Simple composting you can do

Vermicomposting saves water, recycles organic resources and conserves landfill space


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Vermicomposting is the art of composting, or breaking down food or organic matter, using various species of worms.

Madeline Ewing

Always interested in the circle of life, I decided to learn about the nastier, more somber side of it: death. A question we often ask ourselves is, “What happens after we die?” Well, for my veggies, they turn into a grand feast for some red wiggler worms. I also like to think their little organic souls are on a greater journey after departing from their earthly vessels and that, one day, my soul too will join my long-forgotten salads in the realm beyond for a second, tasty reunion.  

Regardless of what really happens after death, one thing is for sure: they don’t get to keep that summer bod for much longer afterward. The breaking down of matter is inevitable, but where exactly it ends up and what it turns into is up to us.

Vermicomposting is the art of composting, or breaking down food or organic matter, using various species of worms. While most envision composting as a big heaping pile of dead leaves and animal poop, vermicomposting is more compact, making it a great alternative for those that want to start on a smaller scale. Odorless and achievable from the comforts of home, vermicomposting saves water, recycles organic resources and conserves landfill space, making the Earth one happy camper.

Recently, Tulsa Zoo education specialist Miranda Adams led a free vermicomposting class in Tulsa Community College’s McKeon Center for Creativity. Below are some of the steps and tips Adams gave for a successful vermicompost start-up:

 

Supplies:

Foil pan (dimensions: 20.5 x 3.3 x 13 inches)

Pen (to poke holes in pan)

Newspaper (at least a few issues)

Spray bottle filled with water

Compost worms, or “Red Wigglers” (orderable from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm on Amazon)

 

Steps:

1. Poke holes using the pen around the border of the lid of the foil pan and along the top of the foil pan’s edges. Space the holes with about an inch between each one, with each hole size being about the width of the pen used. Keep them small enough so as to not allow other animals to get into it.

2. Tear newspaper up into 1 x 1 inch pieces, creating a bedding for the bottom of the foil pan. Tear and scatter pieces the bottom of the pan until there are several layers of complete coverage with no foil peeking through the paper.

3. Soak the newspaper bedding using a spray bottle full of water. Spray until the newspaper is thoroughly moist, but not enough that it is watery and the paper isn’t absorbing all of it. Worms need a moist environment, but too much water could drown them.

4. Add worms along with any organic matter that comes with them in the container. DO NOT add soil. Red wigglers live in organic matter, unlike nightcrawlers that live in soil.

5. Tear newspaper into long strips and lay over the top of the worms and organic matter. This provides a shelter or covering for the worms, which tend to live within the top three inches of whatever compost or matter they are living in.

6. Lightly spray the top layer of newspaper scraps with water.

7. Cover the pan with the foil lid, holes already poked.

8. Store in a cool, dry location with little to no direct sunlight. This could be under a sink in a cupboard, in a breakroom or in an office. They can be kept outside, but special attention should be paid to weather elements to avoid possible destruction of the habitat.

9. Within the first couple weeks, feed in small amounts, placing vegetable food waste like lettuce, apples, or any slimy greens. DO NOT feed worms meats or cheese, as this will cause an odor and attract other pests. Don’t place bread in the pan as it will mold and create bacteria, attracting other bugs. With acidic waste like coffee grounds or citrus fruits, feed in moderation as it is very strong and can be too overpowering for the worms. Avoid feeding the worms strong, odorous foods like garlic and onions. If the vegetables or fruit leftovers are hard or in large pieces, break them down into smaller pieces in order for the worms to compost them quicker, as they do not have teeth and will be slowed down otherwise. Waste can also be blended and then placed in the pan.

10. As the worms adjust to their new home, they will pick up pace, processing and breaking down the food faster. They should be fed around once per week. It is better to underfeed than overfeed, since the worms will start to eat and break down the newspaper scraps if they run out of food waste.

Worms have a lifespan of approximately one year, but will repopulate as needed to continue composting effectively. Once they pass, they will also become organic matter in the pan, processed by the other worms just like the food and newspaper scraps.

“Black gold,” or black compost, will form out of the processed organic matter. It will look dark like soil but is an all-natural fertilizer. If composting for gardening, the soil-to-compost ratio should be around 30% compost to soil. Worms are removable from the “black gold” by placing a colander or strainer with food in it on top of the contents of the pan. They will climb up through the holes to access the food. Lifting the colander or strainer will lift the worms up with it, allowing access to the “black gold,” or it can be potted for plants along with the worms. Either way, plants will love it!

Make it a fun DIY night with friends or family by gathering these supplies in bulk and creating an earth-friendly disposal system for your food scraps. Worms make for a great house pet as well, especially for those that like their peace and quiet.

 

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