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Glean Organics: Composting for a better tomorrow

Glean Organics works with nature to promote a more sustainable way of life with effective composting services. By rethinking how we live, we can eliminate food waste and create natural, healthy soil for the next generation of food. We’re on a mission to make composting easier and more practical for everyone. We’re all responsible for our community’s well-being; the team at Glean Organics is dedicated to promoting that well-being with our operations. We hope you\'ll take some time to read our blog and educate yourself on the subject. Glean Organics is here to help.

Home Composting Advice

I get asked this often enough that it makes sense to just have one place to point to.

I think there is a lot of value in having the composting material in contact with the ground so wild worms have an easy time getting in there. There are myriad bacteria, fungi, insects, worms, and other critters that do the actual composting work. There are bad ones like house flies and rats but they only come around if the compost isn’t well managed. I don’t really like the tumblers and I think its harder to make good compost in them and prevent smells. Really you want some kind of bin and a pitch fork.
The ideal mix for composting material is 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen with 50% moisture. Obviously that’s a little hard to hit exactly at home but the typical backyard composter is going to have yard scraps (carbon/dry) and food scraps (nitrogen/water) to deal with. This is perfect because even though your mixture is carbon heavy your grass clippings and yard debris provide a great medium to mix food scraps into without it smelling. Ideally you’d dig down into the pile, dump your kitchen scraps, mix them a bit, and then cover with 6″-12″ of grass/compost to neutralize the smells produced by decomposing food. There are a bunch of strategies for how to best mix it but unless you have multiple bins or stop adding food/yard waste you’ll never have perfect finished compost.
I like bins and a pitch fork but “vectors” (pests) can be an issue. Keep rats out by lining the bins with hardware cloth if you need to. Two examples are a pallet compost bin or 3 bin system – having two bins side by side makes it easy to turn over (move the pile from one bin to the other) but wastes space. Yard waste like sticks and vegetable plants can be long making turning and decomposing hard. Chop them up into small pieces. With bins its important to stop filling them at some point. Let one sit for a few months while continuing to fill the other. After you take the compost out of the dormant bin start filling it again and let the other one finish composting. Sift the finished compost through 1/2″ to 1/4″  hardware cloth for the best final product. Put all of the big pieces back into the composter to inoculate the next batch.
I just have an open pile on the ground right now. Last year I made a small digester from a 55gal drum that took food/yard waste from raw to black soil in 2wks (it then needed to sit outside for a few months or be fed to worms for finishing). Either way you want to be sure everything in the pile is decomposed or it could hurt your plants.
Key points:
  • more yard waste than food waste
  • if you can take a handful and squeeze out water its too wet, if it won’t pack into a loose compost ball its too dry
  • Everything cut up into small pieces
  • turn every week ideally (adds oxygen, distributes moisture, prevents compacting)
  • if it smells add yard waste/finished compost on top and wait a couple weeks, then turn (this keeps away pests and keeps neighbors happy)

Managing carbon to nitrogen (C:N to the pros):

Gardens/yards tend to produce mostly carbon (sticks, dead plants, dry material). Lawn clippings are a good mix of carbon and nitrogen – augmented with coffee grounds and you’ll have hellfire in a few days (we regularly hit 170F core temperatures with grass and coffee). If you have to be unbalanced its probably better to be carbon heavy so there is less chance of producing off smells (nitrogen rich things tend to be full of water, too much water suffocates the aerobic bacteria and promotes anaerobic bacteria, methane production, and bad smells).

Managing moisture content:

You are shooting for 50% moisture on the inside of the compost pile. If you dig in a bit and take a handful of your compost pile you should be able to form a compost-ball that holds its shape but falls apart easily. If you can wring out water its too wet (and will smell bad). If it won’t hold a ball shape its too dry (and won’t break down very fast).

Managing Airflow:

If you have a freestanding pile, bins, or something similar you just have to make sure that you have a mix of small and large particles (say coffee grounds, food waste, and wood chips or garden debris). Too much grass or leaves will clump and smell. The same is true of food waste and other wet things. Be sure to throughly mix everything together for optimal results. Larger particles (up to 2″) helps create air pockets in the pile for fresh air to move thru. Secondly turning the pile weekly or as often as you can helps get fresh oxygen inside the pile. Compost piles act like a chimney as they heat up. Hot air rises and pulls in fresh air through all of the gaps and holes on the outside of the pile. However, as it decomposes it also settles which plugs up the gaps – that’s why its important to turn the pile (it also helps manage about every other problem you can have like too wet, too dry, etc).

