Composting and worm bins

Page - January 7, 2007
Your household produces an enormous amount of waste each year that could be composted. Having a compost or worm bin in your back yard is a great way to reduce your waste pile and help protect the environment.

Organic materials are broken down naturally by bacteria and fungi. Composting speeds up this process by providing an optimum environment for the transportation of organic wastes to the nutrient-rich end-product: humus. The whole process takes anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the composition of the pile. Composts add moisture and nutrients to your soil and improve soil structure so you will have a healthy and productive garden.

Getting started

You can either buy a compost bin or make a wooden box for the compost. Just remember to leave space between the slats of wood for air circulation.

Alternate layers of garden waste and food scraps with a thin layer of soil. Keep it moist and stir up the compost every 1 to 3 weeks with a shovel.

The smaller the pieces of food and yard waste the faster it will decompose.

Composting slows down in winter, but you can continue to add organic materials. It's fine if your heap freezes, but if you want your heap to continue decomposing throughout the winter, add an insulating layer of plastic over the heap.

In spring and summer

When your compost is dark and crumbly rather than lumpy, work it into soil for a general conditioner. You can add your compost to gardens and lawns throughout the growing season.

Good materials for composting

In general, yard wastes and food waste are good: grass clippings (if not recently treated with chemicals), dead leaves, shredded twigs and branches, weeds (avoid the seeds), flower cuttings, pruned material, all fruits, vegetables, grains, egg shells, baked goods, tea bags, coffee grounds, manure, hay and straw, even human hair and nails.

You should avoid

Roots of hardy weeds, dog or cat faeces, diseased plants, meat, poultry, fish, fat or oil, dairy products, bones, highly fatty foods such as salad dressing, paper wastes, large amounts of wood ash and any toxic materials such as household cleaners.

Worm bins

Worm bins are different to regular garden composting. They are not able to take garden waste and some types of food waste, but they are compact and moveable, which makes them great for the city, small gardens and if you are renting.

When you purchase a worm bin (available from some hardware stores), you will receive good information about how to set it up and what food you can put in it.