Vail Daily column: How to compost this winter
Whether you are an apartment dweller looking for a new winter project or a gardener looking to keep your hands in the soil as we enter this winter season, making your own compost bin is fun and simple.
Compost is decomposed organic matter that can be recycled as a fertilizer and soil amendment. Because of the variety of foods and fibers that can be put into a compost mixture, the resulting soil is rich in nutrients and makes for healthy, quick-growing plants in the spring.
While there are several types of composting methods, vermicomposting is most suitable for indoor, household composting. Vermicompost is the process of composting through the use of worms, usually red wigglers, to create a diverse mixture of decomposing food waste.
Worms not only ingest partly composted material but also continually recreate aeration and drainage tunnels as they move through the compost. The worms’ digestive systems also add beneficial microbes to help create a living soil environment for plants. Composting is a sustainable habit practiced by many restaurants, farms and households in North America, and it can become your habit, too.
How do I start?
First, choose a location for your indoor bin. Perhaps you will keep it under your kitchen sink, in your mudroom or in your basement. The compost will not smell if tended-to correctly, so don’t worry about stinking up your house.
Any type of container will suffice, as long as it can be covered. You can use plastic bins, small garbage cans or buckets. To ensure proper drainage, drill holes in the bottom of your container and place the bin inside another bin or on top of a tray to catch the liquid.
Add a layer (about 4 inches) of dirt to the bottom of your bin, followed by a layer of dry fiber (shredded newspaper, cardboard and junk mail). Every time you add vegetable and food waste, add another several inches of shredded paper. It is important to keep the paper slightly moist, so keeping a spray bottle next to the bin is recommended.
In addition, once a week it is important to mix the compost and add a half scoop of new soil.
What can I put in it?
The best items for your bin are vegetable and fruit scraps. Red wigglers will also eat pulverized eggshells and coffee grounds. Depending on your family’s diet, it may take some time to experiment and discover what foods work best with the worms. Avoid using meat, dairy, fats, oils and processed foods, as these are not eaten by the worms.
What do I do with the resulting soil mixture?
If you already have a garden, add your rich compost mixture to your soil when it’s time to start planting in the spring. Adding compost to gardens as a fertilizer can increase vegetable yields and help produce healthy crops.
If you don’t have a home garden, you can mix compost into potted plants or give it to friends and family who may benefit from it. In any case, composting your scraps helps divert material from landfills and can eliminate chemical-laced industrial fertilizer.
Where can I get Worms?
At Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon, worms are used to compost food scraps. Contact Melissa Kirr at firstname.lastname@example.org to inquire about the availability of surplus worms. Or check out Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm at http://www.unclejims wormfarm.com to order online and access further information about vermicomposting.
Amy Seter works as a naturalist at Walking Mountains Science Center in Avon. She enjoys gardening, cooking and exploring the great outdoors.