Countertop Compost Bin

At home we’ve got a nice little counter top kitchen scrap container that we queue up waste in until there’s enough for me to toss it in the pile. The charcoal filter on those things are amazing but once you lift the lid the stench can knock your hat off. This is especially true since we compost everything – meat, fish, fat, anything biodegradable. I don’t care for the bokashi smell that develops overtime in those little countertop containers. No amount of rinsing seems to help.

Since you don’t want to use any harsh cleaners in something that touches compost here’s how to neutralize the smell. Wash out the bin well. Then swirl around 50/50 white vinegar (or lemon juice) and water solution and let it sit for a bit. That’s it! You don’t even really need to rinse it out. Just start tossing your scraps back into a nice clean smelling, fresh compost bin.

Tea Bags: We Need Feedback!

We need some help from you! We finally have enough castings to start packaging castings – and thanks to Green Grocer, we have a sales outlet. We’re playing around with ideas for reusable worm casting tea bags as a convenient way for you to store and use worm castings to make “tea.”

Vote: Three Packaging Options

glean tea bag packaging

glean tea bag packaging

  1. Label stapled to paper bag which protrudes from
  2. Label stapled to paper and muslin bag which are flush
  3. Casting directly in tea bag with no paper

So here are three similar bags. Included in the kit are 1/2lb worm castings, a reusable tea bag, and maybe another bag to hold the extra castings. This will make 10-15gal of compost tea and all of the packaging is biodegradable in your home compost pile (or ours if you don’t have one). MSRP is $4 and, where possible, bulk castings will be available so you don’t have to re-buy the tea bag every time.

We just want to know (answer any or all in however much detail you are willing to give):
a. Would you buy this? How about now?
b. Which package is most appealing to you (and ideally why).
c. Would you rather buy a bigger or smaller kit?

How to Send Feedback
Answer in the comments, @gleanorganics on Twitter, Glean Organics on Facebook, or email worms[shift+2]gleanorganics[dot]com. Thanks for helping!

About Compost Tea
Like the kind you drink, garden tea is simply made by steeping compost, manure, worm castings, or other microbial rich stuff in water (different materials make “better” or “worse” tea in many opinions; ours is the best ;-p). There are much more complicated methods but our tea bags have everything you need – just add water!

Feeding your plants is especially important in these hot, dry late summer months. Casting tea has the added benefit of boosting your plants immune system as well as the health of the soil in your garden. This keeps your plants happy, healthy, and productive.

Announcing in.gredients

Glean Organics is one prong of a larger…pitchfork? Anyway, forget the metaphor – the team at Brothers Lane, our parent company, has been busy plotting how we can improve ourselves while contributing to the sustainability of human life on earth. We’ve considered non-profit and for-profit endeavors; we’ll likely pursue both. We like the triple-bottom-line, for-profit model – after all, the economy drives the world and the businesses that drive the economy have a profound impact on today and tomorrow.

So we’re excited to announce our newest project, in.gredients, designed to eliminate packaging waste and food waste at the grocery store. Packaging, usually made of plastic, has a very short functional life and an incredibly long life as waste – which chokes waterways and fills the land for centuries. Food waste is yet another major issue with our modern food system. Glean Organics was created to keep food waste out of landfills, but a dirty secret of the food system is tons (actually millions of tons) of nutritious, healthy food is never eaten-it is discarded because of cosmetic problems, overly cautious Use By dates, and our general fear of food. 40 percent of what we grow is discarded. While this happens at ever step in the food chain, from farm to fork, in.gredients works to eliminate wasted food at every level. Working with local farmers, selling bulk items, and integrating into the local community in.gredients allows customers to get exactly what they need when they need it. We’re really excited to bring this project to life in Austin in 2011.

Food waste at home

One of the hardest places to reduce food waste is in our homes. Life is hectic. We know eating out isn’t that healthy. We have every intention of eating right, but often times that beautiful healthy food just rots in the fridge until we finally throw it out and buy a new stuff to start spoiling. It’s an expensive habit that only feeds microbes.
moldy cucumberWhile making a salad, I was digging through the fridge and came across this unappealing cucumber. We’ve been trained to not think twice and just toss it (ideally in the compost, but all too often in the garbage). Granted, that was my first thought…but then a little voice – that of my poor southern Italian ancestry – gave me a brilliant idea. An idea so simple that not even Billy Mays could sell a gadget to do it: cut off the bad part and eat the rest. As silly as it sounds, this is a profound lesson that we do not remember in a world of cheap ubiquitous food and hyper-cautious food safety ideas.

cucumber cleaned15 seconds later I’d sliced off the moldy face and a couple soft spots. What I was left with was a crisp, delicious cucumber for my salad. So the next time you clean out the fridge, consider whether you can save any part of that spoiling food. Be safe, but don’t be too cautious. There’s great food lurking just under that top layer of mold.