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Compost Do-It-Yourself

24% of our community's waste isn't really waste at all, it  is compostable organic material like food and yard waste. If each of us does our part, we could minimize our waste considerably. 

Learn how to do:

 

Outdoor Composting

Place garden and yard trimmings, and even food waste, in a pile or bin and allow it to decompose. 

Explore the links below for detailed instructions. 

 

Build a Bin 

Compost Mound

This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to compost. Yard wastes can be composted without a bin if you do not mind the look of a compost mound in your yard.

What To Do - Find a good location and loosen the soil where your pile will be. Pile your yard waste in a mound about 3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet. Create alternate layers of green (grass clippings) and brown (twigs and leaves) waste. Remember, if you turn your compost pile it speeds up the process.

What You Need - All you need is a pitchfork or shovel and work gloves.

Compost Bins

Can be made out of many types of materials - blocks or bricks, snow fence, used pallets, wire mesh, etc.

Blocks or Bricks - Just lay out the blocks or bricks without mortar. Leave spaces between the blocks or bricks to permit air to circulate. The best size is approximately 5 - 8 feet square and 3 - 4 feet high.

Snow Fence - Used snow fence is a simple way to build a bin. Just drive four corner posts into the ground and attach the snow fence.

Used Pallets - Find four clean pallets and fasten the corners together, and start filling. You may want to keep one corner loose, so the bin can be opened for turning and removing compost.

Small-Mesh Wire Fencing - Buy or find wire mesh, form into a circle or square and add your compost materials.

Bins do not have to be square, they can be rectangular or a circular structure, it’s your choice. Remember, for a typical home garden, a bin 3-to-4 feet in height and 5-to-8 feet square will do. Locate it away from buildings and combustible materials.

 

Caring for Your Compost

Layering, watering, and turning the compost are the key steps to getting good compost in a reasonable timeframe.

Layer green (grass clippings) and brown (twigs and leaves) materials in your pile or bin. If your system is dominated by leaves, you may want to avoid adding any food scraps, which might attract rodents or raccoons during the slow decomposition process. If you start with grass and other green wastes and mix them with leaves and maintain moisture levels (damp but not soaking wet), food scraps should break down quickly before any pests become a problem. Food needs to be kept at least 6 inches from the sides, top, and bottom. To avoid pests do not compost meats, fats or oils in the bin. Chopping or mowing your wastes makes the process go faster.

A backyard compost thermometer is available at most garden stores and should be used to determine when to turn the pile. Cool temperatures below 100 degrees and excessively high pile temperatures above 130 degrees indicate a need to turn.

Locate compost close to a water source in case it becomes too dry. Good drainage is also important in order to avoid standing water and the build-up of anaerobic conditions. Avoid exposure to high winds which may dry and cool the pile, and to direct sunlight which may also dry out the pile.

The compost generated can be used to improve the soil in pots or incorporated into gardens and flower beds to improve growing conditions and moisture control.

 

Troubleshooting

Symptom

Problem

Solution 

The compost has a bad odor Not enough air Turn it
The center of the pile is dry or white mold appears  Not enough water  Moisten and turn
The heap is sweet smelling but will not heat up.  Lack of nitrogen Mix in nitrogen source (green stuff)
The heap is damp in middle but dry everywhere else Pile is too small or too dry Collect more material; moisten

   

Acceptable / Unacceptable Items

Bring it on:

  • Grass Clippings
  • Yard Trimmings (old plants, wilted flowers, small prunings)
  • Leaves
  • Vegetable & Fruit Scraps
  • Coffee Grounds
  • Tea Leaves
  • Wood Chips
  • Shredded Paper

Avoid:

  • Meat, Fish and Poultry (including bones)
  • Food Sauces
  • Fats, Grease, and Oils
  • Dairy Products
  • Pet Feces
  • Invasive Weeds
  • Treated Wood (or any materials containing strong preservatives or toxins)
  • Charcoal
  • Non-organics (plastic, metal, glass, etc.)

 

Indoor Composting

Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to break down food and turn it into compost in your home. This is ideal for apartment dwellers, classrooms, and others who are not able to have a compost pile outdoors.

Explore the links below for detailed instructions.

 

Benefits

Food scraps that would otherwise be wasted are turned into high-quality, natural fertilizer that you can add to plants and gardens to help them grow faster and healthier.

  • Reduces the amount of trash you generate.
  • Keeps food waste out of waste-to-energy and water treatment facilities.
  • Requires little space, labor, or maintenance.
  • It’s a fun learning experiment for adults and kids.

 

Build a Worm Bin

 

Starting the Process - Location, location, location!

The worms prefer dark and quiet conditions, so you want to avoid bright light, vibration, and excessive noise for your worm bin.

Bin must be in a place where the temperature range remains between 55 – 85 degrees at all times so the worms can survive and do their job. 

Popular spots: kitchen, basement, pantry, mudroom, closet, or laundry room.

 

What You Need

  • Plastic Tote Bin
  • Lids (two)
  • Mesh Screen
  • Shredded Paper
  • Spray Bottle of Water
  • Peat Moss
  • Soil
  • Red Wiggler Worms
  • Food Scraps

 

What to Do

Get started! View a step-by-step video on how-to build a worm bin or follow the steps below.

Pick up a plastic tote from a home improvement store, and wash and rinse it out. (A typical worm bin is about 2 ft wide x 3 ft long x 1 ft deep.)

Ingredients

For aeration and drainage, drill about a dozen – ½“ holes around the top and bottom of the bin.

Holes on the upper sides of the bin will help your worms get oxygen and get rid of the carbon dioxide, and they will help prevent any odors from building up in your bin. And in case the bedding gets too wet, excess moisture will be able to escape through the holes in the bottom.

