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Compost: Let the worms eat your (good) garbage

May 14th, 2010 | Category: Skills

by Greg Hunter

As I was growing up in the suburban sprawl of Seattle, my dad had the best and most beautiful garden in the neighborhood. Whether it was ripe red tomatoes and other veggies or dahlias that touched the sky, the garden was always full of life in the summer months.
One of the keys to my dad’s garden was always his compost pile. What I saw as the biggest obstacle to me having the backyard basketball hoop I’d always dreamed of was actually the foundation to his beautiful garden. While others in our neighborhood were using chemicals to get their garden moving (this was during the less organic 70s and 80s), my dad was using the grass clippings and other yard waste.
Fast forward 20 or so years, and I’m beginning to work on my garden and creating compost that I hope will help my garden in the future. It worked last year, so I’m giving it another go this season.
The most common types of composting are “hot composting” or “worm composting.” I prefer the worms, just because it’s amazing to witness the work these little creatures do.
Worm composting is an excellent way to break down your food waste from the kitchen into rich, dark, earthy soil, an amazing addition to any garden. When I say food waste I am talking about good food scraps, such as fruit and vegetable peels, pulverized egg shells, tea bags and coffee grounds.
Worm composting can be done indoors or outdoors, allowing for year round composting, especially for people in smaller dwellings. I live on some acreage, and have created a dual composting system – essentially two piles, on the ground, divided by logs and covered with wire mesh. Plenty of air, plenty of water, plenty of sun, and plenty of room to mix it all up. I save my kitchen scraps in a big pail in the kitchen, and at the end of the day I take it outside and dump it on my compost. A quick mixing here and there, and it’s good to go.
Obviously, this is a process and the breaking down of food products takes some time. You can help some things break down sooner – such as egg shells and fruit or veggies, by adding into the compost in much smaller pieces; flatten out those egg shells with your shovel and cut up the lettuce a few times so the mass is in smaller sizes rather that one big piece. Over time, and the worms and micro-organisms will covert the contents into rich compost. Beautiful earthy dirt. You’ll see.
Of course, you might run into a few problems as you are getting the compost going, as this is far from an exact science. If you start composting and it’s not working, you might need to add some nitrogen, water or air. If it’s too hot, you most likely have too much nitrogen and carbon materials should be added to reduce the heating. A bad smell also could indicate too much water.
Another problem you might run into is insects and flies. This happens when adding kitchen waste. To combat this problem, make a hole in the center of your pile and bury the waste.
It goes without saying that it’s a bad idea to add meat scraps, dead animals, pet manure, diseased plant material or noxious weeds to the compost. You can add paper and some wood ash, but not too much. You want to keep the pH balance at a good rate and not overdo a certain material in the compost – let it all blend together.
Oh, and one more thing. Don’t have any worms? That’s easy. Head on down to any gardening center or composing business, and chances are they will have a nice size box of worms for sale. Some places even sell by the pound!
There are a number of great resources out there on the web and in the library. I always hit up my local gardening center if I have questions, but I have to note that the practical book “Worms Eat My Garbage” by author Mary Appelhof is quite the little guide.
After all this talk of gardening, it’s time to get out side and work on my compost!

Greg Hunter lives in Whatcom County. He loves the Northwest and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Plus, his compost is awesome.

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