I came across a funny article (relating to composting) last night and of course couldn’t resist writing about it here on the blog. The article appeared in the Sunday Star Times (link to follow) back on December 16 and discusses a bizarre ruling made by the Aukland (New Zealand) Regional Council, relating to the health and well-being of composting worms.
Coll Bell, who invented the “wormorator” as an alternative to septic tanks, was told by an Auckland Regional Council staff member to get an expert’s report on the psychological impact on the worms after she became concerned during a site visit.
“She felt that the worms were being unfairly treated, being expected to deal with human faeces, and that it could affect them in a psychological way,” says Bell. “I said, `Well, what do I do about that?’ and she said `you have to have someone with the necessary qualifications to say the worms are happy’.”
In the wormorator, a colony of tiger worms, in a chamber, filters solids from the toilet waste. The leftover water is filtered and disposed of in underground trenches.
The ARC was satisfied after vermiculture consultant Patricia Naidu reported the worms were in excellent health and breeding happily.
Believe me, as a worm composting fanatic myself I certainly have a soft spot for the little wiggly guys, but C’MON – ‘psychological’ trauma??! That seems like a bit of a stretch to me. There are undoubtedly countless (newbie) home vermicomposters who have caused a lot more worms a lot more harm than this composting toilet system would. The fact is, if the system didn’t work, the worms would simply die.
As humorous as this article was, it also struck a chord with me – reminding me of this negative association people have with ‘waste’ materials – especially, it seems, when they come from our own body. People forget that all organic wastes can become a valuable resource for some other living organism, even if they seem ‘stinky and gross’ to us. Of course, that’s not to say that a composting toilet will always provide the ideal environment for vermicomposting, but chat more about the requirements shortly.
Using composting worms in compost toilet systems is certainly not a new invention (but regardless, I’m still very happy to see someone running with the idea). There are two full editions of the old Worm Digest (#8 & #9) dedicated to the topic. I was able to find an online article on the new site as well: The Worm Composting Toilet (scroll down to find it).
As with any worm composting system, if you provide with worms with enough high quality habitat before starting to add large amounts N-rich wastes (such as pee pee & doo doo) you should be ok. I’d recommend starting by setting up the composting toilet like a giant worm bin. Add lots of absorbent, carbon-rich bedding (such as shredded cardboard, peat or coir) mixed with some very well aged manure or food waste. Make sure the mix is well moistened and then let the system age for a little longer before adding the worms.
After the worms are added and the system is left alone for a little bit longer (to allow the worms time to get settled in) you can start using it as a composting toilet.
Aside from providing the worms with a safe zone to retreat into, it also would be very important to add ample amounts of carbon-rich bedding with each ‘deposit’ made into the toilet to kelp keep the system balanced.
In my last Bokashi-related post I mentioned that I was considering making my own bokashi mixture. Well, I decided to take that route and ended up ordering a bottle of ‘friendly microorganisms’ (Biosa [tm]) liquid solution from Great Day Bokashi.
I’m happy to report that my bottle of microbes arrived today! The unlabelled container could easily be mistaken for a bottle of malt vinegar, so I will definitely make sure to label it before putting it in the fridge!
I apparently have enough of the liquid to make 40 kg of bokashi, so that’s not too shabby! I next need to buy a decent amount of wheat bran and some molasses. I’m pretty sure I’ll need to let my bokashi mix age for awhile before I can use it, thus the sooner I get started, the sooner I can start up my bokashi bucket!
I’m always interested to read about other people’s experiences with bokashi – as luck would have it, Karen popped by the blog today and let me know about the bokashi series over at the ‘Green Fingered Photographer‘ blog, which looks like a great site, by the way. Be sure to check it out!
Ok, thats all for now. Will continue to keep you posted on every dirty detail!
Yet bin temps are so delightful!
The worms have no place to go!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Time for a winter composting update! We were hit with a mega snow storm this weekend (starting on Saturday night) and have a LOT of new snow on the ground. I’m happy to report that conditions in the bin have actually been improving, in spite of all this winter weather! I guess my ‘slow release heating’ strategy is starting to pay-off (if you watched the video you may recall that I chose not to add any water when I filled my bin with organic matter this fall – I wanted the materials to gradually moisten and warm up rather than causing thermophilic conditions in the bin right away).