Remember to get two lids. Worms like to work in the dark, but they also need air circulation, so keep a loose-fitting lid on top of the bin. Place the second lid, upside down, underneath the bin to capture any moisture that may leak out.Mesh Screen

Cut a piece of mesh screen to fit the bottom of the bin and place it in first. This will allow any excess moisture to escape through the bottom without the worms falling through. You can mix this excess moisture with water to make homemade fertilizer, or compost tea, that you can use to water your indoor and outdoor plants. 

Add an even layer of shredded paper on top of the mesh screen. You can use newspaper, junk mail, or other paper you would like to recycle, as long as it is not glossy or printed with color inks. (Colored ink is toxic to the worms.)

Spraying WaterWorms breathe through their skin, and in order to breathe their skin must be wet, so you will need to add water to the paper. If the bedding gets too dry in the bin, the worms will not be able to breathe and will die. You can wet the paper as you drop it in, or you can spray it after you put enough paper in to cover the bottom. Aim for the bedding to be damp – not too dry, but not soaking wet (two or three drops of water might fall when you squeeze a handful of paper). Wring it out and fluff it up – never leave wet paper compacted in the bin as air circulation is a must.

Add a layer of peat moss that does not have any added chemicals or fertilizers. The worms will eat this along with the food scraps. Peat moss will help the worms digest by adding roughage to their diet, and it will provide more air circulation.

Again, you will want to add water to the bedding. Just spray a small amount of water on the peat moss, so that it’s not bone-dry. You want it to maintain its “fluffiness.”Adding Worms

Add a thick layer of moist soil to the bin. Do not add soil that has added chemicals or fertilizers. You can use soil from outdoors or purchase potting soil. Like the peat moss, the soil will help the worms’ digestion process. Soil will also introduce beneficial microorganisms to the worms’ new home. 

 

Caring for Your Worms

You must use red wiggler worms (eisenia fetida) for your indoor vermicompost bin, as opposed to outdoor earthworms, because:

Even though they are smaller (usually grow to 4” long or less), they will eat a much larger amount of material – they can eat over half their weight of garbage in 24 hours!

  • They will cut the composting process time in half, compared to bacteria alone.
  • They reproduce quickly, but they will regulate their own population if it becomes too crowded (you don’t have to worry about too many worms overloading the bin).


You should start with about 1 pound of red wigglers. You may purchase them online. Usually, one pound will cost about $20-$25. Be sure to select a business that will guarantee their arrival within 1-2 days, because they probably won’t survive much longer than that in the mail.

Gently place the worms on top of the bedding. Do not expose them to direct sunlight, as this may harm them.

Give them a minute to burrow down into the soil and get comfortable in their new home.

Worms

Feeding

You can feed them a variety of compostable food scraps that are suitable for an indoor bin. See chart below.

This means fruits, veggies, bread, cereal, and tea leaves and bags. You can also feed them coffee grounds and filters once every week or so. Do not feed them any meat or dairy products, and do not put any F.O.G. into the bin – fats, oil, or grease.

You can collect the food in any type of sealed container (to keep odors in) and keep it under your kitchen sink.

To speed up the process, cut food scraps into ½” pieces before you add them to the bin.

Dig a small hole in the bedding / pull the bedding aside, and place the food scraps in the hole. Cover the food with at least 1” of existing bedding, or add more soil on top of the food. It is important to completely cover the food to avoid any odors.

Tips

After this first feeding, wait a week before adding more food. Leave them alone during this time to allow them to get used to their new surroundings.

  • Feed them 1-2 times per week. The amount of food and how often they should be fed will depend on how quickly the worms are able to break down the food.
  • Fluff up the bedding about once/week so the worms can get plenty of air and room to move.
  • Check on the moisture level once a week and add water if it is too dry.
  • Bury food scraps in a different area of the bin each time.
  • Sexually-mature worms have dark red bands around their necks. Every few months, they'll congregate into one huge, squiggling ball at the bottom of your bin. When you see that, you know that it's time to hang the "Do Not Disturb" sign.
  • You will eventually find worm eggs! They are lemon-shaped, have a shiny appearance, and are about the size of a match head. They begin as pale yellow when first laid, and become more brownish in color. Each egg will contain 2-10 baby worms, which will hatch after 3 weeks. Once they hatch, they can reach maturity and begin laying eggs at 6 weeks old. With a lifespan of one year, red wigglers can lay eggs every week after maturity. You do not need to be concerned with overpopulation, because they will regulate their own population to suit their environment.

 

Results

After about 6 weeks, you will begin to see worm castings. This is a soil-like material that has moved through the worms’ digestive tracts. 

In 3-4 months, it will be time to harvest the castings or vermicompost. After harvesting, the compost can be mixed with potting soil and used for houseplants. lt can be used directly in the garden, either dug into the soil or used as a mulch.

Check out the links below for details on how to do this properly harvest your vermicompost as well as troubleshooting tips.

If you have questions or need more information, send us an email.

 

Food ContainerAcceptable  / Unacceptable Items

Bring it on:

  • Coffee grounds and filters
  • Egg shells (pulverized)
  • Fruit peels and pulp
  • Paper (shredded)
  • Tea bags and filters
  • Old bread
  • Vegetable scraps

Avoid:

  • Ashes
  • Dairy products
  • Fish
  • Grains
  • Greasy or oily foods
  • Meat and other animal products
  • Pet wastes
  • Glass, plastic or tin foil

 

Related links

PDFs:

Vermicompost Uses
How-to Harvest Vermicompost
Troubleshooting
Glossary 

External Links: 

TreeHugger.com
HowStuffWorks

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