Posted by admin on September 27, 2010
Did you know that waste in excess of 60% that is created by the average U.S. household could be recycled or composted? Regrettably, only 8 percent of American waste is composted, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. Did you also know that yard waste, such as grass trimmings, adds up to almost 20% of all garbage produced every year? When dumped into a landfill site, organic matter like food and grass trimmings occupy a large area and play a significant part in the formation of methane gas, a greenhouse gas that “remains in the atmosphere for approximately 9-15 years…and is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).
Composting organic matter like food and grass trimmings is simple, especially when using a purchased compost bin. Making a compost pile on your own is certainly an option, but compost bins on the market come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and time and again, make the process of composting virtually effortless. No matter how you choose to compost your organic wastes, the benefits of composting are indisputable. Composting helps the environment by decreasing greenhouse gases and other contaminants in the air that would be created because of simply throwing organic wastes into the local landfill or incinerator. Composting also saves money by providing you with free fertilizer for your garden. Finally, compost puts nutrients back into the soil, making your garden soil richer and plants healthier.
The initial phase in composting is to select a compost bin. Compost bins are obtainable in all shapes and sizes, so the size of your garden or yard is not an issue. Large compost bins let devoted gardeners with a sizeable growing area the ability to make enough compost to last throughout the growing season. On the other hand, small compost bins can fit in the kitchen or on the balcony of a small apartment home and provide enough compost for house plants and a small herb garden. Knowing how much time you wish to spend tending to your compost pile and how much space you have to devote to a compost bin will benefit you while you select the most appropriate compost bin.
Now that you have selected the best compost bin, it’s time to begin filling it with organic matter. But can you put any kind of organic matter into a compost pile? Unfortunately, no. The common advice is to fill your compost bin with a mixture of 50 percent “browns,” and 50 percent “greens.” The “browns” add carbon to the mix and consist of some of the ingredients that follow:
Chopped Cornstalks – must be shredded or chopped into very small pieces first
“Greens” add nitrogen to the mix and comprise a few of the items that follow:
Most Kitchen Wastes (see below for exceptions)
Manure from non-meat eating animals
Do not include the following types of organic matter into your compost bin unless properly prepared first:
Plants with diseases
Grass clippings with pesticides or other chemicals
Hedge trimmings and branches
Pine Cones and pine needles
Sod and soil
For information about how to prepare these types of organic matter for composting, visit the website of your local agricultural extension office.
Some organic matter does not belong in a compost bin. Never add the following items to the compost bin:
Animal related products that would attract pests and create an odor problem including bones; dairy products such as butter, cheese, mayonnaise, salad dressing, milk, yogurt, sour cream; fish scraps, meat
Other food wastes including cooked food, peanut butter, fatty or greasy foods
Manure from meat-eating animals (including humans)
Charcoal and briquettes
Glossy and/or colored paper
Maintaining your compost pile depends on the type of compost bin you have selected. Some compost bins require that the pile be mixed periodically, but some compost bins require no mixing. Refer to the compost bin manufacturer’s instructions for details.
By purchasing or building your own compost bin that meets your specific needs, and by following some basic rules and recommendations, you can create your own dollar stretching, earth friendly, plant enriching compost.
Trey Collier is owner of BackyardCity.com, North America’s finest Outdoor Casual Living Store, designed and created to help fashion outdoor living spaces. Since 2001, BackyardCity.com has offered internet customers quality outdoor living products, including Compost Bins, at very reasonable prices.
Posted by admin on September 26, 2010
The information on this page will teach you about the basics of keeping composting worms. You’ll learn everything from how to set up your first bin to how to brew worm tea.
Move over sliced bread!
Composting worms are all the rage, and it looks like they’re here to stay. Join us, and find out why this wiggling phenomena is becoming so popular. Who knows? Composting with worms may just revolutionize waste management.
Before we get started, please note that there are several different terms to describe composting with worms, including vermiculture and vermi-composting.
All of these terms describe the controlled process of using worms, namely red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), to decompose organic waste, such as kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and manure. After these wastes are broken down, the finished product, or worm castings, are harvested and used as nutrient-rich soil amendments.
These processes can take place in large-scale commercial vermiculture facilities, however, we are going to focus our discussion on the small-scale home vermiculturist, better known as YOU!
We’re going to teach you all about composting with worms, including:
So what are you waiting for? Let’s start wormin’.
There are a lot of different reasons why people compost with worms. For instance, we started because we juice a lot of vegetables, and couldn’t stand to throw all of that wonderful pulp into our regular compost bin. Because this waste was already pre-digested, we knew worms would have to do very little work to make use of it. Aside from that, we started indoor composting with worms because we live in Ontario, Canada, and our outdoor temperatures don’t allow for quick composting in the winter months (November-March). Now that we use an indoor compost bin, we’re able to produce organic fertilizer all year round.
