Quick Tips for Reducing Food Waste

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The Wonderful World of WormCycling

Several weeks ago when starting a series of composting blogs, I promised that I would share my experiences starting up a worm cycling bin. The post is finally here folks!

What is worm cycling?

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In a nut shell– it’s basically another way to turn food scraps and paper waste into rich compost/worm castings. Casting is a fancy word for WORM POOP. But don’t let this turn you off, worm castings are actually great fertilizer and have several other uses, such as a natural deterrent for white flies and other pesky gnats that lay their eggs in the soil.

 

 

What do you need?

1. Worm box or worm cycling bin. But you can also easily make rich compost and worm castings in open air containers as well (see this post). I have been doing this for years and have only started my worm box a month or so ago.

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2. 1-2 Boxes of Live Red Worms. You can find these at your local garden store or you can order them online. I have heard that other kinds of worms work as well, but red worms seem to be the most popular. 20150419_143124

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3. The worm cycling bin that I purchased from the city came with a basic starter pack (instructions, shredded paper, and coconut shell pulp).

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4. Finally, you will need about 1-2 cups of food scrap to start with.

How to set up your worm bin/worm box:

1. Follow the instructions on your specific bin for assembly and set up. Mine was really easy– I just had to stack the base and bottom tray and screw in a few bolts. Easy peasy!

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2. Add a sheet of damp newspaper to the bottom of the bottom bin to discourage worms from escaping out the holes. Mixed shredded paper, some of the coconut shell pulp (you may need to soak it for a few minutes in water first), and a handful of dirt (if you have some on hand). Add paper/pulp/dirt mixture to the bin on top of the newspaper.

 Other Bedding Options:

  • Eggshells
  • Leaves
  • Grit– grit is small loose particles of crushed rock or shells. Grit helps the worms to crush their food and adds minerals to the finished compost.
  • Minerals

3. Place 1-2 cups of food scraps in the corner of your bin and then add your worms (and everything in their container. Place another damp sheet of newspaper over the worms and scraps before adding the bin lid to discourage them from escaping out the top of the bin.

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20150419_1506184. Put the lid on and leave a light on for 36 hours. I placed my bin in our breakfast nook and then turned the light on at night before going to bed. This keeps the worms from trying to escape the bin as they explore their new home. Bins are fine to be inside and there shouldn’t be any odor. I put mine out on our patio 3-4 days after starting the it. People who live in extreme climates are recommended to keep the bin indoors. Worms can usually survive in bins ranging from 40-85 degrees.

Things you can add to your worm cycler:

Some people are meticulous about keeping a “balanced” bin. This means that there is an equal ratio of “green” and “brown” materials and an optimal ph level. Not I. I simply fill the bin with whatever I have on-hand without paying too much attention to the actual chemistry of the container. Obviously, this comes with certain risks, like “overfeeding” and potentially harming worms with damaging ph levels or an overload of certain materials (like onions, citrus, etc.). Personally, I don’t have time to worry too much about my bin’s chemistry, and luckily, I haven’t had any issues with any of my composting experiments. The hardest thing for me to get just right is the watering, which is a trial and error process anyway. As long as you give the mixture a good turning every now and then, it pretty easy to see if things are working out right.

“GREENS”

  • Fruits & Vegetables
  • Coffee Grounds and Tea Bags
  • Pasta & Cereals

“BROWNS”

  • Paper & Junk Mail
  • Unsalted Nut Shells & Dry Leaves
  • Cardboard

Other things I feed my worms regularly:

  • Egg cartons, shredded cardboard, toilet paper rolls
  • Wine corks
  • Garden waste

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Best of luck!

UPDATE: My Wormcycler had a mini-outbreak of fruit flies! Ewww. Ironically, never in all my years of open-air composting have I ever had fruit flies. Alas, I took care of the problem. Troubleshooting/solutions coming soon!

Open-Air Patio Composting: A Politics of Refuse/Refusal

Earth Day Everyday!

 20150315_160741  What is open-air patio composting? Is it even ‘a thing?’

I’m not sure if open-air patio composting (OAPC?) is ‘a thing’ or not, but it is a thing I’ve been doing now for at least two years from my condo balcony in Glendale, CA. If you live in an apartment or condo (perhaps not at ground level) this may be the best option for you to get started composting! If you are on ground level, consider the access unwelcome critters may have to your compost (raccoons and skunks in particular). We live on the second floor and so far I have had no unwelcome guests aside from the occasional outbreak of fruit flies and a few spiders.

