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Posts Tagged ‘moisture’

Your worm bin should be as a moist a wrung out sponge. A great way to find out if the moisture is just right is to do a squeeze test. Grab a handful of the castings in your bin. If water drips, your bin is too wet. If the castings do not stick much to your hand, it is likely your bin needs more water.

With the changing temperatures moving from summer to fall, be sure to keep an eye on the moisture of your bin. To make adding water more convenient, our Master Composters recommend keeping a spray bottle nearby. It is also great to moisten any paper you add to your bin before adding to keep your moisture levels up.

photo courtesy of http://growinggroceries.wordpress.com

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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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Crock Pot Composting

How to make the ultimate worm food!

By: Diane Hollister, Master Composter

Worms have no teeth, so they can’t consume the kitchen scraps you feed them until the scraps are broken down a bit.  You can do this yourself very easily by putting your food waste in a crock pot.  Here’s what I found works.

1.  I bought an inexpensive 5 qt. crock pot from Target for around $20.

2.  Put about ½ cup of good compost or some soil from around any plant that is growing well.  This will provide the microbes needed to break down the material in the pot.

3. Add kitchen scraps, the smaller they are cut up the faster they will break down.  Crushed egg shells are great to provide grit.

4.  Put the lid on and set the crock pot on warm.  Check the temperature in 24 hours.  In mine, the temperature was 140 degrees, which was ideal.

5.  Stir when you think about it and add water to keep it moist.

6.  If the contents start to smell, add some paper from your paper shredder, some compressed pine pellets (sold as kitty litter), some coir or any other small sized carbon rich material.  Mix well.  If it still smells add more carbon.

7. In about a week everything will be nicely broken down.  Let it cool and feed it to your worms.  They will go crazy for it!

I found you can add meat and dairy to the pot as there is no problem of rats getting into it.  Also, if I think about it I turn the pot off at night and back on in the morning and that works fine too.

If there is more material than your worms can process, just bury the rest in your yard or add it to your compost pile.

Leave about a cup of material in the pot to start your next batch.

Have fun!

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If you just made a fruit salad or cut up a large watermelon, you may have more material than can be fit into a worm bin at one time. It’s very convenient to stow this food in the freezer until the worms are hungry again, but will the worms eat this food after it has been frozen? Does the food need to thaw before it goes into the bin?

Yes and no.

Fruits and vegetables are 80-90% water. When water freezes, it expands, changing the texture of the food when it thaws. Humans may not like to eat mushy fruit and vegetables but the worms love it! Because worms do not have teeth, they can easily suck the mushy food into their mouths. If the food is easier for the worms to eat, it will disappear more quickly so you’ll be able to feed your worms more food!

Although worms do not like the extreme coldness inherent with frozen food, it will not kill them to put non-thawed food into the bin. The food will make a cold spot in the bin that the worms will avoid until it thaws to a more comfortable temperature. If it is warm weather, it will not stay cold for long. Then the worms will be all over the food like white on rice! As the frozen goodies thaw and the ice crystals melt, water will be introduced to the bin. If frozen fruits and veggies are going into the bin, additional water should not have to be added. If the bin seems to be getting too wet, add some shredded paper to absorb the excess water.

The worms will love this mushy treat!

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Water is added to a Biostack during a rainless day.

Bin wetness from rain is usually a non-issue in San Diego County but recently, with the extreme rain that has fallen on our lovely County, outdoor compost bins are probably on the soggy side. Remember, optimum bin dampness is comparable to that of a wrung out sponge so if your bin is dripping, it is probably too wet!

Backyard Compost Bins

A “too wet” compost bin will naturally dry out over time as the water in the bin evaporates, but if it is rainy or cold outside, the bin may stay wet for an extended period of time. A bin that is too wet can lead to a smelly, anaerobic situation that most strive to avoid. To speed up the drying process, add additional browns (materials high in carbon) to your bin. Items like dead leaves, straw, shredded paper, and mulch will suck up the excess water, drying out the bin. Once the bin is back to the dampness of a wrung out sponge, the microbial population will increase, speeding up composting in the bin.

Worm Bins

Red Wigglers are terrestrial creatures. They will quickly perish if placed into a pool of water. If their environment gets too wet, they will wriggle for their lives, migrating to a safer location, probably out of the worm bin. To dry out the bedding, add shredded paper or cardboard. The worms will eventually eat the paper and in the meantime, it will absorb excess water. If space in your bin is at a premium and additional material cannot be added, placing a piece of cardboard or burlap on the surface of the bedding will absorb moisture and can be replaced if additional moisture needs to be removed. Make sure to also check the worm tea level of your bin. Most of the water in the bin will end up in the worm tea level. If it fills, it will saturate the lowest level of the worm bin. If the tea levels are high, drain the tea from the bin and use it as a liquid fertilizer on your plants! They’ll love it!

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An inexpensive paper shredder is a great tool for shredding paper for your compost bin.

