Posts Tagged ‘organic material’

“Earthworm” is the common name for over 2,500 species of Earthworm. But not all species are suitable for vermicomposting or the compost bin. Earthworker worms do not eat a large volume of organic material, do not reproduce well in confinement, and do not thrive when their burrow systems are disturbed. Vermicomposting worms on the other hand, reproduce quickly, eat large amounts of organic material, and tolerate disturbance.

red wigglerRed Wigglers
Eisenia fetida
Red wigglers are the most common type of vermicomposting worms. They are rust brown in color with striping between segments. Adults can grow to about 3 inches in length, they prefer temperatures between 59-77 degrees F, and cocoons hatch between 35 and 70 days. Red wigglers work well for vermicomposting because of their high reproductive rate, ability to survive in varying conditions, and because under perfect conditions, they can eat their body weight in food everyday. Red wigglers are not soil dwellers and will likely perish if added to a garden.

Red TigerRed Tiger
Eisenia andrei
The tiger worm is a close relative of the red wiggler and shares very similar vermicomposting abilities. They are dark red or purple in color and can grow up to 3 inches long. They prefer temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees F and can process large volumes of organic material. They are often not separated from red wigglers by commercial growers.

Red WormRedworms
Lumbricus rubellus
This worm works well for vermicomposting and bait as well. It is said to be irresistible to fish. This worm is dark red to maroon in color with no striping between segments. They can grow up to 3 inches in length and prefer temperatures between 64 and 72 degrees F. Redworms cocoons hatch in 12 to 16 weeks. This worm can potentially do double duty as a vermicomposter and earthworker.

Lumbricus terrestris
Nightcrawlers are not ideal worms for vermicomposting bins. Nightcrawlers are deep dwellers that can burrow up to 6 feet into the ground. Nightcrawlers do not like their burrows to be disturbed and prefer temperatures around 50 degrees F. They can grow up to 12 inches in length and prefer to eat leaf litter and mulch. Nightcrawlers are earthworkers, performing  an important role in soil mixing, taking organic matter from the surface into deeper layers of the soil.

For more information on worms, please check out The Worm Book by Loren Nancarrow or Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof (available at the Solana Center). For a list of worm retailers in the San Diego area, please click here.


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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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EDCO Waste and Recycling Services will apply for a major use permit for a green material processing, recycling, and composting facility this year. The facility would be located on a 197 acre site on Betsworth Road in Valley Center.

According to the North County Times, the facility would accept leaves, lawn clippings, brush, and other organic material that would otherwise go to landfills. EDCO expects that 406 tons of green material will be hauled to the site daily. EDCO currently plans to use covered, computer-monitored composting bins to turn the green waste into soil enriching products.

For more information about the proposed project see the full article by the North County Times here.

Please note: the views, conclusions, findings, and opinions of the author are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Solana Center or the County of San Diego.

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Let thermophilic bacteria do all of the work!

Let thermophilic bacteria do all of the work!

Worms are generally used in closed-system compost bins. Worm bins are used to house the worms, which will digest your materials and create castings. When using a worm bin, you will need to add worms to the bin.

Compost bins are generally open-bottom bins and do not require worms.  In a compost bin microbes called thermophilic bacteria as well as a vast network of microorganisms and invertebrates break down materials and turn them into humus, or compost. These organisms will come to your bin entirely on their own for FREE!

The activity of the microbes and the insulating mass of organic material will combine to create temperatures of 140 degrees or more.  Thermophilic bacteria, the most efficient composters, thrive in temperatures of 100 and 140 degrees, which is the target range for optimum composting. Worms thrive in temperatures between 59 and 77 degrees. They will enter your bin when it is cooler and leave on their own when the bin achieves higher temperatures.

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