed its wings, I hoped it planned to stay, at least long enough for me to capture its photo. Alas, when I returned less than a minute later, the monarch had floated away to my neighbor’s backyard, no doubt attracted to his native wildflower patch, awash in the colorful glory of the fading summer.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, the monarch butterfly is the only butterfly known to make a two-way migration like birds do. These beautiful insects need milkweed, their primary food source, to fuel their long flight to Mexico where they overwinter.

Would you like to attract the monarch butterfly to your backyard? Now is the perfect time of year to invite this lovely insect to visit your compost pile, garden, and yard next spring. Take advantage of the fall weather to plant milkweed in your yard. The Cincinnati Nature Center has a wonderful partnership with Graeters and Jungle Jims   -Milkweeds for Monarchs - where residents can pick up a free packet of milkweed seeds. You can also request a packet of seeds online. By providing its necessary habitat in your own backyard, you can help save this special insect from extinction. And perhaps a monarch butterfly will declare itself King of your Compost Pile, if only for a few moments.

 

Joy Landry is the public relations specialist for Hamilton County Environmental Services. Photo courtesy of National Geographic Kids website.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

A Composting Tip for the Dead of Summer

Y’all, I get super lazy this time of year (and apparently take on a nice, southern drawl). In Cincinnati the weather is hot as blue blazes and only welcoming if I am walking straight to a swimming hole. I will admit, I do not want to work in the garden or in my compost bin. I do not want to exercise, unless you count lifting an icy sweet tea to my lips.

But what is a composter to do? Work needs gettin’ done. My compost bin is especially wet and heavy with all of the watermelon rinds and fresh fruit and veggie scraps I have added over the last month. That bin needs air.

It is time to aerate my compost bin.

I have discovered my summer power hour. Right after the sun comes up, before everything is hot as Hades. Before the mosquitos wake up. Power hour is where it's at.

I have always been impressed with farmers who wake up super early and get more accomplished before breakfast than I do typically all day. Or those amazing people out running before the sun comes up with motivation I never imagined I could possess. But now I get it.

Just do it.

When those first sunrays start peeking through the curtains, get out of bed before your brain convinces you to roll back over. Swallow a drink of juice or a cup of coffee, put on your shoes, grab your aerator, pitch fork or shovel, and walk to your compost bin. It will take less than 10 minutes to plunge that aerator in and send vital air to the microorganisms breaking down your compost. They will whoop with delight and start eating your banana peels, watermelon rinds, and old plants twice as fast.

Then you can sashay back to your house with the satisfaction that your microorganisms will spend the rest of the day working on your compost while you lounge by the pool.

Stay cool out there, composters!

This cow and I have a lot in common.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Master Composter Class Opportunity in August


Do you love composting? I mean really, really love composting? Do you love learning? Then you should consider taking the Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati’s Master Composter class in August.

The class spans four Wednesdays in August (2, 9, 16, and 23) with class from 9 am to 3:30 pm each day. You will learn both in a classroom setting (at the beautiful Civic Garden Center location) and go on fun field trips. You’ll take a deep-dive into the world of composting, and by the end you will be able to offer sound composting advice to everyone you meet at parties.

For additional information contact Kylie Johnson or call the Civic Garden Center at (513) 221-0981. Or check out the Civic Garden Center’s website.

Bonus: Michelle Balz and Jenny Lohmann from the District will be teaching a few segments of the class. We hope to see you there!


 
 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Kiss the Ground

Do you have any friends or family who refuse to see the natural beauty and regenerative benefits of composting? Share this amazing video from Kiss the Ground, a California non-profit dedicated to promoting composting and soil regeneration.

The combination of easy-on-the-eyes celebrities and simple graphics make this a very convincing video. Watch it and feel good about your own composting efforts. Share it to convince others to join the revolution!


  

Check out Kiss the Ground's website for more information.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Secret Ingredient for Speeding Up Leaf Bin Compost


You know that feeling when you have found an amazing, tucked-away restaurant but you worry if you tell anyone about it, it won’t be so secret anymore. That is how I feel about this secret, but since I like you all so much, here it goes...

