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Composting 101

 

Many people are intimidated by the thought of “composting”… They’ve heard that it’s time-consuming, space-consuming, smelly, attracts rats and bugs, and a PhD is needed to accomplish it, plus it’s downright mysterious. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I’m going to show you why… and how to set up your own composting bin—with red wriggler worms. Yes, you read it right—with WORMS! These little darlings do all the work for you. All you need to do is provide a home and food for them, and they will turn your vegetable scraps, garden leaves, and paper shredder contents into pure garden gold! I wax a little poetic here, but I never stop being amazed at the humble creatures… So, let’s get started.

I haven’t done extensive research on this, so I’m no “expert”. I’m just going to tell you how I have been doing this for several years, and you take it from there. The city of Des Moines a few years back offered composting bins for $10. I jumped on the offer and set one up on the perimeter of my yard, filling it faithfully with leaves and grass. Well, to make a long story short, because there isn’t a bottom on it, all I did was provide a place for the nearest tree to grow massive roots right into my compost bin!

So, I got smarter and placed it in my present spot—on concrete blocks with a flat plastic bag as the bottom. Then I found out about worm composting when I took my 6th grade class to Waskowitz Outdoor School. I literally fell in love with those worms! I had to try it. Here’s what I recommend you do if you want rich fertilizer for your garden beds:

 

  1. Do some research and purchase a worm bin that suits you and the site you want it on in your garden. I suggest putting it on the north side or in an always-shady spot so the sun doesn’t cook your worms, in a spot that is easily accessible to harvest the castings, and out of sight of your main garden living space. You can spend a lot, or a little, but you will still have wonderful worm compost! Here’s mine and where I put it:

 

Where I placed my worm bin.

Where I placed my worm bin.

  1. Look online for worm farmers. You have to be careful here because there are a lot of shysters out there looking to scam you. Here are a couple of reputable worm farmers:

    Worm Woman

    Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm

  2.  In the meantime, prepare the home your worms will be in… Lay down a thick bed of leaves—last fall’s leaves or shredded paper are perfect—and save some for the top “blanket”. Sprinkle with a little water to hydrate. While you are waiting for the worms to arrive, or even start now, collect your vegetable and fruit peels, and vegetables/fruits that are past their human eating prime (you can cut them up or not) in a bucket in your kitchen or garage. Worms even eat citrus fruit, and they particularly love avocado peels and the seed! The bucket will take on a distinct smell, but not unpleasant, no matter what you put in there. Don’t worry if mold starts to grow before you get it into the bin—there will eventually be all sorts of critters in there ready to eat all sorts of worm bin byproducts—an indication of a healthy worm bin community. In the summer, I put a lid on my kitchen bucket because it attracts fruit flies.
The scrap bin in my kitchen.

The scrap bin in my kitchen.

This shredded paper makes a nice "blanket."

This shredded paper makes a nice “blanket.”

  1. Your beautiful red wiggler worms are finally here! Place the vegetable scrap bucket contents on top of the bed, and your little darlings on top of that. After admiring them for a little while, and I mean a very little while because they will burrow down quickly to get out of the light, place the blanket on top. Sprinkle with a little water, and close the worm bin lid—but not too tightly because they need air. You will know when it’s too tight, because they will travel up out of the scraps and onto the lid and sides of the bin. I set my lid a little ajar with a small space left open.

 

Your worms have arrived!

Your worms have arrived!

  1. Keep adding garden leaves, grass, and vegetable/fruit scraps, but always make sure there is a “blanket” of leaves or paper shreddings on top. You will be amazed that one day, the worm bin is “full to the top”, and the next time you check it, it’s only halfway filled! Those red wigglers are voracious eaters!

 

The worms are doing their job.

The worms are doing their job.

  1. I harvest my gorgeous fertilizer, aka worm castings, once a year in the fall, dividing it up among my raised vegetable beds. To harvest, take off the top of the worm bin and separate the top, uneaten vegetable layer from the castings. Then carefully scoop out the red wigglers and set them aside in a bucket for the new worm bin. Put a temporary blanket on top while you finish working with the castings. After putting the castings on my beds (a few worms will inevitably go into the beds, and that’s okay—they will continue their job in their new home, believe me), I then put bagged Cedar Grove compost on top and let them sit all winter. I have learned this keeps the crows from picking over the undigested scraps. And, I have never had a rat problem in the 8+ years I have had a worm bin…

And there you have it—composting demystified!

 

Happy Gardening,

Sherry

 

Questions about composting? Contact Sherry at sherrysgardenkitchen@gmail.com.

 

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