Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Composting Chicken Poop

Chicken poop straddles the line between manure you can compost and manure you need to avoid. Since chickens will eat anything (and I do mean anything) they are omnivores so you need to follow special rules if you want to compost the manure of your domestic avian friend.

Cock-A-Doodle Do’s and Don’ts
If you decide to add chicken manure to your compost, follow a few basic precautions to make sure any pathogens in the manure do not make you or your family sick.

  1. Wear gloves when handling manure.
  2. Practice hot composting techniques with manure to ensure the pile heats up enough to kill pathogens.
  3. Only use fully composted manure on your plants (nothing fresh).
  4. Wash all vegetables planted in soil that you amended with compost derived from manure.
  5. If you are susceptible to food borne illness (e.g., very young children, pregnant women) avoid eating raw vegetables planted in soil that you amended with compost derived from manure.
  6. Do not use chicken manure in vermicomposting.


Chicken-Out
Each chicken will create about two cubic feet of manure in a year. Even with a few chickens, all of that poop and associated bedding really adds up! Of course, like other birds their manure is mixed with urine in a gross weird mess (sorry to get so graphic, but what did you expect?).

If you keep chickens, you know the smell of ammonia all too well and know that you must clean up the fowl droppings often (pun intended).  

Which Comes First?
Fresh chicken manure is way too strong to apply directly to plants or even work into soil as an amendment. It would damage the plant roots and possibly kill the plant. However, chicken manure makes an excellent addition to your compost pile since it has higher levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium than most other domestic animal manures. The organisms in your compost bin will break the manure down into a soil amendment your plants will love.

After the manure has fully composted, give the compost plenty of time to cure (at least two months). Although a little extra work, composting chicken manure creates a beautiful, black crumbly material high in nutrients for your plants.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Red in My Roses

Guest Blogger, Brad Miller

I am seeing red in my roses this year and it is not from what you would think. This spring, I mixed some compost with the soil around my garden. In late May, all of a sudden, I had tomato plants popping up between my roses. 

These volunteer cherry tomato plants sprouted from seeds put in my compost. Sure, I could have pulled them as weeds, but then I would have missed out on the bounty. So far, I have picked over 50 tomatoes. 


Tomato, pepper, melon and other seeds sometimes persevere during the composting process, especially if you do not turn your pile often. Cold composting (not turning your pile) is easier although it does take longer and, as I learned, can result in an unintended surprise from using the finished compost.

If you want to prevent seeds from staying viable in your compost; try hot composting. But if you are like me and don't mind a little extra fruit and veggies, sit back, relax and let compost make its magic.

Compost-enthusiast Brad Miller is the Assistant Director of Hamilton County Environmental Services. He also maintains our office garden and compost bins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Can You Compost Paper Towels?

Paper towels: you may love them, you may hate them, but they are a part of most everyone’s life. Call me a super-freaky-hippy chick, but I try to avoid paper towels whenever possible. In my house we use cloth towels to dry our hands, wet wash cloths to clean up messes, and cloth napkins when we eat a particularly messy meal.

Even trying to avoid them, they still come in handy occasionally (I have two kids and a cat; use your imagination). So the question remains, can you put them in your backyard compost bin? The answer depends on what you cleaned up with that paper towel.

Greasy Paper Towels? Nope
If you use a paper towel to clean up oil, butter, or anything greasy do not put that towel in your compost. Oil and grease push air out of your compost, creating havens for anaerobic bacteria (the smelly kind you want to avoid). Throw greasy paper towels in the garbage.

Chemically Paper Towels? Nope
Using strong cleaning products with your paper towels? Also throw these chemical-laden paper towels in the trash. You don’t know how they will affect your macro and microorganism friends hanging out in your bin.

This also goes for paper towels covered in "green" cleaning products as well. Even green cleaners strive to kill bacteria and we do not want to invite that into our compost bin.

All Other Paper Towels? Yep
Paper towels not filled with grease or chemicals will decompose quickly in your compost bin. They are considered a brown or carbon rich material and can substitute for leaves if you are running low.  A paper towel with dirt, water, or plant-based food is perfectly welcome in your compost bin.

My, what colorful food scraps you have!
A peak inside my home kitchen collector.


In our office we collect paper towels from hand-drying and mix them into our compost bin along with our fruit and vegetable scraps. The towels decompose quickly after getting wet.


In addition to being an unapologetic hippy, I am also a pretty big cheapskate and never buy the super thick, fancy quilted paper towels. Has anyone had luck composting this kind? Leave a comment below.

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!