Coffee grounds and leaves make magic. They are a match made in heaven. I am not talking about the small amount of grounds you create with your home coffee pot. To really make an impact, you need to source your grounds from places that make enough coffee to caffeinate hundreds of people a day.

Your friendly neighborhood coffee house.

Recently, a friend of mine made a trip to a Starbucks for her daily sweet coffee fix and asked if they had any used coffee grounds. Instead of the usual neat package of grounds, they gave her a huge garbage bag full. Luckily for me, she was willing to share and dropped off half the bag for my leaf bins.

I’ve been thinking about “cheating” with my leaf compost bins for a few months now. I have mostly oak leaves and while they are showing a steady progression, I want to speed it up.

Coffee grounds just begging to meet up with my leaves.


Bulk coffee grounds add a condensed punch of nitrogen to very carbon heavy leaf bins and will speed up decomposition of the leaves. I layered the grounds in one leaf bin with leaves I moved from a smaller bin. Amazingly, there were enough grounds to also spread on my other leaf bin. As a side bonus, now my leaf bins smell like delicious coffee.

I added the grounds in layers with my leaves and weeds.
So, next time you want to give your leaf bin compost a boost, stop by your local coffee shop and politely ask it they have any used grounds they could give you. Just save some for me, please. J

Monday, May 22, 2017

The 411 on Compost Tea


Post courtesy of Guest Blogger Mike Lee, author of the Compost411.com blog.
 
A batch of bubbling compost tea.
 
Generations of gardeners have used compost teas to benefit plants and soil. Making your own compost tea can stretch the impact of your compost on your yard and garden, bringing different benefits to plants and soils.

Let’s start with the basics: what is compost tea and how does it work? Simply put, compost tea is water that has been exposed to compost. Compost teas in the past were made by letting compost soak in water. Gardeners then strained out compost debris from the water, using the liquid to water gardens or spray on plants. Today’s organic farmers, gardeners, and scientists studying plants and soils have discovered making compost tea with “active aeration” (in short, bubbling) helps release even more beneficial bacteria from compost into the liquid. Sending air bubbles into the compost tea brew increases the amount oxygen available in the water. This means the aerobic bacteria that seem to most benefit plants and soils can thrive while the compost tea is brewing.
 
That brings us to how compost tea works to benefit your plants and soils: “Steeping” compost in water releases microbes and water soluble nutrients into the liquid. These can benefit soil fertility (with vitamins and nutrients) and plant health (some compost teas sprayed on plants seem to help control diseases and create healthier plants). There are many possible benefits from the mix of nutrients and microbes in compost teas; in fact, farm and garden researchers continue cutting-edge scientific studies to figure out exactly why many plants seem to so greatly enjoy their compost teas.
This type of sack is perfect for brewing homemade compost tea.
 
Home gardeners have long brewed compost teas by letting compost steep in water, usually with the compost kept in some sort of “teabag.” Some gardeners continue this method, using materials as simple as a mesh bag to hold the compost and a five-gallon bucket to hold the brew. Small, bucket-sized aerators are available for home gardeners wanting to add more air while the compost tea is brewing; this is the most recommended brewing method by today’s garden researchers and organic farming experts. Certified organic farmers follow certain restrictions for applying compost and compost teas to edible fruits and vegetables; if you would like to use compost tea in the home garden, check with your local garden center or university extension office for compost tea application recommendations.

The gardener wanting to make her own compost tea for the first time can locate many compost tea kits with instructions for proper brewing. These kits usually include the essentials for making a good compost tea: compost tea bags, buckets, and aerators. If you decide to brew your own compost tea, remember that compost is still one of the most important ingredients; be sure to use your best, high-quality compost. Compost made from vermicomposting (worm bins) is often recommended for brewing up your own compost tea.

