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What is composting?

Mention the word composting and most people envision large wooden bins located outside with a deteriorating collection of yard clippings, leaves, and household food garbage that requires more time, space, and attention than they can devote to it.  Composting, typically set up in backyards, is the natural process of creating rich organic soil by the aerobic breakdown of the compost materials into a rich crumbly mixture. While the complete organic breakdown of this biodegradable potpourri may take several months, the end result is well worth the wait.

Composted material can be used in a variety of places such as houseplants, gardens, and yards. Additional benefits of composting include reducing the amount of lawn debris as well as food refuse that would otherwise be sent to landfills as trash or garbage. Composting also eliminates the need for harsh chemical fertilizers for your lawn and garden. Composting, however, is not just limited to the outdoors.

Vermicomposting

With kitchen composting even those in urban areas that have limited green space can experience the benefits of composting, just on a smaller scale! Kitchen composting can be adapted to the availability of space and size of family food scraps. In addition to the assortment of kitchen leftovers, another special “ingredient” is added–red wigglers!

The use of worms in this nontraditional method of composting is called vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is a great environmental awareness activity for the home as well as garden clubs, youth groups, and schools. Vermicomposting is easy to set up, needs little equipment or materials, and requires a minimum amount of maintenance to produce an organically enriched compost material.

Getting Started

  • To set up your kitchen-composting project, a small plastic container with a tight-fitting lid is needed. Recycled, clean, and empty kitty litter buckets make great worm bins. To aid in the aerobic decomposition of the organic matter, small air holes should be drilled in the bottom, side, and top to ensure proper ventilation and drainage.
  • The addition of moistened worm bedding, consisting of shredded strips of newspaper, cardboard, leaf litter, and a small amount of soil, should be limited to 8 to 12 inches in depth.
  • A pound of red worms, in particular, Eisenia foetida, is recommended as they can potentially eat their weight in compost food daily and deposit nutrient-rich castes back into the composted material. Red wrigglers can often be obtained from a local bait shop or purchased from a commercial distributor.
  • Kitchen food waste, no meat or dairy products.

Red worms can eat through nearly a half a pound of kitchen waste in a day and reproduce quickly. Discarded meat and dairy products should not be used since red worms are vegetarians! However, the addition of crushed eggshells will aid the worm’s digestive process. Kitchen food wastes should be buried in the worm bin under the bedding material to prevent any problems with insects.

Composting Bucket Location

The kitchen-composting bucket should be set up so that air can circulate from the bottom with a pan to collect the “compost tea” that may drain from the worm bin. This liquid fertilizer is a great addition for plants as well.

Optimum conditions for a successful worm bin includes:

  • placement in a dark, well-ventilated space such as under the kitchen sink or laundry room.
  • Maintaining its temperature between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Keeping the bedding material damp
  • Providing the worms with food.

Conclusion

Periodically, the compost soil and castings need to be removed from the compost bucket and additional bedding material added. Though it may take several months, harvestable castings make excellent potting soil and can contain higher amounts of essential nutrients than regular garden compost.

Whether in the kitchen or the backyard, composting is a relatively easy way to join others who enjoy green living. Not only does composting benefit the homeowner but the urban community as well. For additional information on vermicomposting contact your regional Extension agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

References

Dickerson, G. W. & Allen, J. (2016, July). Vermicomposting. New Mexico Extension Service. Guide-H 164. Retrieved from http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h/H164.pdf.

Hamilton, D. (n.d.) Vermicomposting: Composting with worms. Retrieved from http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-10332/BAE-1742web2016.pdf.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, October 11). How to create and maintain an indoor worm composting bin. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/recycle/how-create-and-maintain-indoor-worm-composting-bin.

Washington State University Extension. (n.d). Cheap and easy worm bin. Whatcom County Agriculture Page.  Retrieved from http://whatcom.wsu.edu/ag/compost/Easywormbin.htm

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