Paper provides a carbon source for your compost bin. Many kinds of paper can be added to your compost bin, even those with colored ink. The secret to using paper successfully is to shred or chop it and then moisten it before adding it to your bin. It is also helpful to alternate layers of paper with materials that provide more aeration (chopped branches, etc.) to avoid matting. For worm bins, a moist layer of paper on the top of castings and food can help keep away flies and also provide a carbon source for your worms.

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by: David Emmerson, LCCHS Science Teacher and Solana Center Master Composter

Kitchen waste, yard clippings, paper, coffee grounds, and other organic materials that are produced in the home are all considered “biodegradable”. This term has a positive connotation, especially to us environmentalists. It means that they can be broken down into their raw materials by a variety of living organisms such as microbes (helpful bacteria, protozoa and fungi), earthworms and many different arthropods. Many of our choices at stores are based on purchasing materials that will biodegrade or “rot”.  The theory is that the materials will then be reincorporated as plant nutrients and find their way back into the food chain in a healthy ecosystem.

Leslie turns a Biostack compost bin.

In the United States and in many other developed countries, we over-produce and generate a lot of waste. We have become a throw-away society, keeping our homes neat and tidy by either rinsing things down our drains or putting wastes in plastic bags out on the curb where it all goes out of sight, out of mind. The illusion is that we have solved our problems and shouldn’t worry because the waste will biodegrade on its own. We sometimes further the cause by putting “green” waste into special bins to be picked up separately to be kept out of landfills. However, most of us don’t realize is that almost all of the biodegradable material that we flush, rinse or throw out is going to end up breaking down in an anaerobic environment either as sewage sludge or in most cases in landfills. The separated green waste most often gets used as ADC, “Alternate Daily Cover” to top off the day’s trash which is then layered over the next day, so it gets buried anyhow. Locally, the cities of San Diego and Oceanside have composting facilities where green waste collected at the curb can be taken to be composted or mulched. But if you do not live in those cities or in an area where composting facilities are available, you do not necessarily keep it out of the landfill by separating it.

When organic material decomposes without oxygen, the microorganism can only partially break it down. One of the major end products of this type of decomposition is methane gas (CH4). Methane makes up a little over half of the gas that comes from landfills. Global methane emissions from landfills are estimated to be between 30 and 70 million tons each year. Most of this landfill methane currently comes from developed countries, where the levels of waste tend to be highest. The EPA indicates that methane is about 10% of the green house gases released in the US each year. But it is 72 times more effective (over a 25 year period) at contributing to global warming than the better known greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2). Landfills are the second largest source of human-related atmospheric methane, almost one fourth of the methane we release now comes from landfills. Landfills provide ideal conditions for methane production, with lots of organic material and anaerobic conditions. The huge amounts of waste that are buried in landfill sites means that methane is produced for years after the site is closed, due to the waste slowly decaying under the ground. Having the waste we produce at home shipped to landfills means further greenhouse gas produced from the fuel burned.

The Solana Center garden abounds from the compost ammended soil.

By properly composting kitchen waste and yard clippings you can ensure that the waste will not sit in a landfill producing methane. Instead, it will go to work at creating healthy soil and reducing amount of water runoff. Several very effective composting methods are available for domestic use, with vermi-composting (using worms) being particularly effective at quickly converting kitchen waste into good quality garden compost.

Even if you are not serious about gardening, you will improve the water retention of your soil and improve the health of the lawn, shrubs, trees or other landscaping if you turn your organic wastes into compost and put it back into the ground. Healthy soil is an important factor in protecting our water resources. Compost increases soil’s ability to retain water and decreases runoff. Runoff pollutes water by carrying soil, fertilizers and pesticides to nearby streams and sewer drains. Compost encourages healthy root systems, which also decrease runoff. Healthy root systems mean healthy plants and thus better growth and carbon sequestration. If we use compost, we can reduce or eliminate the use of synthetic fertilizers (which come from petroleum). Many people add fertilizer to flowers or lawns even if they are not gardening. Only a 5% increase in organic material quadruples soils capacity to hold water. Not too interested in back breaking work with a shovel to turn the compost into the soil? Don’t want to pay for a roto-tiller? Good news for you. It has been shown that simply top dressing soil with compost helps retain the mycorrhizal fungi nets that assist plant roots. It may actually be the most effective way to assist the plants you already have around your house.

Whether you are trying to grow award winning tomatoes or simply want to help the environment around your own home, composting is the thing for you. You will also contribute to the health of the general community in which you live and cut the amount of pollutants that go into the atmosphere from the wastes you’ve generated. Thanks in advance!

http://www.ars.usda.gov US Dept. of Agriculture website

http://www.ghgonline.org/index.htm a green house gas (GHG) website

http://www.epa.gov/ US Environmental Protection Agency website

http://www.globalchange.gov/ the US Govt. website for Fed. Research on Climate and Global Change

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