Patio composting is basically composting, only on your patio and in a smaller context. The open air part is pretty self-explanatory, which is to say that my compost is not covered by any container lid, but is instead exposed to the open air. Lids I’m sure are great! I imagine that they hold in heat and they keep pesky flies away, however, because I started composting on a whim using random pots and without making any extra purchases (until my worms), lids were not things I had laying around.  Thus, no lids. Open-air.

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Doesn’t this smell?

Nope. If you do not put any meat or dairy in your compost and manage your watering, there should be no smell. Compost smells like dirt.

 

 

 

A lifestyle and a politics?

Indeed. However, when I say politics, I am not referring to the simple and insufficient binaries we often associate with “U.S. politics” such as, republican vs. democrat, right vs. left, and/or sacred vs. secular.  Politics are anything and everything that shape our collective world. Everything is political when you think about it, including the sacred, the spiritual, and the personal. As we often see, the disconnects/disassociations are hard and messy to navigate. Alas, for the sake of this conversation on composting, the personal/individual actions ARE political actions, especially when it moves beyond the individual to effect our collective world (which it does). Thus, open-air patio composting or OAPC is both a lifestyle and a politics. Moreover, it is a politics of refuse/refusal, an intentional and political refusal of the insufficient, broken, and dangerous structures of waste-management (both nationally and internationally). When one refuses to participate in these structures they immediately effect measurable changes. This refusal opens up new and generative possibilities for waste-management. For example—-> compost (the example of the hour).

Now that I’ve got you convinced ;-)…

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Here is what you will need:

  • One large pot or trash bin (I have several smaller ones too)
  • Some shredded paper, cardboard, or a few handfuls of dirt/soil
  • Kitchen scraps
  • WORMS (this will increase your production exponentially!)** Worms can be purchased at your local garden store.
  • Some people like to use Compost Starter. I have before and I’m not sure if it did anything, I have always had great compost, so it is hard to tell. Can’t hurt I guess!

** You can still get started, or compost without worms it just takes longer for things to break down

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Here is what you do:

  1. Mix shredded paper or cardboard with a few handfuls of dirt. If you only have one, dampen (do not soak) and then place at the bottom of your pot.
  2. Add your worms and the entire contents of their packaging (bedding/dirt/etc).
  3. Place food scraps on top of the worms.
  4. Sprinkle compost starter (if you have it).
  5. Hang tight for a few days. Add water if things are looking dry.
  6. Add food scraps throughout the week to the top of the bin.
  7. Once a week, take a hand shovel and turn the scraps/compost.

Here are the things I compost regularly in my OAPC:

  • 20150315_085050-1coffee filters/grinds
  • any and all fruit scraps (strawberry tops, melon rinds, banana peels, orange peels etc.)
  • any and all veggie scraps (onion bits, potato and carrot peels, string bean ends, stalks, stems etc.)
  • tea bags
  • egg shells
  • wine corks
  • shells and pits
  • flower and plant clippings
  • dead leaves and buds from my patio garden
  • dust from vacuum or lint from laundry

(I’m sure I have forgotten a few)

20150315_155029We fill about 2 of these giant bowls per week. When I have time, I’ll leave the bowl on the counter and then dump or incorporate into my patio bins throughout the week as it gets full. If my outside bins are getting a little full and I don’t have time to move things around, we’ll stick this bowl in the freezer and continue to add things from there. Recently, I just picked up a worm cycler, another way to process more food scraps and harvest the rich result called castings (or worm poop). This stuff usually costs a fortune and is great as a natural/waste-free/toxin-free fertilizer AND a solution to white-fly infestations. But more on this new worm cycler in forthcoming blog posts! It’s all too easy not to do, really! Excited to show you how!

What to do with the finished compost:

20150315_155148I also have a patio garden (posts coming soon) so this helps me cycle through my fresh compost. I may have started my first compost attempt with a pot full of several cups of spent soil and then adding food scraps and worms– and this works too (easy peasy). Once my compost bin is producing dark rich compost, I usually start phasing it into another small pot where I plant something new or top off my other plants with nutrient rich compost.

