How to store compost

How can I tell if my compost is ready

I agree with Organic’s answer about the ratio of materials in a compost pile. The trouble is, you’re adding stuff whenever you’ve got it, like most of us do, and most instructions for ‘efficient’ composting are expecting you to have quantities of so called browns and greens all at once, and mixing them together all at once, then turning regularly, without adding anything else. Because a compost pile that’s turned regularly, with the right moisture level and kept covered to trap the heat, becomes aerobic and hot, the resulting compost is ready much quicker – 3 to 6 months, depending on air temperatures where you are, and if you are able to turn the pile at least twice a week.

However, if you’re adding stuff and turning it regularly, then you will inevitably end up with some parts composted down into blackish soil (that’s what it looks like when it’s ready), mixed in with other, as yet uncomposted material. Some compost containers have a door at the bottom on the front – this is to allow you to get at the bottom of the heap, which will be ready before the rest of heap, so you can remove what’s ready and leave behind what’s not. But usually, that sort of compost arrangement is aimed at creators of cold, anaerobic heaps, where its not turned regularly and just left to rot down quietly on its own, with stuff being added all the time on the top. After a year or two, the stuff on the bottom is, of course, ready for use when the top is still covered in fresh materials – cold anaerobic composting is fine so long as no weed seeds or diseased materials have been added, you’re prepared to wait longer, and you’re not intending to use the compost for anything other than adding back to the soil in the garden/yard. If that’s not the type of compost bin you’ve got though, then you either wait till its full and all composted and then use it, or try to sift through and extract what’s not ready for use after spreading it and replacing the uncomposted stuff in the compost bin.

Many people get round this problem (if they have the room) by having more than one compost pile or composter – they fill one up, then start the next, not adding to the first one any more, just turning it regularly, then when its ready, using the contents, and then start another compost pile in there when the second bin or container is full. If you have a lot of stuff to compost, then three compost bins works really well, but most of us don’t have those sort of quantities.

You’re not doing anything wrong as such – in an ideal world, you’d have masses of browns and greens all ready at once, 3 compost bins and the ability to construct the right sort of pile of compost in one go, but the world is not ideal, and for most of us, we do what you do. But however you do it, you will eventually get useable good stuff from the compost bin.

3 ways to tell homemade compost is ready to spread

Q uestion: I set up a box-like compost bin last fall and started adding leaves, plant materials and kitchen scraps to it a few days later. I’ve been adding more to it throughout the gardening season and turning it occasionally. How do I know when the compost is finished and ready to spread? Are there any areas of the garden where I shouldn’t add it?

Answer: Kudos to you for setting up a home compost pile and using it to recycle materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. It sounds like you have a good mixture of materials going into your pile, which means you’re off to a great start. Exactly when your compost is ready to “harvest” depends on a few different factors.

For the fastest decomposition, you should aim to have about 2-3 times more “brown” materials going into your pile than “green” materials. Browns include carbon-rich ingredients like autumn leaves, straw, shredded newspapers, unbleached paper towels, etc. Green materials are high in nitrogen and include such items as untreated glass clippings, plant trimmings, farm animal manures, and spent plants. This ratio feeds the microbes that break down your pile a balanced diet and encourages them to work at a rapid pace. It also keeps the pile from becoming too wet and hot.

Other than the balance of materials, another thing that determines how fast compost decomposes is how frequently it’s turned. If a compost pile isn’t aerated via the turning process once or twice a month, the decomposition process will switch from aerobic to anaerobic. It’s a whole host of different microbes for anaerobic decomposition and it takes a good bit longer for them to fully break down the materials. If you don’t regularly turn the pile it’s called “cold composting.” Yes, you’ll eventually get finished compost, but the process will take a long time and the balance of carbon to nitrogen in the finished compost may be less than ideal for supporting plant growth. You may also have trouble with odors or wetness in your pile.

A third factor that determines how fast finished compost is produced is the particle size of the original ingredients. Large plant stems, small twigs and whole leaves take a lot longer to break down than materials that have been shredded prior to adding them to the pile. Smaller particle sizes mean more rapid decomposition.

Also, since you’ve been adding new materials to the bin throughout the gardening season, that will affect the speed of decomposition as well. Ideally, you should have two bins. Fill up the first bin with the proper ratio of “browns” to “greens” and then stop adding new materials to it. Turn that first bin a few times a month until the compost is ready to harvest, and only add new materials to the second bin. By the time the second bin is full, it’s likely that the compost in the first bin is finished and ready to spread in the garden. Rotating between the two bins is a great system to ensure a good supply of finished compost.

I can’t tell you exactly when your compost is ready to spread due to all of these factors, but I can tell you what signs to be on the lookout for that will tell you the decomposition process is complete.

1. The original ingredients are unrecognizable. Finished compost should be brown and crumbly. You should not be able to see any recognizable stems, leaves or other materials in the compost.

