5 Gallon Compost
March 11, 2017
Composting is the biological decomposition of organic material into a humus-like substance called compost. The process occurs naturally, but can be accelerated and improved by controlling environmental factors.
We live in a “throw away” society. It’s easy to get rid of things we regard as useless by placing it in the garbage can. Food waste makes up a large part of our daily waste, and ultimately ends up in a landfill. Once this “useless” material is taken away to a landfill, it really becomes useless. Enclosed in an oxygen-limited environment, garbage degrades very slowly. Landfills must be monitored to make sure gases such as methane do not build up inside, and to make sure underground water does not become contaminated from landfill liquids. In addition, many landfills are nearing their maximum capacity, and in the near future will need to be closed. Composting is a great way to mitigate the leakage of toxins into the earth and the volume of garbage collected at landfills.
Compost will improve the quality of almost any soil, and for this reason it is most often considered a soil conditioner. Compost improves the structure and texture of the soil enabling it to better retain nutrients, moisture, and air for the betterment of plants. Compost also adds nutrients to your soil. Compost contains a variety of the basic nutrients that plants require for healthy growth. In addition to the main three; nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, of special importance are the micronutrients found in compost such as manganese, copper, iron, and zinc.
Worm composting is using worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment called vermicompost, or worm compost. Worms eat food scraps, which become compost as they pass through the worm's body. Compost exits the worm through its' tail end. This compost can then be used to grow plants. To understand why vermicompost is good for plants, remember that the worms are eating nutrient-rich fruit and vegetable scraps, and turning them into nutrient-rich compost.
We used two 5 gallon buckets to make our compost system, but one can also be purchased from the city of San Diego. To make the worm bin, follow these instructions:
You will need:
2 5-gallon buckets
1 lid that will fit on all 3 buckets
Power drill (or hammer and nail)
Red wriggler worms
Preparing the bins:
Bin 1: Drill 1/8 inch holes just below the rim of the bin. This is to allow for air circulation so the worms do not suffocate.
Bin 2: Drill 3/16 inch or smaller holes in the bottom of the bin. Also drill 1/8 inch holes just below the rim of the bin as well.
Lid: Drill 1/8 inch holes in the top of the lid for air circulation. The prevent fruit flies and other bugs, you can drill larger holes and place an old t-shirt or cloth under the lid before closing it to allow for oxygen without pesky bugs getting in.
Filling the bins:
Bin 1 will be used for the collection of the compost “tea” which can be diluted and used as a nutritional drink for plants.
In bin 2, place a sheet of newspaper over the holes and moisten with water. Then fill about 3-4 inches with shredded newspaper or broken down cardboard and moisten with water again. It should feel as wet as a wrung out sponge.
Add a few food scraps and the worms to the bin.
Add another sheet of newspaper on top of the pile to ensure the moisture stays in and that the worms have a dark environment.
Put on the lid and let the worms go to work.
Feed worms daily with a small about of food by placing a pile on the wall of the bin, then the next day adding adjacent to the previous pile, working in a circle until you reach the first pile.
Continue feeding the worms until your bin is full, then let sit for about a month or until the worms have digested the contents.
Periodically check the bottom bin to ensure the compost tea is not reaching the bottom level of bin 2. If it has, dump out into a new container so the worms do not drown
Do not over feed the worms. Feed once there is little food scraps remaining. Worms enjoy small portions daily rather than large portions infrequently. Try saving your scraps for a day and feeding at the end rather than feeding at the end of the week.
Worms can eat half of their weight in food per day, so if you start with 3 pounds of worms you should provide them with 1.5 pounds of food each day.
Break down or chop up any large food rinds or peels before placing them in the bin so the worms can break them down easier and faster.
The calcium in egg shells will help to promote mating between the worms.
Egg shells will also help to neutralize the pH of the compost. Fruit scraps will be acidic so adding egg shells will help keep the pH balanced and the worms healthy.
DO NOT add citrus fruits (orange, lemon, lime) as the limestone in these fruits will kill the worms.
If you see moisture building up on the walls or the inside of the lid, wipe down with a paper towel to prevent mold growth.
The EPA regulates the ink on newspaper and telephone books so these are the best options for use as bedding in your compost bin.
What to feed your worms:
Fruit and veggie scraps*
Coffee grounds (cooled)
Old, stripped cardboard boxes
Used tea bags (staple removed)
*Worms do not like citrus foods, onions, garlic, or potatoes.