Posted on July 9th, 2013

Outside the Box – Worm Composting

I was sitting at home with my folks the other day as my dad flipped through the channels looking for something interesting to watch. He is a big fan of certain types of reality shows (no, not the Housewives of Atlanta, sorry), and came across a show called Extreme Homes on HGTV. It was mildly interesting, mostly extravagant homes that I could never afford and way more space than any human could ever need. Then a “house” came up that caught my eye. It was a box, essentially, that had a wall that you cranked up to access this 500 square foot, three bed (not three bedrooms) place. Really neat. If you were bold, you could sit on the john and stare at the ocean with a door that opened to the beach. Then they introduced the sanitary system: a worm composting unit underneath the home.

composting_binA peripheral view of a double-layered worm composting bin.

Worm composting uses worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a soil amendment called vermicompost. This process helps stop the loss of valuable nutrients that would otherwise end up in a landfill, and can act as an excellent source of nutrients for your yard to grow rich, full foliage without having to rely on chemical fertilizers that leave toxic residue in your soil.

Now most of us aren’t going to yank out the plumbing and go super-minimalist, but we can consider making a worm bin for the composting of our organic waste that doesn’t come from inside our bodies. You start with a plastic bin, and depending on the number of people in your household, experts suggest the bin should be big enough so that one square foot of space equals one pound of food waste per week. It should be at least ten inches deep, and have a secure lid to help retain moisture, but have holes for proper ventilation.

The worms won’t be the only inhabitants of your bin. They will eventually have some good neighbors: bacteria, fungi, protozoa, microarthropods, springtails and mites; and there will be a couple of annoying neighbors (i.e. gnats and sow bugs), though they are harmless. In a properly functioning bin, they will be busy enough to not cause you any headaches. It is important to drain or remove excess standing moisture; and to help prevent any kind of stink, stir the contents gently to increase oxygen flow.

soil_mixWhile it doesn’t look quite so appetizing, the ends justify the means. Be prepared to have a healthy garden with this soil!

There are two types of methods for harvesting your rich contents. The dump and sort method is probably best for those who are not squeamish. It involves separating the castings from the bedding and worms. You will then add the worms and worm eggs (cocoons) back into the newly refurbished bin. For those that would just assume keeps their hands clean, use the split-harvesting method. This involves emptying 2/3 of the contents into your garden area, while leaving the remaining 1/3 in the bin and then adding new bedding. For more information, print out this handy document and take advantage of some truly alternative energy ideas.

Justin Harmon
Staff Writer

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