Monday, April 20, 2009

Earth Day Tip #13: Composting!

I'm sorry, but I get very excited about composting and this blog is making me very happy! I suppose it's because eliminating waste is something that I constantly think about and I feel composting is such an easy and effective thing to do to help the environment. And you get to do it with worms!!! It's like being a kid again!

Organic waste in landfills is wasted space and it decomposes to release methane gas, which contributes to the greenhouse effect. By composting our food waste, we can eliminate around 13% of methane gas from the ozone! Now that's effective green-ing!

For those of you lucky enough to have homes with actual gardens and space, you can buy a compost system (some without worms) to turn your food waste into fertilizer. There are many different designs, types and sizes, so I'm sure you can find one that suits you best.

When I decided last year that I wanted to try composting in Manhattan, I did a ton of research. Again, space was an issue and I finally decided on the Happy Farmer Kitchen Composter. It's small, doesn't use worms but a mix of Bokashi to help compost and was airtight to prevent any smells from leaking into my small living space. It was perfect for my needs and I started happily composting. Until Halloween came. I carved some pumpkins and put them in with the rest of my compost. Unfortunately, I didn't put enough Bokashi in. A month later, I had a huge stinking mess on my hands. I still like my Happy Farmer composter and would certainly give it another try but I will be sure to use more Bokashi in the future, especially when dealing with pumpkins.

Had I the space and a willing roommate, I definitely would have started composting with an indoor worm compost. My partner in Earth-saving, Parker, started worm composting in his apartment in Chicago and gave me the rundown. It sounds like my kind of project! To make your own worm composting bin, follow Parker's easy instructions. If you live in New York, the Lower East Side Ecology Center offers free indoor worm composting workshops to help you get started.
  1. Purchase a heavy duty, 10-gallon storage bin. This is going to be your compost bin.
  2. Drill holes into your worm bin, approximately 1-1.5 inches apart. All over. Lid, sides, bottom. Everywhere. Connie suggests drilling small holes to prevent any possible worm escapes.
  3. Shred newspaper, junk mail or any kind of non-glossy paper (preferably something that was headed towards recycling anyway) into 6inch x 1inch strips.
  4. Fill a bucket with water and immerse the shredded newspaper in the water.
  5. Pull the paper out of the water and squeeze it out. Now you have a ball of damp, compacted paper strips. You need to kind of pull them all apart, filling the bin halfway, essentially making a damp matrix of loosely piled strips of paper that worms can crawl through and not be uncomfortably dry.
  6. Obtain worms. They can be bought online or from pet stores. If you know someone with a worm bin, maybe they'll let you have a few to get started. They will eventually reproduce and you'll have more. Look online for more worm details.
  7. Put worms in bin. Give them a handful of dirt to help them digest their food.
  8. Store your bin between 40 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, out of direct sunlight.
Now your bin is ready to start composting your food waste!
  1. Feed your worms the leftovers from anything you would pretty much feed a vegan person. They should not be given meat, dairy, eggs, sweets, cooked foods, or oily foods. Appropriate worm food is stuff like fruit or vegetable peels, the end of a lettuce, any veggies that go bad, dead leaves from plants, apple cores, onion ends, etc.
  2. Feed them by burying something appropriate in the substrate, trying to bury it in varying spots.
  3. Worms will eat about their weight in food per day. So make sure you're giving them enough, but not piling up more food than they'll ever finish. Parker likes to feed them a couple big chunks of something (like the end of a romaine lettuce or carrots) at the same time as something that's in small pieces. This way if he forgets about them for a couple days they'll just gnaw on that romaine, but until then they can gobble up the smaller stuff quickly.
  4. Don't let the bin get too dry or too wet. It should be damp inside, not too wet and not too dry. If it's wet, leave the lid off for a few hours and drill a few more holes. If the paper substrate feels dry, add a little bit of water
  5. Don't add too much citrus peels at once, it can make the bin acidic and the worms become unhappy.
  6. Keep the worms happy by checking to see that the bin is not too wet or dry, that they have food, etc.
  7. The box will probably grow a whole slew of weird molds and fungi in it. This is OK, it's a harmonious environment. But if you're finding a lot of weird, evil-looking bugs (especially centipedes) in your worm box, it probably has gone bad. (Connie's input: Consult a worm composting expert, or the LESEC website mentioned above)
  8. In about 6 months, when you can't see the paper anymore, take out your fertilizer for your garden and replace with more paper to start the process again.
Doesn't that sound like such an awesome thing to do? You keep unnecessary waste out of the landfills which reduces the amount of methane gas in the air, you get fertilizer for virtually free to help your garden grow beautiful, and you get to play with worms! I really do encourage you to give composting a try!

Anyone have fun composting stories to share? Please do and make my day! =)

© Connie Hum 2009

1 comment:

  1. Yay Connie! Thanks for sharing the knowledge! Just a clarification... a worm bin should not smell bad. it will have a sort of earthy smell, but neither unpleasant nor strong. I keep mine in my living room and it's not bothersomely odorous.

    Connie, I have not heard of the type you had. I will have to look it up.



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