20 October, 2008

Warm Up by The Compost Pile

Well here we are late October and you what? It actually feels like October! have actually October has been teasing us with a week of above normal temps followed a week of temps ten degrees below normal. It was 21* this morning and a killing frost did in my plants. I was hoping to get to bring in my Lemon Verbena but getting up at 4AM to catch a flight home from Atlanta put me to bed at 9:30 forgetting about my Verbena amongst other things. The last 150 or so of my bountiful crop of chilies succumbed to the frost on Friday night. I could not have done anything to save them since I was 900 miles away in Atlanta

Take notice that the colder than normal temperatures are not news worthy unless you are a gardener or winter sports enthusiast. Be prepared to hear for the next few months how October was abnormally warm. Meanwhile wet snow is predicted for my part of the region Wednesday this week.

I use obscure econometrics principles in my garden. One that always works is the chile pepper plant and composting corollary. This connection simply states that when your chile plants succumb to frost your plumbing goes haywire. No that’s the “away on business trip chile plant corollary”. The chile plant composting pairing simply states that when your chile plants are done in by frost your compost pile stops working as well. Meanwhile there is all that plant debris and leaves to get rid of.

Enter indoor composting. The garden debris leaves and such will have to remain outside and wait until spring to compost but you can still get rich soil indoors. Home made indoor composters are easy to build out of plastic storage bins. Ready made bins are available specifically for indoor composting but are quite expensive for what you get.

They major difference in composting indoors is the composting “agent” itself. Outside one can simply pile up any organic matter and worms, bugs, beetles and other creepy crawlers will find it and digest it. I don’t know many gardeners who wish to have creepy crawlers all over their house looking for something to eat. “Hey beetle, I am not done with that salad yet do you mind?” Indoor composting agents of action are red wiggly worms. They resemble small night crawlers or large earthworms. These hungry tilling machines have been bred especially for eating garbage.

A perfect sized container for housing your worms is a plastic storage bin measuring 1’ high, 2’ wide and 2-3’ long. Any plastic container with similar dimensions will do fine.
Plastic storage containers with lids are perfect because they balance strength of the plastic with light weight thus being easy to move around. Next punch a series of holes along the lower sides of the container. Measuring about one third of the way down from the top punch holes through the container with sharp scissors and continue all the way around.
Two rows of holes should be enough. These holes will supply oxygen to the worms and are small enough to prevent them from escaping.
Next take shredded newspapers and wet them to the consistency of a damp sponge. Line the bottom half of your container with the shredded paper. You can also add shredded card board like toilet paper tubes to change the texture of the bedding. Now spread the little red wigglers over the newspaper bedding. After they get accustomed to their new home which should take about two milliseconds cover them with another two inches of all the news that is fit to print.

About one week later begin feeding your friends food scraps. The rules for indoor composting are exactly the same as for outdoors. No meat, fish or dairy. Egg shells are permissible as long as they are rinsed off before adding. They should be crushed as well.

Red wiggly compost worms are voracious eaters and you can easily add one to pounds of scraps per week for each pound of worms you buy. Plan on using one-half-pound of red wigglers for each cubic foot of worm bin; (one-half-pound of red worms is about 500 worms, depending on their size). A 1’ x 2’x 3’ bin is six cubic feet. So you will need three pounds of worms for optimum resource recovery. One thing to keep in mind is these worms cost on average twenty five dollars a pound. They also reproduce fairly quickly. If you think that spending seventy five dollars on worms is a bit steep purchase half as many and let them fill in the gaps for you.

After several weeks the newspaper and food you have added will turn to rich dark soil.
Harvesting the soil is simply a matter of moving all the newly created humus over to one side of the bin. Add newly shredded bedding and food scraps to the other side. Bury it deeply within the new bedding. A while later all your wiggly friends will have migrated out of the finished soil and over to the new food supply. The New York City Compost project web site says this migration can take four weeks. This little waiting step is a real time saver. This way you will not have to pick the worms out of the fresh compost you made. Do not wait too long to harvest the fresh soil however. As strange it may seem fresh compost becomes toxic to compost worms over time.

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