Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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During the Master Gardener classes held early this year at the Cooperative Extension Office, Addy Elliott, of Colorado State University, explained the ins and outs of worm composting as a way to recycle food scraps through the winter months. It's a natural method for recycling food wastes indoors with no odor.
Worm composting requires a box in which to place worms, bedding material and food waste. Addy recommends purchasing one of those inexpensive plastic bins with a lid from a discount store. But a wood chest, barrel or old drawer will work, as well. It should be at least 8 to 12 inches deep and allow a square foot of surface area for each pound of food scraps you generate each week.
You can put this box under the sink in your kitchen, basement, garage or any other area that is convenient and accessible. You'll want to make sure the temperature doesn't drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit and doesn't get too hot, either.
To allow for air circulation and drainage, drill some holes in the bottom of the box and set it up on some bricks, blocks of wood or other material with a catch basin underneath to save the moisture that might drip out. This moisture, called "worm tea," is an excellent fertilizer for your houseplants.
Red wiggler worms (officially called Eisenia foetida and Lumbricus rubellus) are best suited for worm composting, as they thrive on organic material. They are found in aged manure piles or active compost bins and can be purchased. For 1 pound of food waste per week, you will need 2 pounds of worms (roughly 2,000). If you cannot get that many worms, recycle less food waste until they multiply - in about 21 days for mature worms.
To set up your worm composting box, first line the bottom with bedding. This can consist of shredded newspaper or cardboard, straw, grass and leaf debris, or sawdust (you can use all of these bedding ingredients to vary the environment and make for richer compost). Throw in a couple handfuls of dirt or sand, too, to aid the worms in digestion. Water the bedding to the consistency of a damp sponge, and fluff it up to create air pockets. Add the worms; they'll burrow underneath the bedding.
Now you can start adding food scraps, such as fruit and vegetable waste, tea bags and coffee grounds, rinsed egg shells and such. Do not add meat, dairy products, oily foods or grains. If possible, chop the waste before adding to the bin. By burying the scraps deep in the bedding and then making sure to cover the bin with a lid, plastic sheet or piece of carpet, wood or linoleum, you'll have better success avoiding fruit flies and odors as the worms do their job and turn your scraps into rich, dark compost.
As you add more scraps, place them in different parts of the container each time. It'll take about three months for your bin to be ready for use in the garden : just about the time you're ready to start thinking about next season's plantings.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Products and companies mentioned in this article are not endorsed by the Master Gardener program and are provided simply for informational purposes. Call 879-0825.