Earth Day 2017: EG Soil Event

Update 4/22:  This event has been postponed to Sunday, April 23rd at 3-5 PM due to the weather.  All other details of the event remain the same.

There aren’t many better ways to spend Earth Day than getting your hands in the soil and learning about gardening at a community farming project. Join Everybody Grows and DC Fire and Emergency Medical Services on Saturday April 22nd from 3:00-5:00 PM for an open volunteer session at the fire station farm at Engine 26 at 1340 Rhode Island Avenue Northeast DC (don’t forget the northeast part!).   This is an all ages event and everybody is welcome!

The main tasks of the day will all be soil related.  We will be adding garden soil to our new raised beds we constructed with Sidwell Friends Middle School students.  We will also be amending the older beds with compost and worm castings.  All soil is locally sourced from Veteran Compost.

While we will be providing a limited number of tools, we encourage you to bring your favorite bucket and shovel, especially if you are bringing young children.   Wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty!  For any questions email and

See you in the garden!



Israel Chicken Habitat Compost System Report

Introduction: Urban Master Composter Certificate

I had the privilege of taking the Urban Master Composter course in Washington DC this past fall.  I highly recommend this course to anybody interested in urban agriculture or composting.  The class provides a great overview of many techniques to make compost and covers the science underlying these processes.   It also provides hands on experience at some of the best urban farms and compost systems in the DC area and access to the innovative leaders and teachers that run these projects.  You can learn more about attending this course and other workshops through DC Parks and Recreation by clicking here.

As part of the Urban Master Composter certification, you are are required to complete volunteer hours at community compost sites.  Below is a report to the other members and teachers of the DC Urban Master Composter Class about a compost project I worked on in Israel.  I wrote it for an advanced audience, so I do apologize if the references are obscure or the language is too technical.  I am currently editing a video about this project that will be more accessible to everybody.

Chicken Habitat Compost System Report

Dear Master Composters,

I had great experience last month getting a Permaculture Design Certificate at Kibbutz Lotan Center for Creative Ecology in the south of Israel.  I want to share with all of you about a compost project I helped design and implement.

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The Ecovillage at Kibbutz Lotan


I was recruited by a staff member, Merav, to help with their combined chicken habitat and eight bin compost system. The system was inspired by the chicken tractor of Geoff Lawton that we saw in a video during Christian’s class. The first part of the process is to first give vegetarian food scraps, garden waste, straw, and nitrogen fixing plants to the chickens, who eat it and shred it and add manure.  All of these actions occur in an area connected to the chicken coop.20151227_141554 20151227_141605 compost chickens


Then the combined materials go into open compost bins in the system along with other added materials. During the entire process the chickens are nourished by eating the insects that are part of composting.

When Merav came to me, she was wondering why the piles were not heating up and why it was taking so long to make compost. Fortunately for her, she had a DC urban master composter available to help her.  The first issue I identified was that the pile was much too dry. Based on the piles’ appearance, smell, and cool temperature, I also guessed that they were too high in carbon, and would benefit from added nitrogen.

After I wrote  down my initial evaluations and ideas, we tested a pile with much more nitrogen than they had been including. We used sources such as goat manure and food scraps. Carbon came from the ground of the coop and buckets of straw. We used about a two to one ratio. We also thoroughly watered every layer as we built the pile. The next day, this pile gave us a 67 degrees celsius (153 F) reading, so we knew we were on the right track. The dryness of the desert air there made watering an essential task.

Remaining issues included that the compost system was hard to turn. Unlike the removable walls of the compost knox system from Urban Farm Plans, the walls of this system were fixed in place. This meant turning the pile was much harder and less efficient than the piles we turned during class at Wangari Gardens for instance. The lack of insulation from the floor and other piles also caused frequent mixing with materials from the ground, from the trees above. and with other piles. Another issue was that the current system was not so convenient for the farm manager to take compost from, so we sought to better align the curing pile with the door to the coop.

Merav and I developed and constructed a new system that addressed these issues. We reused the pallets as a base of the pile and found wood boards from a constructions site to be the floor and walls.
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With a wide drill bit, we added holes to the floor of the bottom of the system to help with drainage and aeration. By creating slats in the back walls with a jig 20160125_141026saw and fixing blocks of woods to the floor, we produced removable doors between the piles.
The space for the final pile has a removable back wall so the farm manager can remove cured compost easily without having to enter into the main area of the system that is fenced off and locked. There is space designated to add a compost sifter into the system before the last pile, and the staff at the kibbutz will construct it once pile is cooked enough to require sifting.


My last day on the kibbutz, Merav and I filmed a video about how to use the system. Once I edit the clips we filmed together, I will be sure to share it with all of you.

