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We’re Moving!

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The Solana Center is excited to announce a move to a new blog: “Fresh Perspectives”. In an effort to better capture the diverse interests of our staff and audience, we have created a forum for all things sustainable at solanacenter.wordpress.com. Check out our recent posts and our latest rotline: “What are the white things in my worm bin?” by clicking here.

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Yes! Thick, fudgy castings are as viable a soil amendment as finer, more granular castings. Denser castings can pose some challenges to the traditional methods of harvest and application. First, an important distinction:

–          Vermicast/Castings = Worm manure

–          Vermicompost = Amixture ofworm castings and decomposed or partially decomposed organic matter that has not been digested by the worm.

Worm castings are naturally a more concentrated substance than other types of compost, including vermicompost. Castings are generally characterized by their dark brown color and soil-like appearance, however, color, texture, and density will vary according to the inputs and care regimen of each bin. Thick castings signify a greater density of castings to vermicompost, but very thick castings tend to be a result of allowing excess moisture to build up in the bin.

–          The type of bedding used in the worm bin will affect the ultimate texture of the castings; for instance, coconut coir bedding will produce fluffier castings than shredded paper bedding.

–          The moisture content of the bin is critical in determining the final consistency of the castings: lower levels of moisture (and regular aeration) will produce lighter, fluffier castings, whereas allowing excess moisture to remain in the bin will clump materials and generate heavier, denser castings.

–          Clogged drainage holes are characteristic of a bin holding excess moisture. When drainage holes get stopped up with castings, standing water in the bottom of the bin causes the (highly-absorptive) castings to become very fudgy, thus making harvesting more difficult.

–          Castings that are left in a bin too long (and undergo multiple instances of digestion) will become increasingly condensed. With time, this over processing produces less nutrient-rich castings, less active worms, and can even become toxic to the worm community.  If this is the case, castings should be harvested as soon as possible.

When it comes time to harvest a bin with high-density castings, drying out fudgy materials is not recommended, as the process will be time-consuming (due to the high moisture content of the castings) and will likely produce hard chunks that are difficult to mix into the soil. Instead, use your castings straight out of the bin, or consider making worm tea out of some of the castings. 

Castings are generally mixed into the soil at a 4:1 soil to compost ratio, but it is worth noting that dense castings can be mixed into soil at smaller ratios, as thick castings have a high moisture-holding capacity, but are less permeable than fluffy castings or vermicompost.

Happy Composting!

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Summer is here! 2012 looks like it has another hot, dry summer season in store for San Diego. It is important to protect your valuable composting worms from high temperatures and dry conditions. Red wrigglers cannot leave our vermicomposting bins to escape the heat, so it’s up to us to keep them cool during the warm summer months. Here are a few tips:

  • Keep the worm bin out of direct sunlight by placing it under shade, in the garage, on the patio or even inside the house (especially when temperatures exceed 100 degrees)
  • Keep the bedding evenly moist with water but be sure the bin is also draining properly. You may need to add water periodically during the summer months.
  • Consider freezing food scraps before adding to the bin during especially hot periods.
  • Remember that it is the internal bedding temperature of the bin, not the ambient temperature that is relevant for worm comfort.
  • Discourage ants, which tend to be more active in summer, by keeping the area of the bins free of debris, ensuring moist bedding, and putting the bin legs in dishes full of water.

These tips will help keep your worms cool and happy this summer!

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by Asha Kreiling

Curing compost is the process when heat in the compost pile dissipates and the ecology of the microbe population changes. Certain kinds of soil bacteria, such as azobacteria, take over and produce high amounts of nitrates (which plants need to grow) and balance the carbon-nitrogen ratio of the compost pile, which is important in making nutrients available to plants. Decomposition of the compost material slows down, but continues to occur while the diversity of microorganisms increases.