20150417_184720There also may be a liquid that your bin is producing as well, and depending on the kind of container you have you may be able to use this “compost tea” to fertilize your patio garden, or gift to a friend/neighbor who has a garden. I set a cup beneath one of my raised bins, but honestly rarely check it anymore or use the compost tea as it is difficult to get to.

Hope this helps you get your head around the possibility of composting on your patio! Shoot me any questions you may have. As I said in my previous composting post– it is mostly trial and error. Be easy. Be flexible, and give it a try. Figure out what works for you!

Happy Composting OAPC-style!

What is Composting? How Does It Factor into Zero-Waste Living?

First things first….What is composting?

compost12363“Composting is nature’s process of recycling decomposed organic materials into a rich soil known as compost. Anything that was once living will decompose. Basically, backyard composting is an acceleration of the same process nature uses. By composting your organic waste you are returning nutrients back into the soil in order for the cycle of life to continue. Finished compost looks like soil–dark brown, crumbly and smells like a forest floor.

Types of composting:

  • Backyard composting — If you have a yard and a balance of browns (fallen leaves or straw) and greens (grass clippings and food scraps), you have all you need to make compost.
  • Worm composting (vermicomposting) — If you have a tiny yard or live in an apartment or have an abundance of food scraps, this type of composting is for you.
  • Grasscycling If you have grass clippings and don’t want to use them in a compost pile you can leave them on the lawn to decompose. Read about grasscycling for tips, techniques and benefits.”

(Thanks, http://www.recycleworks.org/compost/)

Folks, I LOVE the idea of composting, I really do! But it took me a while to get into it because I live in a city that has limited composting options for residents (Los Angeles, CA). That being said, now that I do compost regularly, I highly encourage you to start composting in one of the following ways. If I can compost on my small condo patio using a few pots and some worms–you can give it a try too!

Composting Options (not exhaustive):

  1. If you own or have access and full use of your own yard, locate a small space away from any dwelling windows that you regularly open. Start with a composting container. There are several varieties, but choose the one that is best for the amount of raw materials you will be adding to the bin and the results you are looking for post decomposition.
  2. Pot (open air) composting. This is the one I am going to focus on, because I know more about this from experience. This is also best for small apartment or condo living.
  3. Worm Composting. I do this in my open air containers, but plan to start a worm box after the workshop that I recently attended facilitated by the City of Glendale.

How does composting factor in to living a life less wasteful?

Food scraps make up an overwhelming amount of the items sent to landfills. Unfortunately, because of the toxic nature of landfills they are not breaking down in ways that support generative production (such as rich compost soil). These scraps actually co-mingle with plastics, oils, animal bi-products, and other nastiness to produce dangerous gaseous emissions that contribute to the multitude of things negatively effecting climate change.

However, if families simply establish small/manageable composting practices in their own homes, they can reduce the amount of food scraps that get sent to landfills exponentially. For example, before I started composting, Corey and I would easily fill a garbage bag with compostable food scraps and garbage scraps each week. Things like melon rind, egg shells, coffee filters/grounds, and paper products are particularly bulky items. Since we started composting, not only have I not had to purchase soil to support my patio garden (another post, for another day), we have also reduced out trash to about half a normal garbage bag each week. Ultimately, these scraps are not being wasted in landfills, but repurposed into rich compost soil that can be used for yourself or gifted to friends with yards/gardens etc.

In the next few posts I will be focusing on things that have come up in my own composting experience so stay tuned! Things that will be covered in the coming posts/days/weeks:

  • Open Air Patio Composting: the set up and the “how-tos”
  • Worm Composting and ALL (or most of) its benefits
  • Compost Troubleshooting
  • White worms: Where do they come from and what do they do?
  • Composting Myth Busted: Shooting down all of your reservations about getting starting

And perhaps some more things as they arise. Feel free to post questions, ideas, and share your own experiences. My rule has been trial and error, so I definitely don’t claim to be an expert (at all!).

“Composting for Dummies” (like me): COMING SOON!

Just attended Glendale’s FREE composting workshop and picked up my gigantic FREE composting bin (for later in life use).

I’ve been open air patio composting for years now, and it has been years since I’ve purchased soil for my patio garden! Excited to share with you the trials and the errors, successes and
failures of my composting adventures.  Starting this weekend! So stay tuned!

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Happy Friday Folks!