Local Support for Improved Home Composting

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Tompkins Weekly      9-5-16

By Adam Michaelides

The first signs of fall are here. Early apples, nights under 50 degrees, more crickets – yet, the sun is still strong, and we have plenty of 80 degree days. Before we know it, we will be bringing in the fall harvest, and tasting cider and concord grapes at the Apple Harvest Festival. In this end of summer time, there are several opportunities to become a home composter, or a better one.

Sometimes with composting, seeing is believing. At the public classes, Master Composters demonstrate the use of home compost bins. We bring food scraps, and the requisite “browns” (straw, leaves, etc.) to use to Lasagna Layer in the bin. The demo takes 5 minutes and is intended to show just how quick and easy home composting can be.



If you have been to the Ithaca Farmers Market on Saturdays, you may have seen the roadside signs advertising the last-Saturday-of-the-month Compost with Confidence classes. Sure enough, the Compost Education Program has built a NEW compost demonstration site at the Ithaca Community Gardens. There are currently eight different home compost bins on display, with the final one (a “bird’s nest” bin) in the works. The free, outdoor classes are held monthly under a shade tree at this site.

Also at the demonstration site, we show off a number of bin options available for home composting. There are tumblers, the popular Earth Machine available at Tompkins County Solid Waste, homemade bins like the welded wire and pallet bins, and others. Our three-bin system made from locust lumber scraps can be the ideal bin for residents with larger yards or gardens. Soon we will also have educational signage for each bin. The site is open 24/7 – swing by sometime and see.

For the third year, the Compost Education Program will offer an Advanced Compost Series. This year’s series will be held on three consecutive Tuesday evenings in September. Are you a backyard composter who doesn’t regularly use your compost? Or perhaps you’re a beginner composter that could use a little more knowledge to get better results? This class series is designed to help residents take their home composting to the next level. It offers Master Composter-caliber training with no volunteer requirement. We sequentially cover details about the compost process, science and practice with a focus on making and using compost without problems.

As one Master Composter and editor of this column has said, “Home composting is the ultimate sustainable action.” Why? Short to say that composting changes wastes into resources. Finished compost is black gold for anything growing. It adds hundreds of billions of beneficial soil organisms, provides slow-release nutrients for plant roots, improves clay or sandy soils, and holds water which helps tremendously during droughts.

By composting food scraps and yard debris at home, the fossil fuel consumption related to transportation, processing and infrastructure needed is completely avoided. It is this author’s humble opinion that sealing organics in plastic and shipping them to the landfill will someday be considered insane… future generations will wonder what we were thinking. In addition to the large carbon footprint (through collection, transport and processing, plus methane generated at the landfill), the resource of organic matter, which is vital for our quickly-depleting topsoil, is lost. We can do better than this!

Come find out how fun and easy home composting can be. The next 1-hour, free class is the last Saturday of September (9/24) from 12:30-1:30 p.m. at the Ithaca Community Gardens. From the 3rd Street Extension that leads to the Farmers Market, turn onto Carpenter Circle. We are on the right before you get to the gardens. Walk or bike on the Waterfront trail from downtown. The September class will cover the basics of home composting, and we will also focus on compost systems for inside the home. The last free outdoor class of the season will be on Saturday, October 29, and will focus on tips for composting over the winter. For more information, click on “classes and workshops” at ccetompkins.org/compost.

And if you are a home composter who wants to take composting to the next level, sign up for the Advanced Compost Series. Meet others who are interested in composting, and want to learn more. Classes are $5 per class, or $10 for the three-class series. Register online at ccetompkins.org/advancedseries or call Cooperative Extension at (607) 272-2292.

If you can’t come to our classes, but have questions, our Rotline (compost hotline) service is available. Contact me (Adam Michaelides) at acm1@cornell.edu or at (607) 272-2292.

The first signs of fall are here. Let’s transition now from landfilling organics to making valuable compost to feed our soils, gardens and landscape – it’s nature’s way.

Adam Michaelides manages the Compost Education Program at Tompkins County Cooperative Extension. The Compost Education Program is funded by the Tompkins County Solid Waste Management Division.

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