Other reasons to start worm composting include the following: Worm bins are incredible educational toolsIt’s a great hobbyIt helps reduce your household wasteWorm castings are amazing garden fertilizer
Here is a great article from the New York Times discussing the growing trend of vermiculture.
Using composting worms is very easy. Below are some basic vermiculture guidelines to consider before you start your wormy adventures.
A worm bin, or worm container, can be homemade or purchased from a worm bin supplier. We prefer the homemade varieties because they tend to have more character. Also, nothing says compost junkie, like re-using scrap materials to make a new worm bin.
The 3 factors that need to be considered when building, or buying, a worm bin are the shape, size, and materials. You must also consider where you will put your worm bin.
Remember, worms need lots of oxygen, so whatever bin you choose, please make sure it has adequate ventilation. Also, the rule of thumb for bin size is two square feet of surface area per person, or one square foot of surface area per pound of food waste per week.
Below is an image of a worm composting bag, created by Amy, a fellow compost junkie. These bags are wonderful creations that minimize the work needed to harvest worm castings. Food is added to the top of the bag, which keeps the worms near the surface, while worm castings are harvested from the bottom of the bag. Ingenious? We think so. Excellent work Amy.
If you’re interested in building your own worm composting bag, here is a list of step-by-step instructions.
The most common bedding materials for composting worms, include shredded newspaper or computer paper, leaf mold, peat moss, animal manures, coconut fiber (coir), and wood chips.
Each of these bedding materials has its own list of advantages and disadvantages. For instance, leaf mold is a natural habitat for worms, but it may also contain organisms that you don’t want in your worm bin.
It doesn’t matter which bedding material(s) you choose, you must always remember to add a couple handfuls of soil, or rock dust, to your worm bin. This is especially important if you are just setting up a new bin. These ingredients add “grit” to the bedding materials in your bin. This grit is very important because your worms use it in their gizzards to help in breaking down food particles. The soil has the added benefit of inoculating your bin with various soil microbes, all of which are important in establishing a healthy ecosystem for your composting worms.
Ah, it’s finally time to discuss the workforce within your bin…your worms!
Unfortunately, you can’t just use any old earthworm in your worm bin. The common earthworms that you see in your garden, and those that are on the pavement during rain storms, are typically a burrowing-type of worm. In a bin, we are in need of worms for composting that are surface-dwelling, and that’s why we typically use red wigglers. If you’re interested, here is a more complete history of the earthworm, including how it made it’s way to North America.
The Almighty Red Wiggler
is the most common type of worm used in vermiculture systems. Other types, such as blue-worms (Perionyx excavatus), are better able to withstand warmer temperatures, so they are used in more tropical regions.
How many worms do you need?
Composting red worms are typically sold by weight, rather than by number. So if you see a quantity of worms listed by your worm supplier, please know that this is just an estimate. It would be quite hard for your supplier to make any money, if they spent their entire day counting worms.
3 factors to consider when determining the number of worms you need to purchase are:
the size of your binthe amount of money you want to spend, and the price of the wormsthe amount of food waste you’ll be adding to your bin each day
For a typical-sized worm bin (surface area = 2′x2′), being used by an average-sized family (3-4 people), we suggest you start with a minimum of one pound of worms. A pound of worms will usually cost between $30-$50. Always remember, with time, your one pound of worms will quickly grow into two pounds, if your bin is maintained properly and your worms are well fed. You will eventually want about one pound of worms per cubic foot of volume in your bin.
The best place to buy composting worms is online, or from angling and bait shops. If you’re going to buy composting worms online, we’ve compiled several reputable worm suppliers from across the United States and Canada. Please take advantage of these reputable suppliers, and offer them your patronage when possible.
It is very important to ensure you are not over-feeding your composting worms. If you are new to the composting-worms scene, we suggest you start by monitoring your feedings very carefully. This means that you’ll have to start by feeding smaller amounts of food. By feeding smaller amounts, you will quickly get a good idea as to how much food your given quantity of worms can handle.
A worm can consume more than its weight each day. If you start with roughly a pound of worms in your bin, expect to be able to feed them at least one pound of waste each day.
Below is a short list of foods to feed your composting worms. Please visit this page for a more comprehensive discussion on proper worm foods.
As it is with all of our composting ventures (outdoor composting bins, composting toilets, compost tumblers), to successfully compost with worms, you must ensure the conditions are right. When using composting worms, you want to ensure you have the right moisture, temperature, aeration, and pH levels. To learn more about each of these factors, please click on the corresponding term.