As I mentioned in my last winter composting post, bin temps have been a wee bit on the low side @ 10-12C (~50-54F) in the warmest parts of the bin. Today the middle of the bin is close to 20C (68F) – almost TOO warm for my liking! While I certainly want the bin to be cozy for the worms, and some decomposition to occur, I would rather keep the temperatures closer to 15C (59F) if at all possible. Hopefully the current warm temps will serve to warm up the rest of the bin somewhat – I noticed that other regions are still quite cool (only a few degrees above freezing around the outer edges).
I added a nice thick layer of aged straw (collected from my tomato garden in November) today as well, which should definitely help insulate the composting mass from above where it needs it the most (I didn’t put any insulation on my lid). As I was adding it I saw a mouse scurry out – it moved too quickly for me to determine its final destination, but I’m pretty sure it is still in the bin. I had at least one in the bin last year as well, but I tried not to get too worked up over it. Worse case scenario, they eat some of the food waste and add some of their own fertilizer to the bin. Some people seem to think they will eat worms, but I find this somewhat doubtful. Guess we’ll see how the worm population looks in a couple months!
The image above shows the view from behind the composter. As you can see I have a wee bit of snow piled up (on the other side of the fence). There is actually a stack of unused pieces of insulation underneath the snow as well! Overkill? Perhaps.
All in all, given the performance of the unit thus far (and we’ve definitely had a decent amount of real winter weather), I’d say things are looking good all winter long! Sure, the coldest days are still ahead, but I’m still very optimistic!
Stay tuned! Many more updates to come!
[tags]winter composting, worm composting, vermicomposting, worm bin, composter, compost bin, thermohpilic composting, red worms, red wigglers[/tags]
I just found this great video on YouTube about making your own bokashi mixture. It was posted by Neal ‘The PodChef’ Foley, from the Kitchen Garden Food Company (which looks like a great website, BTW).
I love the sound of roosters crowing in the background – you know this guy must really ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to earth-friendly living!
While I don’t necessarily agree that composting is ‘stinky’ (well, at least it doesn’t have to be if you do it properly) I think I can let that comment slide. haha
As mentioned, I’m going to be setting up my first Bokashi system – hopefully soon! Should be fun! Originally I was planning to simply buy the mixture (ready made), but now I’m wondering if it might make more sense to simply order the EM liquid and make the mixture myself. Hmmm…
Needless to say, whenever I read about someone using both vermicomposting and aquaponics as part of a larger integrated system, I get pretty excited!! Growing Power is an organization doing exactly that.
This non-profit organization, based in Milwaukee (with another location in Chicago), was founded in 1998 by Hope Finklestein – but the person most readily associated with Growing Power is Will Allen, a 6′ 7″ former pro-basketball player. After retiring from the American Basketball League and spending a number of years in the corporate world, Allen purchased (in the mid 90′s) a small piece of land zoned for agriculture within Milwaukee’s city limits – land that would eventually become the site for Growing Power.
Allen began growing crops on the land and started a non profit called Farm City Link. When Hope Finklestein toured the operation (shortly after founding Growing Power) and met Allen, the two quickly realized the similarity of their overall vision and decided to merge their efforts. Finkestein has since moved to Alaska, but remains very active in the organization.
Here is Growing Power’s Mission (as stated on the site):
Growing Power, Inc. is a non-profit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environment in which they live by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food. This mission is implemented by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.
This is EXACTLY the type of organization I would love to get involved with!
I found this interesting video about Growing Power on Youtube:
The power source for the business is the second greenhouse, which holds the composting operation. Every week it welcomes 8,000 pounds of mash from an organic brewery, a thousand pounds of coffee grounds from local restaurants and tons of fruit and veggies that arrived at local food banks too late to be eaten. The process of composting throws off enough heat to keep the greenhouses warm through Milwaukee’s freezing winters.