A lot of resources checked for this one, including:
http://www.ext.colostate.edu/sam/nl/16-spring.pdf
http://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/soils/vermicompost-tea/
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/douglas/sites/default/files/documents/hort/WhyUseCompostTea.pdf
http://extension.oregonstate.edu/lane/horticulture/documents/25gallonRubbermaidbrewerplans_2_.pdf

Monday, May 8, 2017

Compost! Healthy Soil, Healthy Food

Oh happy day, fellow composters! It’s our holiday – International Compost Awareness Week.

International Compost Awareness Week is celebrated each year in the first full week of May and is the largest and most comprehensive education initiative of the compost industry. This year, the theme is Healthy Soil, Healthy Food and centers on the need for compost as a component of healthy soil.
 
 

If the saying "you are what you eat" is true, I want to grow my fruits and vegetables in soil amended with compost. Compost provides nutrients and helps plants pull minerals from the surrounding soil. Read more on how compost heals you soil here.

Here are five other reasons to love compost:
  1. Compost will cut down your watering requirements.
  2. Compost helps maintain healthy plant growth.
  3. Compost helps improve the structure of clay and sandy soils.
  4. Using sustainable soil-enriching composts helps prevent erosion of valuable topsoil without depleting wildlife habitats.
  5. Compost reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizers.

So raise a glass of (compost) tea and toast with me to our favorite pastime, composting!
 
Visit the Composting Council site for more information on International Compost Awareness Week.

Monday, April 24, 2017

How to Discreetly Compost with a Trench


Shhh!
 
Nosey neighbors? Annoying homeowners association? You can compost in your backyard for free without anyone knowing.

Composting in a pit or a trench allows you to:
  • Improve poor soil
  • Compost without worry of smells or attracting raccoons and other furry critters
  • Spend $0 to compost

How to Compost in a Trench
  1. Dig a pit or a trench as deep as you can comfortably dig. One foot deep is perfect. It can be as long or wide as you need.
  2. Place food scraps and leaves into the trench, leaving 5 inches of air space to ground level.
  3. Fill the rest of the pit or trench in with soil.
If you do not have enough material to fill your trench right away, cover food scraps with soil, leaves, or a tarp. Exposed food scraps will attract flies and other hungry creatures to your compost.


Cold Composting

Trench composting is cold composting so it will take longer to decompose than in a compost bin or pile. You will also not need to harvest the finished compost. It is already there, incorporated into your soil.

Cool.

 
Free! Woo-Hoo!

Of course, aside from the cost of a shovel, which most people already have, trench and pit composting are free.

But, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Yep. Trench composting won’t cost you money, but it will cost you time and sweat while digging a big hole. Or a bunch of holes. Or a bunch of trenches.

You will have to dig. A lot.

 
I Buried My Food Scraps, Now What?

The decomposing food scraps could steal nitrogen from whatever you plant, so either wait a year to plant anything on top of a composting trench or add fertilizer.

If you want to get fancy with your hole of decomposing food scraps, check out these sites:



 
A different kind of buried treasure
 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spring Brings Green

Guest post by Brad Miller

With the start of spring, everything begins to green and we see many beautiful colors. With your compost pile, color is also very important. The two most important colors for your compost pile are green and brown.

Green materials, such as vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds, and fresh grass trimmings provide nitrogen to your compost pile. 



Brown materials include leaves, straw, and shredded newspaper provide much needed carbon.


 









Ideally, you would like to have a three to one ratio of browns to greens. Three parts brown for every one part green. Enjoy the beautiful spring colors and your compost pile as the weather turns nice.

Friday, March 31, 2017

How Compost Heals Your Soil


Guest blogger Charlie Gonzalez
 
Compost is often described as a panacea for improving all types of soils. Whether you have clay or sandy soils, adding compost (or organic matter) improves the soil structure, and increases its ability to retain moisture and nutrients.

Storing Water for Drier Days
Organic matter acts like a sponge, soaking up excess water and nutrients, and making them available when plants and soil life need them. For every 1% increase in organic matter, soils can store an additional 1/2 gallon of water per square foot (that's 25,000 gallons per acre).

