Make your own compost with a home composter


Photo courtesy of Sustainable Harvest International at Flickr.com.

Does your town collect leaves in the fall and Christmas trees in January? Often, this garbage is taken to a central location and shredded for use in landscaping all around town. Throughout the year, tree trimmings and grass clippings are often added to municipal compost heaps. Many cities offer this mulch and compost made from this mulch for a fee. Depending on how much money your town spends to support the program, these community composting centers can offer high grade compost or questionable compost contaminated with unhealthy scraps.

There’s no need to go to the town compost pile. Instead, turn to your back yard and take control over the compost that you use. Home composters are available that can handle any amount of kitchen scraps or yard waste. There are large and small composters available in just about any shape or color. For the fastest results, there are even tumbling composters and worm composters.

Composting with worms is very rewarding, because worms do all of the work of aerating and turning a compost pile for you. Instead of using a pitchfork to turn partially decayed compost, you can sit back and relax, knowing that your worms are happily at work. Worms work at all hours of the day, and they will quickly reproduce until their numbers match the available food supply. This biological feedback loop ensures that worm bins break down food scraps quickly and without wasting any effort.

Worm composters are self contained, and they don’t require any expensive supplies. In fact, they take “worthless” trash and convert it into high quality fertilizer, which can add up to some big savings. Home composting reduces the volume of trash that you throw away, and some garbage companies charge based on volume. Vermicomposting also saves money because it reduces the cost of landscaping and creates a soil amendment that’s perfect for filling cracks or depressions in the yard.


Photo courtesy of quapan at Flickr.com.

Worm Castings: How Worm Poop Can Make Your Soil Richer


Photo courtesy of www.ecoyardfarming.com at Flickr.com.

Healthy soil is full of worm castings. That’s the polite euphemism for worm poop – it sounds better than worm droppings or worm crap. No matter what you call this fertilizer, worm castings are a great natural way to boost the nutrient capacity of soil. Unlike cow patties or other excrement, worm castings are odor free. They’ve been reprocessed by a worms stomach multiple times, which means they’ve reached a stable, neutral state. Worms have done all the hard work of breaking down nutrients into their base components – these are simple building blocks that plants can work with easily.

Worm castings also contain several million helpful bacterium per gram. These helpful bacteria come from inside the stomach of worms. Just like the human body uses symbiotic organisms to digest food, worms also rely on the help of microscopic helpers. These bacteria remain active in vermicastings, and they will help make nutrients available to plants. Many soil bacteria help plants by converting nitrogen compounds into natural fertilizer underground. The enzymes produced by these bacteria also help break up soil debris, such as dead roots, wood chips, and clumps of earth that roots would otherwise have to waste time growing around. Worm castings have 10 to 20 times the microbial activity of topsoil where worms aren’t present.

Also, healthy soil bacteria allow plants to get more nutrients from the soil. When a plant drops a leaf onto the ground, it can take a long time for the nutrients in that leaf to break down into the soil. Soil bacteria accelerate this natural process by increasing the speed of nutrient cycling. Instead of waiting several years for the carbon, potassium, and nitrogen, plants are able to use and re-use the nutrients at a faster rate. This allows plants to grow at a much faster rate than they would otherwise.

As plants grow, they go through cycles of respiration and chemical synthesis. Each step of this process requires energy as the plants produce chemicals that they need, and that energy is not available for other life processes. A tree or flower that has to work hard to extract nutrients from the soil is more vulnerable to insect damage or disease. Active soil bacteria help make plants healthier by closing the loop and assisting in the synthesis of many amino acids, micro nutrients, and chemical precursors. They work like a surgical nurse in the hospital, passing tools along as they’re needed.

Worm castings are also great for soil structure because they retain moisture very well. Worm castings can hold 9 times their weight in moisture. This water capacity is similar to peat moss, mulch, and coconut fiber. That’s important because dry soil can harm plants by sucking the moisture out of their roots. If your soil is too dry, try mixing in some vermi compost. Since worm castings retain moisture, they can help your plants survive even in drought like conditions. When used as a soil amendment, worm castings reduce the danger of cracked foundations, erosion, and subsidence.


Photo courtesy of Zombizi at Flickr.com.

Vermiculture: Another fancy word for composting with worms


Photo courtesy of Mnemonix at Flickr.com.

Vermiculture is a word that can be confusing. What does it mean? The prefix, “vermi”, sounds unpleasant, like ‘vermin’, but Vermis is the Latin word for worm. That leads to the next question – how does one “culture” worms? Well, so far no one has had any luck teaching worms to enjoy the opera or visit art galleries. Instead, we’ve learned how to culture worms in the same way that milk curds are cultured to produce cheese. Just like cheese bacteria, it’s easy to raise worms and get them to do useful work at the same time that they grow up and reproduce.

Worms can reproduce very quickly, as many species are hermaphrodites. They can breed even if there are no other worms to mate with. Worms lay cocoons that contain anywhere from 2 to 50 baby worms. This rapid reproduction keeps the species alive in the wild, even though many different birds, snakes, and other predators try to eat them. Inside a worm bin, there are no predators so the worm population will grow quickly.


Photo courtesy of Sevenoh at Flickr.com.

Worm composting can be done indoors or outdoors. Many different containers are suitable for vermiculture. You can buy a custom built worm bin, or build your own using a wooden or plastic container, an old wash tub, barrels, sandboxes, dresser drawers, or even suitcases. The trick is to keep the worms happy. Maintain good air flow, keep the soil damp but not too wet, and give the worms plenty of food. Then, sit back and let them eat and reproduce around the clock. If you feel like it, go to the opera or check out a museum – the worms will still be working when you get back.


Photo courtesy of wyo92 at Flickr.com.