And the way the compost is managed at Growing Power turns it into a money-maker. Huge bins made from scrap lumber are breeding grounds for tens of thousands of worms that break down the food scraps and produce castings that make top-grade fertilizer and compost every eight weeks.
“I couldn’t farm without these worms,” says Allen, a gentle giant of 6 feet, 7 inches, who refers to the little critters he holds lovingly in his oversized hands as his livestock. One bin of vermi-(worm)compost sells for $36,000 when wrapped into 2-ounce compost tea bags called Milwaukee Black Gold and sold to gardeners or in bulk to high-end growers. “It would take a rancher 300 steers to equal the value of my worm livestock,” he says.
His other livestock dominate the fourth greenhouse, where a 4,400-gallon fishing hole is alive with 4,000 tilapia, a small fish that evolved in Africa and Asia to withstand shallow, still waterways. The tilapia take eight months to reach their final weight, about a pound and a half, and live off algae, water lettuce, duckweed (39 per cent protein) and worms, all grown in the complex. When the tilapia do their business, they provide another business opportunity in another greenhouse, where the water with fish manure is mixed with compost tea to fill hydroponic canals and trays that feed a wide range of herbs and greens, including watercress, cilantro, basil, eddo and baby bok choy.
Some 5,000 pots of herbs grow in the enriched water, ready to be sent weekly to local chefs who lease their pots of herbs for $50 a month. “I can teach any group how to do this in a five-hour workshop,” says Allen.
This is an amazing model for urban agriculture – one that should be adopted in every major city as far as I’m concerned! Not only would it provide an incredible amount of additional healthy food, but it would help city dwellers to maintain a connection with with the earth. I’m hopeful that through the inspirational work of Growing Power and other similar organizations this can eventually become a reality!
I thought that I was a little bit ‘out there’ for trying to compost during our cold winters, but my eco-buddy Shea Gunther makes me feel like a bit of a light-weight! He has decided to live in a teepee all winter long – and in Maine, no less! (winters in Maine are almost certainly more severe than here in Southern Ontario).
Now before you conclude that he is completely out of his mind, I should probably point out that this ‘teepee’ (also spelled ‘tipi’, btw) of his is no ordinary pup tent! It is a serious structure (two, in fact!) created by Colorado Yurt Company. Oh, and did I mention that he has “power, an internet connection, a full bathroom and kitchen, and wood stove” (and his cat, Fee, to keep him company)?
All joking aside, this sounds like a seriously cool adventure and I’m going to be very interested to see how things pan out for Shea. I wasn’t able to find any winter pictures on his website yet, but hopefully he’ll post some fairly soon (I assume there must be at least as much snow in Maine as there is here right now, but I could be wrong).
Don’t let the semi-rugged living conditions fool you though. It sounds as though Shea is still very busy with his various online endeavours. Aside from providing teepee-living updates on his blog, he will also be planning out his ‘Gunther Green Home‘ – a ‘super eco-friendly’ home that he’ll be building in the spring of 2008. Here is a brief blurb about that:
I’m building a super green home starting in the Spring of 2008 called the Gunther Green Home. It will be net-zero, producing as much energy as it uses with solar panels and wind turbines using the power grid as it’s battery. The Gunther Green Home will use straw bales for the walls and passive solar for the heating with a food fired masonry stove backup. We’ll use local and natural materials. The home will have a green roof, an ice cooled food storage room, and a secret passage or two.
I also recently learned that Shea (along with a couple of other eco-friends, Chris Baskind and Michael D’Estries) is involved with a fun new website – Snarfd, described as “a daily collection of the web’s coolest, oddest, and most beautiful destinations.” I spent some time on the site recently and found it very entertaining!
[UPDATE]: Just in case you miss the comments section of this post, Shea has informed us that he is no longer living in his tipi, but that he still works there (that’s still pretty rugged if you ask me). Other great things have happened in his life, leading him to abandon the project (with good reason!) – read all about it >>HERE<<.
