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Archive for the ‘How to’ Category

The Solana Center for Environmental Innovation is offering free composting workshops around San Diego County in February 2012.

Composting is an important component of environmentally sustainable communities because it diverts valuable organic matter from landfills and reduces the amount of waste that must be transported from neighborhoods to waste disposal and processing facilities. For residents, composting is also an excellent way to enrich soil in gardens, yards, and planters. Amending soil with compost can conserve water, reduce the need for fertilizer, and increase plant vigor and pest resistance.

Saturday, February 4, 10:00 am-12:00 pm, Water Conservation Garden: 12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West, El Cajon

Saturday, February 25, 8:00 am-10:00 am, San Diego Zoo (Otto Center): 2920 Zoo Drive, San Diego

Saturday, February 25, 10:00 am-12:00 pm, Crestridge Ecological Reserve: 1171 Horsemill Road, El Cajon (Crest)

These workshops are sponsored by the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego.

To register or for more information click here!

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Yes, it is a great solution when a compost pile is just not feasible because of small yards or sensitive neighbors.  Here’s a cheap and easy way to convert one of your garbage cans into a compost bin.

Materials:

– 30+ gallon plastic garbage can, with locking lid (optional: bungee cords to hold the lid on)

– Drill with 1/2″ to 1″ drill bits for drilling holes

– Bricks or something to rest the bin on top of

Begin by drilling holes into the body of the trash can, about 4-6 inches apart, around the circumference and vertically. Drill a few holes in the lid and the bottom of the bin to allow for air circulation and fluid drainage.

If the bin is going to be placed on soil, use the shovel to dig a hole the same diameter of the bin. Dig the hole about 6 inches deep, or deeper if you like. Place the bin in the hole and back-fill any remaining space to secure the bin in place. To encourage earthworms, you can experiment by drilling more holes in the bottom and sides of your bin that are below ground.

Begin filling your bin. Some suggest filling the bottom couple of inches with loose carbon materials such as wood chips or dry straw to help with air circulation and moisture retention.

Finally, affix and secure the lid and leave in place.

If you selected a circular bin, and it’s freestanding, you have the option of rolling the bin (with the lid on!) to turn and aerate the contents. If you can’t roll your bin, that’s not a worry. You can turn the contents using a compost turner or aerator, or just leave the contents alone.

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Static composting can take as long as a year to complete. Since you’re routinely adding new material to the top of your pile and you’re not really mixing the entire pile, then you may have compost ready to use near the bottom of your pile. If you have the space or the means, access the oldest, lower layers of your compost. The compost is ready when it is dark brown, has a crumbly texture, and smells earthy. The materials you added to the pile should no longer be recognizable. A good and easy way to test if you’re compost is mature is by doing a bag test. Simply fill a baggie with compost and seal the baggie. Leave it alone for a week or so. To re-check your compost, open the baggie and smell. If it still smells earthy, your compost is ready. However if you smell ammonia or any off odors, then the microorganisms are still busy eating and you’ll need to wait longer for your compost to mature.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011
10 – 12 noon
San Diego Botanic Gardens
230 Quail Gardens Dr.
Encinitas, CA 92024

Saturday, February 5, 2011
10 – 12 noon
Water Conservation Garden
12122 Cuyamaca College Drive West
El Cajon, CA 92019

Monday, March 14, 2011
2-4 p.m.
Welk Resort Farmer’s Market
8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA 92026

Saturday, March 19, 2011
10 – 12 noon
Summer’s Past Farm
15602 Olde Highway 80
El Cajon, CA 92021

Learn about the ins and outs of backyard composting and vermicomposting at this free workshop! Workshop will include information about selecting a bin, maintenance, harvesting, and more! A limited number of compost bins and worm bins will be available for purchase after the workshop.

Click here to pre-register now or to view a full list of upcoming workshops!

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Do you own a Wriggly Wranch Worm Bin or a worm bin in general and wonder what the liquid that forms in the bottom tray is? It is worm tea, sometimes it is also called “worm castings” or “vermiwash.” You may not be aware but there are numerous benefits of using worm tea in your soil. Worm tea is a natural fertilizer which is used to promote the growth of plants. If you own a wriggly wranch bin, worm tea forms in the bottom tray that can be drained from the spigot. If you are a gardening enthusiast, you can use worm tea to replenish the soil with nutrients and protect plants from many plant diseases.

Worm tea has the same benefits as worm castings, but in liquid form. Castings are produced when worms break down the organic matter in the soil. It is also called “worm manure” or “worm humus.” These castings are present in the worm beds. When you run water through these castings, nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium and magnesium are picked up. The process of harvesting worm castings is called “vermicomposting.”

How to Make Worm Tea

For making worm tea, you will need a large bin or worm compost bin, such as the Wiggly Wranch bin. The bottom tray should have a drainage spout and holes for aeration. Soak a handful of worm castings in at least 5 liters of warm water. Allow the castings to soak for a couple of days. Next add a teaspoon of molasses (optional). Molasses will promote the growth of micro-organisms. If you feed your worms a balanced diet such as fruits and vegetables (no meat or dairy) they will produce the best castings and worm tea.

The water must be chlorine free because chlorine will destroy the “good” bacteria. To help conserve water, rain water is a good source of unchlorinated water to use. Pete Ash, an experienced gardener, long time master composter, and organic farming and gardening teacher, crafts a tea bag of the compost and vermicompost to soak in water. He suggests using an aquarium pump to keep the water aerated to stimulate micro-organism growth. Pete says, “The idea is to wash the microbes out of the compost into the water; adding a simple starch or sugar to the brew to feed the bacteria that are breeding. Use the wash water from rice rather then washing it down the drain.”