Traditionally, there are two methods used to harvest composting worms from your worm bin. The first method is referred to as the low maintenance harvest, and the second method is referred to as the medium to high maintenance harvest. Below is a small definition of each. If you’d like more information about these specific harvesting techniques, please refer to our harvesting composting worms page. Low Maintenance Harvest
– This method has two phases: the feeding and phase and the fasting phase. During the feeding phase, you feed your worms for a period of three to four months. This is followed by the fasting phase; during which time, you do not feed any food for three to four months. During the feeding phase, your worm population grows and starts to consume the food. During the fasting phase, your worm population peaks and eventually dwindles to nothing (when all food supplies are exhausted). At this time, you can easily harvest all of the worm castings from your bin. Unfortunately, following this method means that you will have to purchase new worms every six to eight months.
Medium to High Maintenance Harvest –
How you use this method to harvest composting worms will all depend on the design of your specific worm bin. Some bins require that you dump your bin out and sort the composting worms by hand; whereas, other bins allow the worms to do all the sorting. An example of a bin design that allows the worms to do all of the sorting, can be seen to the right. To learn more about all types of worm bins, please visit our worm bin page.
Worm castings, or vermi-castings, are the more technical terms used to describe the poop of composting worms.
We often think of worms consuming soil and decaying organic matter; however, they are actually going after the bacteria, and other microbes, present on the surfaces of these substances.
Another interesting fact about a worm’s digestion – It is not the worm’s own enzymes that breakdown the substances it consumes. Instead, these substances are broken down, and processed, by the bacteria present in the worm’s intestine.
So how does all this fit into the health of your plants?
Since a worm’s gut is dominated by bacteria, the vermi-castings it produces are also dominated by bacteria. If you refer back to our page on compost tea, you will recall that specific plants thrive in more bacterial-dominated soils (compared to balanced, or fungal-dominated soils). For instance, annual plants, including vegetables and flowers, love bacterial dominated soils. So we can assume that they’ll welcome an application of worm castings. However, worm castings are quite potent, so you must make sure you use them properly.
For more detailed information about the use of worm castings as a soil amendment, please visit out worm-casting page.
We are NOT using the term, worm tea, to describe the liquid that percolates out of your worm bin. We refer to the liquid that drips out of your worm bin as worm leachate. We do not recommend that you use worm leachate directly on your plants, or directly as a soil conditioner. The reason being – worm leachate contains a number of partially decomposed substances, some of which have the potential to be phytotoxic (i.e. harmful to plants).
If you want to use this worm leachate, we suggest you dilute it with water (preferably distilled), and apply it to the soil around your plants. Try to avoid using this mixture as a foliar spray. If your worm bin is fairly mature, you will probably see some benefit.
What do we mean when we say worm tea?
We are referring to the tea produced when you substitute, all or some, of the compost in compost tea with worm castings. This mixture will then be actively aerated and fed, just like a regular batch of compost tea. But don’t forget, worm castings are bacterial-dominated, so be sure you take that into consideration before you brew your tea.
Posted by admin on September 23, 2010
‘Mature’ organic compost is a natural and simple choice for solving those problems. An application of ‘mature’ compost, along with periodic applications of compost tea, will improve the overall health & vigor of your landscape. It will also lower your overall maintenance & water requirements for the summer & thereafter. Compost is simply good for your family, lawn, & gardens.
Why use compost?
It’s simply the most natural choice available. Mature compost is safe for you and your family. It contains nothing unnatural or poisonous. Your garden & lawn will be safe for you, your children and your pets to use during and immediately after application. Compost improves your lawn & gardens’ drought tolerance and reduces watering requirements by improving the plant’s root systems and the soils’ ability to retain water. Mature compost can safely be applied around pools and applied directly into ponds, streams and rivers without risk to the environment. It also promotes & creates an environment in which birds & butterflies thrive. Your lawn & garden will have fewer weeds, insect pests or diseases. Compost allows the soil to gain strength naturally and the plants grown it will naturally thrive. Compost gives you healthier and more attractive soil, grass, trees & plants. You will need no synthetic chemical fertilizers or poisons. Co
Can using compost save me time, money & labor?
Yes! You will no longer need to bag the grass clippings or to remove thatch as compost aids in their rapid assimilation. The compost will also reduce the amount of water needed. Compost improves the heat and drought tolerance of your lawn & garden thus decreasing loss and replacement costs. Healthy plants simply require less maintenance. These facts alone save you much time, money and labor.
Does compost improve the heat and drought tolerance of my plants?
Yes! The organic materials in compost, in conjunction with the rhizobacteria and rhizofungi, naturally loosen and aerate the soil. This allows greater water & root penetration. The same combination works together to encapsulate and hold moisture in the soil by creating soil aggregates. Soil aggregates are a naturally occurring microcosmic system that rhizobacteria & rhizofungi produces in order to keep themselves from drying up and dying. The plant roots grow into these aggregates and are provided a natural reserve of nutrients and water that otherwise would have dissipated from the soil.
