BACKYARD COMPOSTING NATURE’S RECYCLING SYSTEM
Composting is another simple solution to the yard waste disposal dilemma. It is a natural and efficient process in which micro-organisms (nature’s recyclers) break down organic materials into a soil-like product called compost. Composting changes the nutrients in raw organic material to a form that can be absorbed by the roots of growing plants. Farmers and gardeners discovered the wonders of using compost long ago. Now, they and many others are creating greater demand for a range of compost uses.
Compost can be used as a soil conditioner, mulch or potting soil. Compost improves aeration, drainage and nutrient exchange in the soil. Returning organic material to the soil perpetuates natural biological cycles, and is an ecologically sensible means of using organic wastes. Using compost also decreases the need to apply chemical fertilizers.
Other ideal waste candidates for composting are: vegetable and fruit wastes, egg shells, coffee grounds, hair, weeds, wood ash, horse and cow manure, stalks and stems, nutshells, and bark. Do not compost any materials containing animal fats, dairy products, pet manure, plastic, or synthetic materials.
To begin your compost pile you will need raw organic matter, soil and fertilizer. To start the compost pile, mix together organic matter (such as grass or leaves), soil and fertilizer. You can do this directly on the ground or contained within a structure, such as a wire mesh fence. Locate the pile or bin in convenient well drained spot (preferably in full sun), a nearby source of water is helpful.
Spread a 6 to 8 inch layer of organic material and moisten. Sprinkle a garden fertilizer or manure over the entire layer. This will speed up the decomposition of organic material. After the fertilizer, spread a layer of soil 1 to 2 inches thick (you may substitute finish compost for soil). Continue alternating layers until the pile is 3 to 5 feet high. Try to keep the compost pile as moist as a wrung out sponge. Turn your pile every couple weeks to aid in its decomposition. The compost will be ready to use when it is dark, crumbly and has an earthy smell. The process can take as little as 2 weeks or as long as a year. Fresh compost has a higher concentration of nitrogen.
Worm composting or “vermi-composting” is simply composting with worms. It’s great for people with limited amounts of living space, and for homeowners who don’t want to hike through the snowdrifts to get to their backyard composting bin.
Environmentally it makes good sense. It saves you money by reducing the amount of organic waste going to the landfill. It is simple, cost-effective, and natural way of recycling your garbage, and conserving a valuable resource.
Worms are an excellent manufacturer of fertilizer. Their castings are rich in phosphorous, nitrogen, and other nutrients. Worms also help moderate soil pH, as well as aerate and loosen the soil.
Red Wigglers – 2-3″ long and dark red color. They can eat more than their weight in food every day. Night crawlers (8-10″ long) live much deeper in the soil and do not have the appetite of the red wiggler. Red Wigglers can double numbers in 40 days, reach adulthood in six weeks and live about a year.
Determine how much organic waste you produce in a day to calculate the size of bin you will need. Rule of thumb – 2 square feet of surface area per person. The bin only needs to be 8-12″ deep, since these worms are surface dwellers. Drill 8-12 holes in the container for aeration (worms need oxygen to survive. The holes should be 1/4″ or less in size to prevent pests from entering. Locate the bin where it will not freeze or overheat (40-90 degrees).
Bedding should be damp (like a wrong out sponge), not dripping wet as the worms can drown. Worms need a moist environment since they breathe through their skin. Suitable bedding materials include: peat, shredded newspapers, compost, straw, aged manure, with a mixture of sand or top soil. Fill the bin to 2/3 of its depth. After bedding is added you may add your worms and your kitchen scraps. A bedding pH of about 7 is ideal. If too high use diluted white vinegar, too low add baking soda.
Worms can eat most organic waste, though they do have some favorite foods. Their food must be soft in order for them to eat it. Worms have mouths but expel their stomach and enzymes onto the food surface. Feed the worms about a quart (one pound) of scraps per square foot of surface area per week. 2 pounds of worms can process about 7 pounds of scraps a week. Eggshells are essential to keep the bedding from becoming too acidic for the worms.
- fruit & vegetable trimmings
- coffee grounds & filters
- tea bags / leaves
- crushed eggshells
- used paper towels
- soft green plant trimmings
- shredded paper
- bread & grains
- meat, bones & fish
- dairy products
- cooked, greasy, or oily foods
- dog, cat & bird feces
- sawdust from plywood or treated lumber
- woody prunings
- salts / vinegars / oils
- hot peppers
Avoid citrus or acidic fruits, or used sparingly, as these make the conditions too acid for the worms and can attract fruit flies. Garlic, onions, broccoli, potato peelings, or hot spicy food scraps should only be used in moderation. Fats, cooking/salad oils and oily foods can create slimy conditions, odor and attract pests. Worms breathe through their skin, and oily materials will prevent proper respiration.
Garden waste is generally not suitable for these worms waste is best dealt with by conventional composting methods. Materials such as grass clippings may be given in small quantities, but if too much is fed it may heat up quickly and give off ammonia, which will harm the worms.
2 basic methods:
- Move all existing contents to one half of the bin, and put newly prepared bedding in the other half.
- Place food scraps only in new bedding. Worms will migrate to new bedding within 2-4 weeks.
- Remove finish compost and even out new contents.
- Pour out contents of bin on black plastic bag, in sunlight or other bright light.
- Divide contents into cone shaped piles about 6″ across the base.
- Worms will avoid light and migrate down in pile (10-15 minutes)
- Remove compost
Make new bedding and return worms to bin.