Monday, August 19, 2013

Vermiculture Evangelista

In a previous post, I wrote about my passion for compost, which makes the worthless into something worthy.

But then there were bears.

I tried four different outdoor composting systems, including a solar-oriented, cone-like thing the bulk of which I buried about four feet underground. The bears enthusiastically destroyed them all.

So I started to read about vermiculture, which is an indoor composting system.  I started my own vermiculture set-up in 2010, and I am now a true believer.

It isn't just for those of us who need bear-free composting options.

It is for anyone looking for an easy and efficient way to compost.  It is especially good for those who live in cold climates, because indoor composting happens year around.  And the product just can't be beat: it produces the best soil amendment ever.

I do it right in my dining room, and most people do not even know it is there.  No smell.  No flies.

Here is what most people see:

What is behind the magic screen?

the shredded paper can make a mess...hence the magic screen!

And what does it do? It turns kitchen scraps, junk mail, and cardboard into totally digested, soil-scented worm castings for the garden.

shredded junk mail

household cardboard waste
Decomposing kitchen scraps, it turns out, are just too gross and dark to photograph, so I invite you to mentally include plenty of tea bags, banana peels, onion skins, carrot peelings, lettuce rinds, etc. in the emerging scenario.

All of the above results in:

thoroughly composted material
Amazing, yes?

I bought the composter online, and I even bought the worms online.  It was super easy to set up.

I started with the three-tray composter, but I have added two additional trays (which can be purchased separately) to make a five-tray composter.  We needed all five to keep up with our output of waste.

Here are some important tips I have gleaned from three and a half years of worm farming:
  • Use no meat, grease, citric fruit, or coffee grounds.  The meat and grease result in a bad smell, and the other things are too acidic for the worms.
  • Egg shell is the one organic material that does not break down.  So I know longer use eggshells in the composter.
  • Use A LOT of shredded paper and cardboard.  Every time you add food scraps, add a good inch of paper or cardboard on top.  This is how I achieved no smell and no flies.  Plus, I got to compost all of our paper waste!  I bought a little desktop shredder for the junk mail, and I hand-shred the cardboard.
  • Keep the drainage spigot open and let it drain 24/7 into a bowl that you set under the spigot.  The resulting "compost tea" can get poured directly onto your houseplants as an organic fertilizer.  Check the bowl about once per week or whenever you are adding material to the composter.  it is amazing how much water decomposing fruits and veggies generate!
  • I use blunt edged, plastic salad tongs to move the compost around when I am adding new material to a tray.  I do not like to touch the squirmy worms, and the blunt tongs do not seem to hurt them.  I have dedicated the tongs to this purpose and use them for nothing else.  So you do not have to be afraid to eat salad at my house.

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