I am happy to answer any questions and receive any feedback about this project. I look forward to seeing all of you this spring in DC.20160127_153700

EG Tour of Blue Plains

Far too few people have any idea of what happens to water after we use it.  Before you read this blog, ask yourself the question: what happens to the waste we flush down the toilet, from your shower or sink, or that gets washed into storm drains?

My answers to these questions recently became a lot more detailed and accurate.  On November 19th, I organized a tour of the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility.  If you live in Washington DC or in several neighboring counties, your water ends up at Blue Plains.  This massive and impressive facility has the important job of processing 370 million gallons of water per day before releasing it back into the Potomac River.   The facility uses a complex, multi-step process to remove or reclaim everything other than water from our sewage.

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I was joined by Gail, a few old friends, and eight members of the DC Park and Recreation’s Urban Master Compost Course I am currently enrolled in.

Heide: “Here is the principal concern I took away from this visit:  how to educate the public, AND change the labeling on such things a ‘wipes,’ so that people become more responsible in disposing of them, or even better, how to convince manufacturers to move toward biodegradable products that can then be truly flushed.”

Maria: “In DC the issue of littering is also huge. I already hate it aesthetically but now I realize how much more important it is [because litter is washed into the wastewater system and causes problems]. I found myself looking around for street littering this morning! It was a fantastic tour and I hope more people take it. I will try to spread the word”

Maya: “I was so impressed with the whole process. My thoughts are that we need to recruit more people for our awesome classes with Josh. If each one of us bring one person to the next program in the summer and in the next composting class, we will have almost 10 people. We can also provide a sort of mentorship.  We need to educate more people and organize a cadre of community leaders on environmental issues (gardening, composting and others).”

Gail talked to me about how she sees the change in these areas as requiring policy and economic solutions, citing the plastic bag tax that we learned on the tour made such a huge difference reducing the massive quantity of bags that inundate the system at Blue Plains.

I reflected after the tour about how no matter who you are or what you do, if you are one of the millions of people in our area, your water and waste goes to Blue Plains.  There is something deeply connective about experiencing Blue Plains when I take that perspective.  I find the idea that as a regional community we compose this giant organism that creates coordinated stream of water into the Potomac River to be awe-inspiring.  As are the incredible engineering and scientific solutions people have come up with to process that massive continual flow.

A big thanks to our excellent tour guide Yanique Richards.
I highly recommend this tour to everybody.  20151119_120914

Sheet Mulching at Engine 26

A common question that arises in raised bed gardening is what to do when you have a bed completely overgrown with weeds and grasses.  Josh Singer, the urban garden specialist with DC Parks and Recreation, recommends sheet mulching the bed.   Sheet mulching is great because it kills the weeds and grasses and improves the soil, while using just recycled and natural materials.   We put this permaculture technique into practice on Saturday at Engine 26.  I was aided by a new firefighter at the station named Henry, and Everybody Grows volunteers Joel and Liat.

Henry and I started by cutting down the tops weeds and grasses.20150829_120510

We cut back most of the weeds, particularly where they had gone to seed.  Next we added layers of cardboard.  Most shipping cardboard biodegrades safely.  It also forms a sturdy weed block.20150829_121409
We stacked the multiple layers cardboard so the overlapped to cover gaps, and we cut back the weeds that protruded from the sides.  After the cardboard, it was time for a layer of compost.  We used Leafgro compost.  Joel and Henry poured the compost directly on top of the cardboard.20150829_123106

The last layer we applied was mulch.  I got a good deal on some Earthgro Red Mulch, which is what we used here.  Even though it has coloring to make it red, it is a wood mulch and safe to use in a vegetable garden.  I expect it to work well. 20150829_133522 

By getting an early start on this process for next year, I am intentionally leaving plenty of time to adjust it or supplement it.  I will report back on our sheet mulching experiment in future blogs, so stay tuned!


Getting Started with Garden Composting

As our summer gardening finishes and we begin the transition to fall, now is a great time to start a garden composter to reuse your garden’s organic materials.   We are using a geobin composter at my school garden, which is a low maintenance, inexpensive composter designed for garden waste and a few other materials such as vegetable scraps, fruit peels, shredded cardboard, and coffee grounds.  If you use the geobin correctly, it produces no strong odor and does not attract pests, it will produce rich compost for your garden by the spring.  I definitely recommend it for a first attempt at composting if you have a small home garden.   

Not every weed or plant can go in the composter successfully.  This article gives a great overview of how to incorporate leaves in your composter and what plants to avoid.   A few quick tips from the article are to not put weeds that have gone to seed in the composter or plants that are diseased or insect infected.

Happy composting!