Tuesday April 26, 2016
Waste is a tricky part of the sustainability puzzle, but it’s one we need to get a handle on as we continue to deplete our planet of finite resources. We all know we’re supposed to recycle metal, glass, paper, plastic, and cardboard. But what about kitchen scraps?
Many people don’t worry about that kind of waste. After all, it’s a “renewable” resource, right? It breaks down quickly and safely in the landfill, right? There’s no harm in throwing it out or tossing it down the garbage disposal, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But there’s a fun, sustainable way you can do your part: vermicomposting. Vermicomposting is composting using worms, which makes the process faster, creates rich compost, and gives you a really fun family project!
Why Kitchen & Yard Scraps Matter
Our nation’s problem of throwing out food scraps dislocates nutrients from the places they’re needed most: farms, gardens, and wilderness land.
When nutrients are instead concentrated in landfills, they release huge amounts of methane gas, a major agent of climate change. Click here to learn more about this phenomenon. Plus, we lose the chance to put those nutrients to work growing plants, animals, and people!
If you’re worried about composting at home, you’re in good company. People are afraid to compost for a variety of reasons, including:
- Perceived difficulty to set up
- Fear of bad smells, microbes, and pests
- Long time to create compost
Vermicomposting eliminates many of these concerns. Worms are incredibly efficient at breaking down organic waste into nutrients, so they do it quickly and with very little smell. Worms are also very forgiving, and there are easy ways to get started.
We do lots of vermicomposting on our organic noni farm, collecting worms in the Worm Hotel and feeding them our kitchen and farm scraps. They reward us by helping us keep our soil incredibly fertile. We believe they’re a big part of the reason our noni trees produce fruit year-round.
Benefits of Vermicomposting
As an organic farmer for over 40 years, all I am doing is mimicking what nature has done for millennium in the forest floor. Leaves fall on the ground creating a cool dark home for worms that make top soil through their worm castings.
The main benefit you’ll receive is black gold, farmer-speak for the worm castings produced by worms after they’ve digested the organic materials you’ve given them to snack on. This black gold is an incredibly effective fertilizer, low in pathogens and rich in all the things plants need to thrive and produce nutritious food.
Research has shown that one 5 gallon bucket of worm castings will bring back a whole acre of depleted land — imagine what it can do for your backyard garden and indoor plants!
Worm castings can be added to potting soil for seed starts and indoor plants, or incorporated into your topsoil in the garden. Because the worms do such a good job of breaking down everything, you can put worm castings right down into the holes where you plant seeds — they won’t burn the seeds or roots of new plants like unfinished compost or other kinds of manure.
You can also use worm castings in your mulch, sprinkling them directly on the top of the soil and cover with mulch. The nutrients will trickle down to the roots every time you water.
Finally, you can add worm castings to your conventional compost pile, if you have one. They’ll help things get heated up more quickly, ensuring your compost will heat quickly, evenly, and without bad smells.
How Do I Get Started?
I’d recommend starting with this very complete resource provided by the Canadian government — click here — which provides all the information you need for happy, healthy, productive worms. They cover everything from feed and moisture preferences to light sensitivity to composting timelines.
If you’re looking for an easy system you can buy and set up, check out this option from Nature’s Footprint. Ask around at your local farmer’s market for worms, which may be better suited to the unique environmental challenges where you live. If you strike out, buying worms online should be fine.
Once your bins are all set up, it’s time to start feeding! Worms love most fruits, vegetables and coffee grounds, but they have a few favorites (pumpkin, leftover corn cobs, melon rinds) and a few foods they just tolerate (citrus, onions, garlic). Make sure to keep bones, meat, dairy, salty foods, oils, and anything inorganic out!
One key to success with your worms is making sure to include some gritty foods, like coffee grounds. Worms don’t have teeth, so this grit actually helps worms fully digest their food. Also, you will find that worms love to lay eggs (for new worms) in coffee grounds.
Before you know it, you’ll be using up your kitchen scraps while also creating awesome fertilizer for your garden!
Let us know if you have any questions about vermicomposting! We’d be delighted to share our decades of experience with you.