Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong: Mike McGrath at TEDxPhoenixville

Mike hosts the nationally syndicated public radio show You Bet Your Garden, which airs every Saturday at 11am on WHYY-FM (90.9) in Philadelphia. “You Bet Your Garden” is also the name of Mike’s column in the quarterly gardening publication Greenprints, appearing in every issue since 1998. Mike was editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine from February 1991 through December 1997. Mike’s most recent publication is The You Bet Your Garden Guide to Growing Great Tomatoes. Released in February 2012 by Fox Chapel Publishing, it’s a completely revised and updated third edition of Mike’s classic tomato tome, which was previously titled You Bet Your Tomatoes. In the mid-1970s Mike was the entertainment editor of Philadelphia’s weekly alternative newspaper The Drummer, and editor of the associated college newspaper The Daily Planet. He wrote countless feature articles for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News in the 70s and 80s, and enjoyed two brief stints at Marvel Comics; as editor of their British line in 1971 and as a writer and editor in the ‘Marvel Bullpen’ in 1979. Mike lives in the boonies of Lehigh County with his family, organic garden, and an inconsistent number of rescued cats. He plays pinball, enjoys baseball, grows way too many tomatoes, and will not eat lima beans, no matter how much you pay him.


TEDxPhoenixville, the first TEDx event in the Philadelphia region, celebrates the creative, innovative and inspiring work happening right here and all around the world. Our objective is to present thought-provoking ideas via an annual day-long event featuring compelling speakers and performers.

Welcome to Ideaville, a place where local can mean everything from our solar system to our community. A place where YOUR BACKYARD becomes a universe of amazing ideas. In 2012 TEDxPhoenixville explored your backyard from the perspective of the arts, science, technology, education and humor, and how a lively mixture of ideas and people can lead to inspiration and innovation.


In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized.*

*Subject to certain rules and regulations.

Video produced by Bob Sweeney (rlsvideo.com)

Camera Operators:
Bob Sweeney
Joel Rickenbach

17 thoughts on “Everything You Know About Composting is Wrong: Mike McGrath at TEDxPhoenixville”

  1. I believe that everething biodegradable is degradable for agriculture purpose in any scale, compost alone by nature is acompany with vermiculture. That is the reason around the trees sometime we found worns. They are part of rapid nature decomposition to Humus.

  2. "Only the leaves become the compost"
    Funny, considering I live in Florida, where there arent many leaves, and I compost without them…

  3. I agree that garbage refuse isn't necessary to imitate nature and can slow down composting, but that's not the point with composting, there are viable reasons to add organic nutrients into a compost, with the proper mixture. it's a technology that we humans use to optimize production and minimize our waste stream. the point isn't to imitate nature but to emulate her wisdom. This reminds me of Luddites. Most people do use entirely too much kitchen refuse and it is great for worm farms. However, nature effectively reuses anything organic and kitchen scrapes are an excellent source multiple nutrients, if properly mixed in the proper conditions. At the sustainable community I live in, we use all our leaves and our kitchen scraps and we actually save our urine and add this to our leaf piles, as well. it's a super nitrogen booster that also accelerates composting. It's liquid gold.

  4. As many of you have already pointed out, quite a few things he's mentioned are incorrect. His description of people putting their kitchen waste in a compost bin with no result isn't because one can't compost kitchen waste that way, it's because most people fail to add some dirt for aggregate and especially because they fail to add water and turn the compost. This is particularly important in hot, dry climates (such as the one in which I live). All kitchen waste (including meat scraps) goes into my compost bin (really a plywood stall in my garden), as well as grass clippings, cardboard, paper and rabbit poop and urine (they're suspended in their cages over the compost). Throughout the summer I'll occasionally shovel in some dirt, water the compost now and then, as well as turning it 2-4 times in a period from spring to fall. Every fall, I collect leaves and spread a thick layer on the garden after harvest, when we actually get moisture to aid in the decomposition. In the spring I spread the compost over it and till everything in. My compost breaks down just fine. The only exceptions are eggshells and avocado pits. Both take longer to break down (about 2 years for the pits, but they release a lot of nutrients, so just ignore them) and the shells get broken up in the tilling and deter slugs from my garden while they slo-release their calcium to the soil. If you want to boost this process, go to the gas station, buy a couple cartons of bait worms and dump them in after you've turned your compost. Active culture yogurt will also accelerate the process.

  5. You don't really have to shred the leaves – they just take longer to decompose if you leave them whole – sincerely, someone who has large leaves that won't suck up into the leaf blower attachment.


Leave a Comment

9 + 2 =