Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Why Should I Care?

How to Compost Like You Don't Live in a City

Written by Eli Liedman|Illustration by Melissa Fasolino
If you like doing right by Mother Nature, but don’t want to stomach a heated discussion regarding the paradoxes of domestic policies, then composting might be the perfect way to channel your green urges! Composting takes the best of the recycling, local, and green movements and combines them into one simple and rewarding process—the benefits of which, with a little DIY ingenuity, are numerous.
To be clear: I am not a farmer. I’m a city boy who separates my paper waste from my bottles and trash and puts them out on the curb in different bags on designated trash nights. Most of the time. I also like to plant things. Not fields of soybeans (although, that could be a pretty sweet future article. . .), but potted plants. And maybe some herbs. That’s the extent of my background. And I have been successfully composting for about two years.

The basic premise behind composting is quite simple: feed organic material to worms in a box. Worms (and the microbial environment that inherently gets created) eat said material, digest, and poop. Worm poop—like most poop—is high in nutrients and, therefore, a fantastic fertilizer. What you might be surprised to learn, however, is just how awesome worms are. They eat everything. And they eat everything quickly.
 
The Benefits of Composting
• The nutrient-rich castings are among the best fertilizer you can get.
• Nearly all kitchen waste can go into the bin, rather than the trash can.
• Nearly all paper junk mail and newspapers can be shredded and put into the bin, rather than the landfill.
• If you’re like me, your worms become like pets.

Supplies
• An opaque plastic (worms hate light) tub with a lid. Mine is a Rubbermaid Roughneck Tote that I got at Home Depot for about $12.
• A drill with 1/8” drill bit (or some other way to make 1/8” holes in tough plastic)
• Food scraps and paper
• 1 lb. of Red Wiggler worms (available at some farmers’ markets or Web sites like Northwest Wigglers. You can buy 1 lb. for about $20).

Directions
1. Drill a few (roughly 4-6, depending on the tub’s size) 1/8” diameter holes into the bottom of the tub to allow for liquid drainage.  I prefer 1/8” holes because they do not clog, and they prevent the worms from escaping (yes, for real).
2. Drill a few (roughly 15-20, depending on the tub’s size) 1/8” diameter holes along the top rim of the tub or lid to allow for breathability. I drill my holes along the top rim because I keep my tub outside and do not want a lot of water flooding into it.
3. Add shredded newspaper, some food scraps, and a very small amount of garden soil to the box. Spray the mixture down with water and let it rest for about a day. Never soak the contents of your box, only moisten, as worms can drown.
4. Add the worms.
5. Continue adding food scraps and paper as often as necessary.

Some Important Dos and Don’ts
As with most any subject, there is a dizzying amount of information on the Internet concerning composting, including what types of worms to use, how to feed them, how to monitor them, etc. After two years of doing this, despite what some expert Web sites say, I have found that there are only two very strict rules to live by:
1. Do not feed any meat or dairy to the worms; and only feed them onions, citrus, and spicy food, like hot peppers, in moderation.
2. Do not let the soil get too wet or too dry. No tricks—just use common sense.
Also, worms love shredded paper. Think newspaper, and all those pieces of junk mail that get delivered that you can’t just send to a spam folder.

Addressing Phobias
The two most common questions I get once people hear of my composting endeavors involve smell and critters/bugs so let's discuss both. 
 
Smell
The worms go through everything you throw in the box in a surprisingly short time. Their waste, called “castings” to those of us “in the know,” looks like soil and does not smell like, well, poop.

Critters and Bugs
Bugs will be attracted to your composting bin if there is food available that the worms are not eating. A way to avoid this, then, is to monitor how much food you put in at a time and how long it takes for your worms to eat. All of this becomes obvious once you get your bin up and running. And, in the event that you overfeed and get bugs, eventually the food gets eaten, and the bugs go away.

That’s really it. With minimal effort, you can create and maintain a microbial ecosystem that will have the makers of Bio-Dome ready to consider a sequel.
 

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