How to Use Worm Tea

The best way to use worm tea is to dilute it. Pete owns a few Wriggly Wranch bins. He dilutes the worm tea with 4 to 6 parts water (or more) for foliar spray applications. He also recommends using the tea within a couple of days and as it accumulates it may spoil. It is not clear to anyone how long worm tea should brew for, but if it smells bad you should not use it. Pete harvests his castings regularly because the mucus can build up along with bacteria and can actually become toxic for the worms. As Pete says, “No one likes to live in their own feces.”

Benefits of Worm Tea

Worm tea and compost is excellent for a garden. Pete uses worm tea as a foliar spray and compost tea as a field spray. There are many, many uses for worm tea. Here are a few ways to use worm tea to grow healthy fruits and vegetables:

  • Use worm tea as an inoculant for potting soil. The nutrients in worm tea help seedlings grow strong. It is suggested that inoculation should be done two weeks before you plant your seedling.
  • Plants that are grown with worm tea are healthier. Worm tea has many nutrients of food and medicine the plant needs to thrive. Plants grown with worm tea are also more nutritious than plants grown in soil treated with chemical fertilizer.
  • Worm tea also helps recover polluted soil. If you repeat the worm tea applications, the microbes will convert and metabolize organic and inorganic chemicals. The worm tea will help sequester the heavy metals found in chemicals.
  • Sometimes lawns can become sterile due to chemical treatment. Worm tea will repopulate the soil with microbes, enrich the roots and break down the thatch turning it into food for grass.
  • During hot summer days, worm tea can help retain water in soil.
  • If you decide to use worm tea as a foliar spray, it will help your plants produce more foliage and larger stems. This greatly helps plants that are lacking enough sun.
  • You may also add worm tea to a compost pile to speed-up the break-down process.

By using worm tea, you can help the environment by reducing and even eliminating the use of chemical fertilizers that can cause water pollution. Studies show an average American family produces a ton of waste each year. The estimate is 1/3 or ½ of household waste is organic matter (kitchen waste). If you vermicompost, you will reduce the amount of organic matter that ends up in landfills, help mitigate global warming and make nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer and worm tea for yourself. Vermicomposting is nature’s way of completing the recycling loop. If you are interested in learning about “the circle of life…the circle of rot” please refer to our March 2003 newsletter for a discussion of why you should compost, how this is improves healthy soil, which in turn creates healthy vibrant plant life.

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There are several things to keep in mind when setting up your composting station:

  • Sun or shade?

A worm bin is best placed in the shade. The worms will not fare well in hot temperatures or during a deluge of water during a rainstorm. By placing them in the shade, they will be more protected from the elements and less likely to dry out.

As for a regular compost bin, direct sunlight does not cause the compost pile to heat up. The microbes working busily inside the compost are why the pile heats up. With this in mind, keeping your compost bin in the shade will decrease water evaporation. Also, people are more likely to turn their pile if they do not have to go out into the hot sun to do it.

  • Dirt or cement?

For a compost bin, it is best if it is placed on the dirt. This allows the beneficial insects to crawl up into the bin.  These insects will speed up the decomposition process and are naturally occur in a healthy compost pile. Put hardware cloth or wire mesh underneath the compost bin to prevent the larger animals from digging underneath and into the bin. If a compost pile is set on cement, it is likely that the cement will be stained.

For a worm bin, it does not matter if it is placed on cement or on dirt. It is more important that the bin is in the shade. People often even keep worm bins inside their garage, under their counter, or in a closet.

  • How close do I want my compost bin to the house?

Most people do not want to put their compost bin directly up against their house because of smell and pest attraction fears. If you are composting correctly, neither of these problems should be of issue. How close you put your bin to your house should more so be determined by hose length (if your bin is further away than your hose is long, you’ll be lugging buckets over to your pile!) and ease of use. If you don’t see yourself hoofing it across the yard to dump out your kitchen scraps, then you probably shouldn’t put your bin all the way across your yard. As for the pests and smells, err on the side of caution. If something goes wrong in your pile and it starts to smell or you get an unwanted visitor, it’s better away from your house than directly under your kitchen window.

  • How much room will my compost bin need?

If you plan on being an active composter and turning your compost pile, it is important that you have a space twice the size of your compost bin. This allows you to turn and then rebuild your bin directly next to where it was previously sitting. Turing your bin increases air flow and allows the microbes to break down the material more quickly. If you plan on having a more passive bin, this is obviously not necessary, though you probably want a little room around the bin so it can be accessed from all angles. Worm bins, on the other hand, do not need extra space.

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pfkitchenwasteWe all want to save our food scraps for our worms or compost pile but sometimes we get busy and we don’t always get our scraps into the bin in a timely manner. Food scraps sitting in our collection bin often invite pesky fruit flies. But no worries… you don’t have to run out to your worm bin or compost pile every time you have a banana peel or apple core. Go no further than your freezer.

Add your food scraps to a reusable container in your freezer until you are ready to feed your worms or dig into your compost pile. Your freezer will provide you the convenience of not having to step outside in your pajamas in the morning to compost your banana peel and will also add some additional moisture to your bin or pile.

If your freezer is too full, you can also build your own fly trap. Just take a plastic container (like an old 2 liter soda bottle) and cut some holes in it. Put a couple scraps of fruit in there and then pour in enough soapy water to almost make your fruit float. Leave it on your counter and the flies will be attracted to the fruit and die when they drown. You can empty your trap or simply throw out the whole thing and make another until your fruit fly problem is history.

Small worm bins are also great for an apple core or two. Many people keep a bin under the sink, under their desk at work, or even in under their kitchen table. Click here for instructions on how to build your own worm bin.

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