Friday, December 21, 2012

{Recipe Redux} Gadget Gifts - Worm Tower Composter

Living lightly on the planet has been a main  focus of my life. I am fascinated by gardens and how plants grow, like playing in the dirt and am refreshed by time spend outdoors. The theme of this month's Recipe ReDux is kitchen gadgets. What is our favorite?

As an avid cook and foodie, picking a favorite kitchen tool feels akin to picking a favorite child. Yikes! There are some classic choices - a good, sharp knife that fits the hand of the cook is probably the most important. I use my kitchen aid mixer all the time and lately have been making a bunch of veggie-full pureed soups using my immersion blender. However, I wanted to write about something unique; a worm composter that helps my kitchen and home to be more green.

One year ago I bought a worm composter that I use in my Washington DC basement. I had wanted one for a long time - it makes me upset to throw away food scraps - but was moving too much to justify buying one. Now that I have had one for a year, I am happy to recommend it to you! As this is an unusual kitchen addition, I am going to enlist the help of Miss Guided to cover the basics of composting in the city and clear up myths and concerns. We last spoke with Miss Guided about cloth napkins and why we should use them daily, not just for special occasions.

Thank you to my brother, Chris, for being my photographer!

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An Interview with Miss Guided: Worm Composting

Miss Guided (MG): Eww. Worms. Really? Why are you welcoming red wigglers into your house?
Holly Larson (HL): I am using a worm composting system because it can be done inside. Since I live in the city, some composting systems aren't appropriate to use outside in a city as they would attract mice, rats and other vermin. Another advandate of using worms is that they make the process very fast.

MG: What does your composting gear include? A gas mask? Snorkel? Hazmat suit?
HL: No! Surprisingly the system doesn't smell. This has been verified by friends, my roommates and my family. If there is something wrong with the system, it can smell. I chose to buy the above system from amazon because was much more hands off. You could also give making your own a try, but I was hesitant to paw through the worms too much.

MG: How long did it take you to dig up all of those worms?
HL: I actually bought them online too; they came in a cardboard box and I added them to the worm tower.



MG: Who cares about composting?
HL: I do, and we all should. The majority of garbage being buried in the landfill is compostable - this includes paper, cardboard and food scraps. Food waste in the landfill creates methane and contributes to climate change. By removing these things from the waste stream, you're building good soil for your garden and house plants and reducing use of fossil fuels to transport waste.

MG: What can you compost in your worm tower?
HL: There is a lot! Any paper or cardboard, egg and berry cartons, egg shells, leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps (avoid citrus), coffee grounds, tea bags, peanut shells, banana peels, etc.

Ready to compost!
MG: What things do you have to avoid when worm composting?
HL: The plastic windows in envelopes, coated paper, fats and oils, meats or dairy (worms are vegan). I've heard worms don't like onion peels, but I've put them in and haven't heard any complaints from the composting crew.

MG: So now you expect me to run to the worm composter after each meal?
HL: I collect scraps into a quart yogurt container and add it to the composter when it is full. It depends on how much my roommates and I are cooking, but it is usually 1-2 times per week.

The top newspaper is peeled back so I can add food scraps. Hello worms!
MG: Then what?
HL: The worm tower is a set of stacking trays that are perforated on the bottom - like your spaghetti colander. When you're setting up the composter for the first time, you set up a single tray and add damp bedding for the worms. This tray is called the working tray. The bedding and the working compost should be like a wrung out sponge - damp, but not too wet. You can use shredded paper (excellent way to prevent identity theft!), brown leaves or buy shredded cocoanut shells, called coir. The directions said not to use pine needles. The tower came with one coir block, but I haven't elected to buy any more since I have a paper shredder and that makes it easy and free. Under the bedding, you add the food scraps and your worms. Across the top you lay a whole piece of damp newspaper - this maintains the moisture level in the system and helps prevent bugs from finding your composter. When you have  more scraps to add, just put them in a different corner of the working tray, under the bedding. When your working tray is full, remove the solid piece of newspaper, or tear is up and mix into the working tray. Place an empty tray on top of the working tray and add fresh, damp bedding. Bury food scraps in the top tray and add a new piece of damp newspaper; this is now the working tray.

Tip: save the plastic bag from the dry cleaner for maneuvering your trays - lay the plastic on the floor and use is as a place to set the trays without dirtying the floor or dripping when you carry a tray to your garden.

Finished compost - white spot is an egg shells; just fine to add to the garden
MG: How many trays are there? What happens when you fill up the last one?
HL: You can buy towers with 3-5 trays. When your top tray is full, your bottom tray should be fully composted. You remove the bottom tray from the stack, admire the hard work of your worms, and then add this rich compost to your garden or house plants. The plant will thank you. There will probably be some worms in there but they'll be fine in your garden.

Finished compost - ready to add to your garden!
MG: What is that spigot for?
HL: That is the only other regular maintenance you'll need to do. As the food breaks down, they release water. After adding food to the composeter, I'll usually use the same quart yogurt container to drain any extra water - called compost leachate. Use the leachate to water your lawn. This is not the same thing as compost tea where you soak finished compost to "brew" tea. Leachate potentially has harmful bacteria and so you do not want to water your edibles with it.

Compost leachate - best thrown onto your lawn

MG: I don't have a garden. I don't have a yard. 
HL: It is never too late to start a love for gardening - you can choose to save the finished compost for a future garden, or you could find someone who would take your compost. Or, you could sprinkle around a tree or bush in your yard or in a local park.

Side dressing my basil plants with finished compost
MG: Have you had any problems with your system?
HL: One time I did have some kind of mold or fungus growing in one tray. I just threw away the contents of that tray, gave it a thorough rinse with the hose and reused. I haven't seen anything like it since. I do occasionally see flies, but they haven't been a problem. One tip I read was to keep one tray full only of shredded paper on top of your working tray because it is harder for the flies to get in and out of all that paper.


MG: ......it really doesn't smell?
HL: Really! It doesn't smell!


Reader poll: Do you compost? Do you live in the city, in a suburb or in the country? How is it working for you?

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3 comments:

  1. This is pretty unique post and I loved it. I feel bad throwing away everything in one garbage bag because from where I am, there is no recycling and concept for composting. I do not have a garden/yard but since this is an indoor thing, I certainly could use this. Also, I know some of my family members are big into composting and they could def, try this system thanks you Holly for sharing this :)

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  2. Thank you for commenting! I do think that is a cool system that is easily manageable. Happy holidays!

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  3. This has to be clever-est Recipe ReDux gadget write-up! And I just learned worms are vegan :) We have a compost bin outside but I must say it takes extra inspiration to compost in the dead of winter.

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