I’ve talked previously (here) about Fall Composting, but I haven’t really talked at great length about my winter composting efforts. Given that winter has most certainly arrived here in Ontario (as I type I am watching as snow falls heavily outside my window) and that I have lots of information to share about this year’s winter composting efforts – there is no time like the present!
You can find full coverage of my efforts last year on the EcoSherpa blog, or more easily on the EcoSherpa Squidoo lens (about half way down the page you’ll see my winter composting photos and links to my blog posts below). This year I plan to provide full coverage here and @ Red Worm Composting.
In a nutshell, I’m basically just trying to keep my large outdoor worm bin active all winter long (is that too much to ask?! haha). I gave it the ‘ol college try’ last winter but had to cut my losses in February (not January, as mentioned elsewhere) due to the contents of the bin starting to freeze solid. All in all, I was pretty impressed that I made it as far as I did, and vowed that I would come back swinging this year!
One of my weaknesses last year was an relatively feeble insulation system. I basically stapled garbage bags to the outside walls, then stuffed them full of old grocery bags and other plastic waste I had stockpiled. The one plus of this system was the solar absorption properties of the black plastic – on sunny winter days the plastic panels helped to warm up the bin somewhat, but once the serious winter arrived (and there was relatively few sunny days) this didn’t do me much good. Another issue encountered was the strange winter weather. For a couple months it was actually looking like we wouldn’t get a winter at all. During this time I still stockpiled materials in the bin and ended up burning through most of my winter food stock, not to mention having to deal with excess heat generation a few times! If I had taken a more moderate approach I likely would have been able to stretch things out at least a little longer.
Well, I certainly learned from my mistakes and feel relatively confident that I’ll be able to make it all the way through the winter this time around – even with Environment Canada predicting this will be the coldest winter in 15 years! I’ve ‘souped up’ my insulation system, have secured more bin materials for the cold months ahead, and have been taking a much more moderate approach in an effort to conserve materials and prevent unnecessary overheating from occurring.
I put together a YouTube video outlining my efforts.
You can also watch the FULL (higher quality) version on my Worm Composting Videos page (RedWormComposting.com). Aside from being much higher definition, it also has a little more information.
Thus far, the bin has been performing fairly well. Unlike last year, we’re already into a ‘real’ winter (and have been for a number of weeks now), and I already have a huge heap of snow piled around the bin for extra insulation. Temperatures in the middle of the composting mass have been a little lower than expected – in the 10-12C (~50-54F) range, but if I can actually keep the bin in that range all winter long it will be a major triumph!
I will definitely be posting updates on a fairly regular basis (now that I’m getting back into the swing of things here on the blog). Stay tuned – much more to come!
[tags]winter composting, composting, compost bin, composter, worm bin, worm composting, vermicomposting, extravaganza[/tags]
Back at the end of September we talked about how Garden Girl is “back”. She had announced her partnership with Farmers Almanac and her plans to create a bunch of new videos.
At the time the one thing that still needed a little TLC was her website. Well, I’m very happy to report that Patti’s new website is now live, and it looks FANTASTIC! I encourage everyone to go check it out and have a look around.
You should sign up for her newsletter as well so that you can keep up to date and informed. She sends out periodic updates of her progress, and is always sure to add lots of other interesting tidbits.
Anyway, that’s all for now, but we’ll certainly have more Garden Girl updates here in the future.
Oh, and for the record, we came up with our names independently! There is no conspiracy afoot!
After nearly 2 months of being sidelined with ‘other stuff’, I have happy to report that I’m back and ready to kick things into over-drive here at CompostGuy.com.
My goal is to get into a much more regular posting schedule along with beefing up the website. Big on the agenda of things to talk about is my ‘Winter Composting Extravaganza’. Winter has indeed arrived up here in the ‘Great White North’ (aka Canada), and luckily I took some steps to get my outdoor bin ready for the cold months ahead. I’ll provide an update about that very soon!
I also will be adding some of the other planned sections of the site, starting with an introduction to composting (a basic guide to getting started).
Anyway, I don’t want to waste too much time on writing this post – the time is better spent bringing you the ‘good stuff’!