Thinking Green [Thumb]: The IKM Compost Garden

Thinking Green [Thumb]: The IKM Compost Garden

“The Earth laughs in flowers.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson



In the United States, an estimated 95% of food waste that could be composted ends up in landfills and incinerators, according to the EPA. As IKM looks to change our office habits to make a difference in our community and in our world, we are changing the ways we look at trash. In our new office, each individual workstation is now equipped with only a recycling bin. Trash cans are still available, but in central locations in the office. But what about that banana peel that is left over from breakfast, or the remaining core from a juicy apple that was part of lunch?

In a combined effort from IKM’s Sustainability and Healthy Living Cohorts, our office is reducing the amount of organic and compostable waste that ends up in our trash, and turn it into a something green. The goals of this initiative include:

1.) Provide a waste option for organics

2.) Compost those organics into useable nutrient rich gardening mediums

3.) Grow fresh produce that will be available to the office

One benefit of the move to 11 Stanwix is that our office waste stream is more centralized which allows for easier evaluation. We have identified composting as a method to cut down on the volume of waste destined for landfills.The initiative is underway as the group researches composting options, prepares the IKM garden plot, and develops a garden layout while referencing many garden planning techniques. The IKM garden plot is a 10 foot by 10 foot raised garden bed located on the west grounds of 11 Stanwix Street. Access to the garden plot and an adjacent greenhouse is part of IKM’s lease at our new office at 11 Stanwix Street.

We identified three composting options:

Good: On-site self-maintained composting:

On-site composting would be difficult on several points. First, we would have to identify a proper location that would not attract pests. Second, the material and labor costs would be inconvenient on a small scale. Third, we produce a lot of “green” compost, which is high in nitrogen. On-site we would not be able to source as much “brown” or carbon rich compost material. This imbalance between nitrogen and carbon would cause the compost not to break down and would produce undesirable smells.

Better: Off-site self-maintained composting:

Off-site composting would address material and labor costs as well as chemical balance. We would also conveniently combine our compost with one of our individual team member’s home compost pile.

Best: Off-site composting service:

…And then we found an off-site composting service called Shadyside Worms. This service will come and pick up our food waste and bring it to a composting facility where it will be processed. We then can receive composted material without the labor or space requirements of the other options.


All in a lunch break’s work:


What’s on the menu?

Through internal knowledge, research, and planning the group has developed a list of items and a garden plan that will be grown in the plot this year. The goal is to provide a variety of herbs, vegetables, fruits, and flowers that could be used in the office by individuals or during Happy Hour gatherings. These plants include basil, mint, spinach, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, watermelon, and a variety of peppers. Marigolds and other flowers will be planted throughout to help with pest control and to add color to the plot. Using garden space planning, plant pairing, solar orientation strategies, and natural pest deterring techniques, the group plans to plant in a layout that will maximize the use of the space in the lot and provide a quality yield for the office to enjoy.

An open planting event will be held this spring for anyone in the office interested to plant the garden from seeds and seedling plants. Simple maintenance tasks such as watering, weeding, and tilling will be required throughout the growing season. And once the garden starts producing, assistance will be needed to harvest. Whether it is composting a left-over orange peels, getting your hands dirty, or enjoying a tomato from the IKM garden, this sustainable and healthy living initiative is something that everyone in the office will be able to participate in and enjoy.


Considering eco-friendly gardening? We recommend Pennsylvania Resource Council  and Penn State Extension to get out of the weeds.

Guest author: Kara Berteotti

Outdoor & Gardening Enthusiast, Construction Detail Connoisseur, Multi-tasking Mother of 2

Mantra: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller

Guest author: Aaron Perelstein

Fledgling Pittsburgher, Silver Medal Healthy-rider (Top 100), Proud Pomeranian Papa

Mantra: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden