Let worms do the composting work

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Most of us living in the Yampa Valley are ecologically minded. We want to do things that are good for the environment.

Composting is an ideal way to reuse and recycle, however our environment makes it difficult, if not impossible. The summer nights are so cool and there is not enough heat in the winter to sustain the composting action.

But, there is one way to compost your kitchen scraps year-round -- Worm Composting.

All you need to get started is a container, material for moist bedding, and, of course, red worms. The container can be placed in your kitchen, laundry room, basement, or heated garage. It must be kept above 40 degrees but cannot get too hot. It works year-round as long as these conditions are maintained.

Worm composting containers are available in several garden supply catalogs. These units, which are made of plastic, usually have three or four trays stacked on a reservoir. For a less pricey container, make your own out of wood, plastic or recycled drawers. The container should be 8 to 12 inches deep and provide 1 square foot of surface area for each pound of food waste generated each week. Drill holes in the bottom to let moisture to drain and elevate with bricks or blocks to allow for air circulation.

Red worms are best suited for composting as they thrive on organic material. They are found in aged manure piles, active compost bins, or may be purchased. For 1 pound of food waste per week, you will need two pounds of worms (roughly 2,000).

Now you are ready to set up worm housekeeping. Shredded newspaper and cardboard (old pizza boxes are great), chopped up straw and dried grass clippings or leaves are suitable for bedding. When adding bedding, vary the material you use to provide more nutrients for the worms and richer compost. Dampen the bedding until it is as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Add the bedding to the container, fluffing it to create air spaces.

You are now ready to add your food waste to the container. Food waste includes fruit and vegetable peels, tea bags, coffee grounds, egg shells that have been rinsed and crushed. Do not use meats, dairy products, oily foods or grains. It is best to finely chop all food materials or process in a food processor. To add to the container, pull aside the bedding and bury the scraps deep in the bedding. Subsequent additions should be placed in a different part of the container.

The bedding will turn dark after about six weeks and will be ready for harvesting in about three months. The moisture that drains during the composting process is called worm tea and is an excellent fertilizer for houseplants when diluted with water.

The Internet offers several sites for more information on setting up and details on harvesting your worm compost.

Louise Poppen is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email: gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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