Keeping Carbon Where It's Needed
Not only that, but did you know that organic matter is 58% carbon, and that by adding compost to your soil you are sequestering carbon? In fact, leading soil scientists estimate that if we increased the carbon content of the planet's soils by just 2%, it would offset 100% of our current greenhouse gas emissions (Source: Dr. Rattan Lal).

While we should certainly continue pursuing ways to reduce our carbon footprint by moderating our consumption and increasing efficiency, the excess carbon in the atmosphere still needs to go somewhere. The solution is in building healthy soil!

Turning Waste into a Resource
In the United States we waste 40% of all food produced - an estimated 133 billion pounds each year. Only 3% of that wasted food is currently diverted from landfills. So that other 97% breaks down anaerobically and contributes nearly 25% of all our methane emissions!

By composting you are converting that waste into a valuable resource, building healthy soil and mitigating climate change. That's something to celebrate!

Keep up the good work!



 
For a wonderful short film on the amazing power of soil, check out “The Soil Story”.

 

Charlie Gonzalez is an intern at the Hamilton County Recycling and Solid Waste District. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and a business certificate in Sustainable Agriculture Management from Cincinnati State. He is about to complete the M.A. in Urban Sustainability and Resilience at Xavier University, where his thesis is focused on composting.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Grass, Butterflies, Rain Barrels, and Composting?

Guest post from compost-fanatic, Jenny Lohmann.

Grass: I’m not talking about the grass you mow or the grass some states have legalized. I am speaking of ornamental grass, the tall reedy type. I never cut my pampas grass back in the fall. I love the way it looks in comparison to the stark winter landscape especially when blanketed in snow. Of course this year, I never got the chance to gaze upon a snowscape and it is time to cut the dead as new life emerges from the soil.

Butterflies: Little did I know I have been helping the butterfly population in this yearly routine. According to a recently read article on butterflies, some butterfly chrysalis overwinter in ornamental grasses as well as perennials therefore we should not cut them back in the fall. I’ve been a butterfly hero without even knowing it!




 
Rain Barrels: As a devout re-user, I have installed a few rain barrels to my downspouts. I use them to give my plants and compost non-chlorinated drinks during the growing months. During the winter, they go into storage as do my other garden tools. I recently pulled one out to assist in yard clean up. They’re perfect transport for the tall grasses I just cut back.

My rain barrel came from Save Local Waters' rain barrel art project auction. You can get one for your home too either by bidding online or going to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden’s Party for the Planet on April 20. If you do go, please stop by and say hi.  We set up every year at this fun and free event.






Composting: Back to my pampas grass and composting. If you’re a seasoned composter, you know these types of reedy plants are not quick to breakdown but they do offer “fluff” or air pockets in your compost bin. However, sometimes you just want to get rid of the reedy plants and twigs from your property. If you happen to live in a community that picks up your yard trimmings and composts them then congratulations. Mine does not L

Fortunately, this great county organization (us) has contracts with private companies so you can take unwanted yard trimmings to a drop off where they will be composted and guess what? It opens this weekend! You can find all the details here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Confessions of a Soon-To-Be Composter


Guest blog post from future composter, Karli Wood
 
Prior to starting work at Hamilton County, I had admittedly never composted. From an outsider’s perspective, it seemed confusing and labor-intensive.

After starting to work here, I can safely say that it’s neither.

40% of food in America is tossed in the trash, clogging landfills, not feeding people who need it, and not maximizing the power of food.

When you eat fresh produce, scraps are inevitable. Avocado skins, banana peels, and much more are part of the daily output when you make your own meals.

Separating Food Scraps is Easy
I always felt wasteful throwing these items away, but never realized how simple it was to divert them.

Each day at work, when I have a banana, I save the peel until I return to the lunchroom. Then I simply drop it into our kitchen collector.

When I bring in avocado to top my lunch, I drop the skin into the collector.

When I’m suffering from all-too-common Cincinnati allergies, I toss my tea bag into the collector.

Our Small Actions Create Big Change
These small actions may seem insignificant, but imagine over the course of a year how those everyday items add up.

