Sunday, March 8, 2009

Going back to Vermicomposting!

The first time I ever encountered a vermicomposter was about 17 years ago! I was seventeen and adventurous. I had made the decision to become an archaeologist and to prepare for the experience I volunteered to work a dig in Churchill, Manitoba. You will be reading more on my adventures there in future posts. While visiting a friend's home in Churchill I watched as my friend opened this bin, which appeared an unusual shape for a trash can, and deposited what seemingly was garbage! She noticed my look of curiosity and began to explain. A bin of worms, red wrigglers to be precise meant to turn your organic waste into compost!! Ever since that introduction to such to vermicomposting I had yearned for the novelty of having just such a magical container! Yes, magic...waste to useful soil, voila!

It was not until I was married and living in the arctic that I finally had my very own "worm composter". Gardening is a bit of a rarity in the arctic for obvious reasons. The ground is forever frozen with permafrost, the growing season is exceedingly short, and the temperatures even in the summer can often be too cool. We are human however and winning over mother nature part of our instinctive nature. My neighbour had a small greenhouse and our enormous wall of south facing windows provided opportunities for indoor container gardening. Though we did dig up soil from outdoors vermicomposting provided extra, essential, nutrient rich planting material. We grew tomatoes, lettuce, radishes, herbs and chives. We even tried potatoes for a few years in large wooden boxes positioned in our backyard. We moved containers in and out of the house depending on the weather conditions and admittedly we had some minor successes!
We were not the only ones with a vermicomposter. In fact even the elementary school had a couple. They provided a great educational experience for the children and furnished the houseplants with some wonderful meals.
When we left the arctic we had to leave our worms behind. It did not make sense to transport them. To some it may seem an odd thing to live with worms! I had spoken to the woman who would be moving into our home and she seemed very interested in gardening, asking many questions about whether or not one could have a garden in the north. She was coming from southern British Columbia and had no experience with northern living. As I cleaned the house to leave I thought perhaps I should leave the vermicomposter for her. I had grown so accustomed to having one and so many other people in the community had one that it never occurred to me that she may not be familiar with them. I mean isn't B.C. known for it's granola-crunching, eco-friendly inhabitants?!? I was going to mention the bin of worms but in my packing frenzy it slipped my mind and she came across the bin quite horrified! I suppose then vermiconposting is not for the faint of heart!

It has been 3 or 4 years without our red wriggler friends and this spring we will be starting to vermicompost again! We do compost in our backyard but during the winter months it's not so convenient.

Would you like to start to vermicompost?
Probably the best way to find red wrigglers available near you is to do an online search. I know of a few suppliers in Canada. Regular earthworms will not survive on your bin as they require foods which are already partially decomposed. Red wrigglers also eat half their own body weight in a day which helps to speed up decomposition.

You Will Need: ~Red Wriggler Worms
~Bedding (shredded paper, newspaper, and/or cardboard)
~A bin or container with holes in top and sides (we used a Rubbermaid)

Tips: ~Use a shallow bin, wider than it is high. The average bin size for a 2 person family is about 30cm high X 40cm deep X 60cm long (the more waste you will have the bigger the container you will need). You will need about 60 square cm of surface area for each kg of food waste per week.
~You will need roughly half a pound of worms for each cubic foot of bin (this is around 500 worms)
~The worms need oxygen and the moisture in the bin must be controlled so holes must be made in the top and sides of the bin. It is not likely the worms will want to leave their new home but you may cover the holes with mesh.
~The worms in a bin can handle a range of temperatures but make sure they do not freeze or become extremely hot!
~The worms require some moisture. Dampen the bedding a bit but do not make it soggy or leave it dry. Fill the bin with about a foot of bedding. Do not pack the bedding down. Add a handful of soil or sand to help with digestion and place the worms on top. If you leave the bin open for a few minutes the worms will hide under the bedding to escape the light.

Worm Foods: Feed the worms your fruit and veggie waste i.e. carrots, celery, melon rind, apple, banana peels, also tea leaves and bags! You should feed them only minimal amounts of coffee grinds, tomatoes, and citrus peels (they are too acidic). Clean crushed egg shell is great to counteract acidity and to add nutrients. Small amounts of bread,cereals and leftover spaghetti noodles are alright too!
Do not Feed Worms: Fish, meats, dairy, and eggs as these will smell and attract other insects! Garlic, salt and vinegar can kill worms!

~Chop up the food to make it decompose faster and bury the food under the worm bedding. Add a tsp of soil with each feeding of waste. Save your worm food in a smaller container and feed it to the worms once or twice a week.
~Your compost will look brown and earthy when it is ready for use.
~Harvest your compost by moving everything in the bin to one side and adding new bedding and waste to the other. The worms will gradually move to the new food source and you can remove the compost in 1-2 weeks then replace with new bedding. OR Open your composter and shine a light on it for 10 minutes. This will cause the worms to dig deeper into the bin. Scrape off the top layer of finished compost then repeat the process until you are finished.
~You should harvest the compost about every 1 or 2 months. Watch for worm eggs (which are roundish, translucent and brown)! You will want these to remain in your composter!
Voila! The Magic of Vermicomposting! I will post pictures of our new vermicomposter as soon as we get started again!

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