Using uncured compost can potentially harm plants due to its unstable nature. Uncured compost may contain high levels of compounds like ammonia which can weaken or kill plants, by making soil too acidic. Adding uncured compost to soil can also reduce the amount of nitrogen available to plants, because as microorganisms continue to break down material that has not fully decomposed, they take up nitrogen in the soil for their own growth. In contrast, cured compost contains more nitrate and less ammonia due to longer maturation and mineralization. Cured compost is also more stable, meaning it will not become hot or increase in respiration when watered or turned as unfinished compost does.  Phytoxicity, a toxic effect on plant growth, can be caused by compost that is not stable or fully matured.  Phytotoxins can cause decreased oxygen and nitrogen levels in the soil, making it harder for plants to grow.

Read back on our old blog on how to cure compost: https://solanacompost.wordpress.com/2009/02/25/rotline-question-of-the-week-what-does-curing-compost-mean/

 

Sources:

http://www.woodsend.org/pdf-files/rootcomp.pdf

http://www.acresusa.com/toolbox/reprints/Nov2010_ShafferCompost.pdf

http://urbancomposting.tripod.com/Urbancomposting%20Webs/Use%20guide.htm

 

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 Join the Solana Center for a FREE composting workshop at the Water Conservation Garden in El Cajon! The workshop will be held on Saturday, February 4 from 10am to 12pm. Click here to register and find out more details. If you have any questions regarding the workshop or composting call (760) 436-7986 ext. 222 or email compost@solanacenter.org.

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carrots,foods,gardening,households,Photographs,produce,shovels,tools,vegetables

Join the Solana Center for a great course on how to start and sustain a school garden. As with any garden, composting plays an important role and will also be discussed in this course along with several other issues that are critical to school garden success. One of the class days will focus on a hands-on garden build, from the dirt up! Please contact Elizabeth for more information at (760) 436-7986 ext. 218 or elizabeth@solanacenter.org.

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by Asha Kreiling

Gardeners love compost! A material made of yard trimmings and food waste, compost provides nutrients and beneficial micro-organisms to soil virtually for free. Compost restores lackluster soil and supports plant growth by supplying key nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Compost definitely has benefits to individual people in gardens and agricultural farms, but we cannot ignore the larger impact that compost has on the environment and the planet as a whole.

According to the EPA, Americans produced 243 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2009, or about 4.3 pounds of waste per person per day (1).  Organic materials are the largest component of municipal solid waste. Paper and cardboard account for twenty-eight percent of this number and yard trimmings along with food scraps account for another twenty-eight percent (2).

Not only does this enormous amount of waste pose a threat to landfill capacities and open space, but decomposing organic material in anaerobic conditions produces methane, a greenhouse gas twenty-one times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In 2009, landfills in the U.S. produced 12.5 million metric tons of methane – almost twice the emissions of coal mining (3).

According to the EPA, municipal solid waste landfills are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for seventeen percent of all methane emissions in 2009 (3). This huge amount of greenhouse gas being emitted into the air is responsible for absorbing radiation in the atmosphere, changing the climate, and severely effecting ecosystems.

In a landfill, organic materials are bagged in plastic and buried in layers of trash. Useful, recyclable materials are contaminated with regular waste and take up significant amounts of space in landfills. Decomposition occurs very slowly and the anaerobic conditions of landfills result in the large production of methane.

Composting has the potential to solve the problems of organic waste in landfills. A properly managed compost pile goes through an aerobic decomposition process. Compost allows materials to break down aerobically, producing carbon dioxide and beneficial nutrients for the soil instead of methane. Even though carbon dioxide is still produced in the process, it is a much less potent greenhouse gas.  Application of compost also reduces the need for irrigation, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, some of which are sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

By composting organic material, landfill space is preserved, methane production is avoided, and natural soil amendment is created. So, not only does compost have benefits for our backyard gardens, but it plays a huge role in diverting waste, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and mitigating climate change.

Sources:

1 United States E.P.A., “Wastes: Non-Hazardous Waste – Municipal Solid Waste.”   http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/index.htm

2 United States E.P.A., “Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2009.”<http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw2009-fs.pdf&gt;

3 Misra, R.V., Roy, R.N., Hiraoka, H. “On-farm composting methods.” <ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/006/y5104e/y5104e00.pdf>

4 United States E.P.A., “Methane – Sources and Emissions.”  <http://epa.gov/methane/sources.html&gt;

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