What is compost?
According to Webster’s dictionary “a mixture that consists largely of decayed organic matter and is used for fertilizing and conditioning land.” Properly composted material is heated by the decomposition process and does not have any weed seeds, nor, will it burn your plants as chemical fertilizers do.
Does compost smell bad?
No! not if it’s fully ‘matured’. We advise that you only use fully composted material. Fully composted, organic material smells like rich organic garden soil. If it smells like anything else, do not use it, as it is not mature and can cause harm to your lawn & garden. Not all composts are created equally and we suggest that you fully investigate the source of the supplier. Truly mature, “organic”, compost is totally safe & nontoxic to your family and the soil in which the plants grow.
What is Compost Tea?
A simple definition of compost tea is that it is a water extract of organic compost that is brewed in a similar way that your morning tea is made. It contains natural soluble nutrients and a great diversity of beneficial, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes. It is a totally organic, living, synergistic microcosm that introduces renewed life to the soil and plants. From our many years of experience we’ve found that compost tea supercharges new compost applications.
How does compost/tea help to suppress disease causing bacteria and fungi?
The rhizobacteria (good bacteria) controls the growth of the “bad” bacteria by keeping the soil aerobic so that the ‘bad’ bacteria cannot live & prosper. Likewise the “good” fungi compete with the “bad” fungi and keep them under control as well. Healthy soil makes for healthy plants in the same way that healthy food makes for healthy people and animals.
What do beneficial bacteria do for plants?
Beneficial bacteria make essential soil mineral elements available to the plant by decomposing organic matter and improving the physical properties of the soil. Trees, flowers and lawns that have an abundance of rhizobacteria live longer, need little to no chemical treatment, as they suffer from very few disease problems.
How does compost/tea reduce thatch?
“Thatch” is simply a layer of dead un-decayed plant material. The rhizobacteria breaks down the thatch into organic humus that is then reintroduced naturally into the soil to feed the grass.
Why not use chemical fertilizers?
Synthetic chemicals sterilize the soil and make more and more applications of chemicals absolutely necessary. This is like putting your plants on continuous life support. They may stay barely alive, but they will never thrive. Your lawn & garden will suffer from continuous problems which will require more water, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides & ever greater amounts of fertilizer. It’s very important that you don’t use synthetic chemicals on your lawn or garden.
What about weeds?
Long term use of compost and compost tea while avoiding chemical fertilizers can prevent weeds naturally. According to Dr. Ingham of Soil Foodweb Inc.: “Weeds all require high levels of nitrates, so nitrogen fertilizer actually selects for weeds, If you drop your nitrates to less than 10 ppm, the weeds leave. When you have mycorrhizal fungi directly feeding plants, you can drop soil nitrate levels below that threshold level and thistle, johnson grass, and nightshade all disappear. If you have good calcium levels, you decrease the composites, because they can’t tolerate calcium. Next time you want to get rid of crabgrass, mix egg shells into the ground.” Reprinted from the Maine Organic Farmer and Gardener. Dr. Ingham Puts Soil Life to Work – Maine Organic Farmer ’99′
We also recommend periodic Corn Gluten meal applications. Corn gluten meal is a useful, natural, pre-emergent pesticide that works very well in controlling weeds and greatly compliments the usage of compost and compost tea.
What about insects?
Any naturally healthy environment has a great need of bio-diversity. Chemically treated gardens create an unnatural and imbalanced state. Using compost and compost tea instead of chemicals promotes natural bio-diversity and a subsequent growth of beneficial insect populations. The beneficial insects prey upon the harmful pests & naturally keep them from overwhelming the garden ecology. In urban settings, it’s often necessary to reintroduce beneficial insects into your lawn & garden from outside sources.
How long will it take to see results?
You can see results within two weeks after the first application of compost. Using a combination of compost & compost tea, we have seen results in as soon as four seven days during the growing season. Your lawn & garden will continue to improve each day thereafter as the soil becomes more alive. Even greater improvement will be noticed with additional compost and compost tea applications.
Conrad Cain is the President of Home & Garden Design, Inc.
Home & Garden Design supplies residential landscape design and installation and promotes naturally organic, lawn and garden reclamation in the Atlanta Georgia area. In conjunction with his life partner Danna Cain, ASLA landscape Architect, they have more than 50 years experience in the Green Industry. Their mutual creations have been featured in national & regional magazines, local garden tours and numerous feature articles. For additional Green Living information please visit: http://www.mygreennetwork.com and http://www.home-garden-design.com