It’s one thing to throw food scraps into the collector, but I can’t wait until the weather (consistently) warms so I can jump into the composting fun. I want to directly see where my food scraps are going, and what they’re turning into.

Thanks to working at Hamilton County Environmental Services, I can fully see that “small” tasks can have a large impact.


Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
-Vincent Van Gogh
 
 
 
 
 

 

Friday, February 17, 2017

Is Mother Nature in Menopause?!

If you know personally or have heard about the symptoms related to menopause, then you probably understand where I’m going with this. Last weekend I was out turning over my compost as I did three weeks before. I’ve been cleaning out garden beds as well, happy to be outside in the dead of winter.


Typically I never turn my pile in the winter and even if I wanted to (I don’t) it is frozen solid, but not this year. Mother Nature has kicked Old Man Winter out. Sure, he’s been allowed to come back here and there but not without a price to pay. Mother has been wreaking havoc with tornados and flooding while old man winter pays her back by dumping huge amounts of snow.

Moldy pineapple and birthday flowers in the center.

Luckily for our area, we haven’t been in the middle of their fight, just on the fringes. The hot flashes affecting us have allowed my compost pile to cook even though the calendar says February. My pumpkin from Halloween is but a mere stem and a bit of orange mush, there are a couple old hollowed out corn cobs to be found, as well as moldy skin of a pineapple, but the peels of other fruits and veggies as well as my coffee grounds have been transformed into what we all seek: that lovely organic matter-compost.


Pumpkin stem at the bottom. Can you find the millipede and worms?


Like a frightened child I wonder what Mother will do next and if it will have a negative impact on me. Will her banishment of Old Man Winter (except for a few short visits) and hot flashes lead to a change in what insects I have to deal with in my garden this summer, or other issues? Dear readers, if you have knowledge of what we can expect, please do share. Meanwhile, I’m going out to play in my compost pile.

Guest Blogger,

Jenny Lohmann

Friday, February 10, 2017

Compost Experiment: Can You Compost Paper Muffin Liners?

Guest Post from compost-lover Cher Mohring
 

I love a yummy lemon poppy seed muffin!



But what about the paper liner?
 
 
Can you compost it?  Let’s see . . .
 
 
First, I put the liner in a plastic mesh bag and buried it in the office worm bin.

 
Five days later...
 
When I check on it 5 days later I found some hungry worms in the bag. And the liner was noticeably smaller. So I reburied it.
 
Then, five more days later...
 
Not as many worms, but a little bit of liner left, so I decided to bury it for a third time.
 
By day 14: no worms, and no liner!
 
The answer to my question . . .YES you can compost paper muffin liners!
 
 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Who Else Wants to Build a Compost Garden?

If you are like me, you spend a fair amount of time in the winter dreaming of the warmer days to come when you can get out in the garden and get your hands dirty. Recently, I visited a community garden in Walnut Hills that included a really cool garden I had never seen before: an African Keyhole Garden.

Why is this special? This type of garden bed has a compost bin in the center to provide water and nutrients to the surrounding plants.

A compost bin in the center of a raised garden bed. Brilliant!

We all know the fantastic benefit compost has for our soil. But I never considered actually building a garden around a compost bin.

African Keyhole Gardens originated in (you guessed it) Africa as a way to provide families with small-scale vegetable gardens. The climates where these gardens flourish are hot and dry and the soil is very poor quality. With African Keyhole Gardens people build a circular bed around a compost bin. By adding food scraps and other materials to the bin, the surrounding bed receives a steady supply of water and nutrients.

The “Keyhole” piece comes in because the bed is not a complete circle. A keyhole walkway gives access to the center compost bin.

Here are a few photos of the garden in Walnut Hills.
 


 
A shout out to Gary Dangel, community garden enthusiast and fellow composting nut with Elevate Walnut Hills  for giving me the tour! It was Gary's idea to weave the compost bin out of grapevines with a very pretty result.

If you want to build your own African Keyhole Garden, I recommend checking out the creative and varied designs here.