How to Compost with or without Worms

Today’s post is a guest post that I have really been looking forward to! Years ago B.K. (Before Kids), I tried vermicomposting and failed. Because we have always rented, I have never tried “real” composting because I never knew when we’d move, and most landlords look poorly upon storing decaying matter on their property. As we continue pondering whether to buy a house, I dream about one day composting for real (unless someone gives me a NatureMill Composter – anyone?). Meanwhile, Merritt is here to tell you all about how to compost!
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Merritt Onsa is a fellow blogger and friend who recently moved from Dallas, Texas to Colorado where she and her new husband are soaking up the cooler temps, mountain views and big blue skies.

Why I Love to Compost

I love to compost! Maybe it’s because I grew up with a dad who recycled anything he could and wascomposting in our backyard long before it was cool or “green.” I’m definitely my father’s daughter, sowhen I moved into a real house with a real backyard, the first thing I wanted to do was compost. Dad bought me an upright container, and I went to town putting in fall leaves, summer grass clippings and every fruit and veggie scrap from the kitchen. It wasn’t long before I had abundant lovely, lush compost to share with all of my outdoor plants! And boy did they love it!

Then, a few years ago I learned about worm composting from my friend Heather at the Texas Worm Ranch. I met Heather at Dallas’ White Rock Local Market. She was demonstrating her worm bins and showing every child that walked by what Red Wiggler Worms looked like (and letting parents smell the bin to prove there was no odor). I was hooked. But I was also newly married and needed to make sure the new husband was game for keeping a worm bin in our laundry room. He came one weekend to the WRLM and Needless to say, the answer was yes, but they would be my deal. Hey, that was fine with me.

A few things I love about composting:

  1. Compost becomes nutrient-rich soil for my plants. In fact, it’s better to use compost than it is to put chemical fertilizers on your garden, lawn or other plants. Plus it’s free!!
  2. Worm castings (yes, that’s a nice way to say worm poop) have tons of beneficial microbes. If I have a plant that’s suffering or just needs a little extra love, a handful of worm castings on top of the soil really does the trick. It’s nature’s fertilizer.
  3. Less waste in the landfill. Because they breakdown without oxygen, food scraps in our landfills contribute to greenhouse gas emissions (yes, they become methane). It’s good for the environment.
  4. Teaches me about nature’s processes. I enjoy figuring out the ratios, stirring the bin and watching the critters that are naturally drawn to my garbage. My yard was free of chemicals for more than five years and boy, did the geckos came out to play! They ate their fill of bugs in the compost, and I witnessed their cuteness on my visits to the bin.
  5. Composting inspired me to start gardening. And having my hands in the soil was good for my soul. Plus having a few home-grown veggies isn’t anything to laugh at either!

Now, I can’t say I’m an expert, but I have learned a few things along the way. Here are some tips if you want to get started on either version of composting:

Composting

Outdoor Compost:

  1. Microorganisms do most of the work in your compost pile; your job is to fill the pile with the things they need for proper decomposition.
  2. The carbon to nitrogen ratio in your pile determines how quickly it breaks down. It should be somewhere around 25 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen.
  3. High carbon items are known as “Browns,” like leaves, newspaper, peanut shells, etc. High nitrogen items are known as “Greens,” like coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, grass clippings, garden waste, manures, etc. Add these items as they become available and stir or turn to combine.
  4. Composting doesn’t require a bin; you can easily make a pile in your yard wherever you feel comfortable keeping it. Determine your preferred method based on how you wish to manage the process.
  5. Your compost needs to be turned at least weekly. If you’re really serious you can buy a compost thermometer to find out how “hot” your pile gets. The hotter the pile the faster the breakdown.
  6. Do NOT put animal products (no dairy, meat, bones, grease) in your compost. It will smell bad AND attract rodents.
  7. And, no, you cannot put cat, dog or human feces in your compost. Or used kitty litter. Sorry!

Worm Composting, otherwise known as Vermicomposting:

  1. Red Wigglers are the best choice for vermicomposting.
  2. This is a great alternative if you don’t have a place for an outdoor compost pile. Store your worm bin in the garage, laundry room, basement or even under the sink. Just be careful of extreme temps in any of those locations (between 40-80 degrees F is best).
  3. Worms need the right amount of air, moisture, oxygen, food and bedding. Otherwise, vermicomposting is very low maintenance. Your bin can be left alone even for a few weeks at a time.
  4. Keep your worms on a vegetarian diet along with moist bedding of paper, cardboard, paper towels, newspaper, paper from your shredder (it’s the safest way to dispose of documents containing personal information – let your worms eat them!)
  5. Harvest the castings from the bin every 6-8 weeks, and you’ll end up with nutrient-rich compost your plants will LOVE!
  6. Contact Texas Worm Ranch for more information and helpful resources.

Fruits of composting

6 thoughts on “How to Compost with or without Worms”

  1. Merritt, wonderful inspiration to anybody new (or needing to return) to composting.  Texas Worm Ranch hopes cooler temps will help us start shipping worms again in a week or two.  Easiest critters in the family.

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