2. Finished compost smells good. The fragrance of your pile should be earthy and fresh. It should not smell musty or ammonia-like (if you smell those odors, it could be a sign that you aren’t turning the pile often enough or that your ratio of ingredients is off.)

2. Your compost should not be hot to the touch. The process of decomposition generates heat, so “working” compost piles are steaming hot. But, when the composting process is complete, the temperature of the pile drops significantly. The presence of earthworms is another indicator that the process is complete. Worms cannot survive the hot temperatures of a “working” compost pile and they will only move in when the process is near completion.

As for where to spread your compost, if it’s finished, you can use it anywhere. I spread mine around my perennials and in my vegetable garden. I also use it in my strawberry patch. The only caution I’d like to make is to be careful where you use your compost if you’ve added weeds to it that have gone to seed. Most home compost piles don’t reach a high enough temperature to kill weed seeds. For that reason I suggest keeping weeds that have gone to seed out of your compost bin to save yourself some headaches in years to come.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is jessicawalliser.com. Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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    So, you want to hang on to that black gold a while before putting it to use? No problem! As long as you follow a few basic guidelines, you’ll have a secure stash to pull from in no time.

    Why hold on to dirt?

    This is no ordinary dirt we’re talking about! Black gold is a nutrient-rich compost made naturally by Eisenia fetida, otherwise known as the red wiggler worm. Within this fine mixture of worm poop can be found all sorts of beneficial bacteria and earthy organic matter.

    Worm compost is put to use in the garden, most often in soil, for its ability to enhance structure, improve aeration, feed plants, and capacity to retain and drain moisture. It’s also an excellent foliar treatment when used in the form of a worm compost tea. It has the amazing power to revive plants and replenish earth that has become infertile, depleted, and unable to sustain life.

    With liberal use of fresh vermicompost, abundant vitamins, minerals, and microscopic life quickly repopulate and enrich barren areas. Soon, plants grow healthy again and balanced ecosystems become established with ease.

    What’s the secret ingredient?

    Here’s where the beauty of worm compost lies- there’s no secret about it at all! This most naturally potent, yet perfectly balanced fertilizer is made from nothing other than the very food and paper waste you would otherwise consider trash.

    Instead of garbage going the way of landfills, compost worms devour it, use it to fuel their own population growth, and produce finely textured casts that work as long-lasting fertilizer.

    “Finished” vermicompost is about 70-80% worm casts plus organic matter at all stages of decomposition.

    Does it have a shelf life?

    Once worm compost has been harvested, meaning separated from worms and cocoons, it is ready for use. You could use it with the worms and cocoons in it, but then you will be pulling from your worm workforce.
    As this fertilizer holds its “power” in the life within it, it is essential that life be supported even while shelved. This means only that oxygen, moisture, and temperature remain fairly consistent from the start. With these things in place “fresh” worm compost remains viable for up to three years, or more!

    Oxygen

    Oxygen-loving bacteria slowly consume the organic matter within the mixture and continue to multiply and die off in a natural progression. Without oxygen, however, these strains of bacteria will all perish and be replaced by anaerobic bacteria – which, in part, defeats the purpose of having such valuable compost.

    To maintain adequate oxygen you need only to store your mixture in a non-airtight container with the lid slightly ajar or some holes drilled into the top.

    Moisture

    Whereas red wigglers love their homes to be kept at a fairly moist 80% humidity, the compost itself need only be just barely damp to support the life within.

    As worm farmers prepare to harvest their compost, a drying process allows much of the moisture to evaporate. Mostly, this is so that the clumps and clods can easily be sifted into a loose and easily spreadable material.
    Of course, maintaining this moisture in an opened container takes only the slightest effort- a few spritzes from a water bottle every once in a while should do the trick. Just be careful to use dechlorinated water or else you’ll be killing off those good bacteria anyway!

    Please note that once dry, life can not be brought back to worm compost by wetting it. The structural qualities become compromised. It no longer serves to condition soil nearly as well as the fresh product can.

    Temperature

    Without worms or cocoons to keep alive, the compost itself may have a wider range of safe temperatures. Still, too much cold or heat will also damage the bacteria. It’s best to store what you harvest well above freezing and well below…cooking? A wide range of “average” room temperatures is just perfect.

    How to Know if your Worm Compost has “Gone Bad”

    It’s always best to use your worm compost as “fresh” as possible when it is most well-aerated, moist, and full of life. But might it ever be too late? Can a bucket of dirt even go bad?

    Well, there are two ways to look at it. If you most value the aerobic bacteria and their potential, then yes, they can die and become useless. If they die, anaerobic bacteria will take over and make a smelly situation out of your compost. So, this could be considered “bad.”

    However, if you take into account that even stinky compost is super full of vitamins and minerals, you can see how it too can be good – in the right places. Mixed into depleted soil, “expired” worm compost will still improve structure, porosity, nutrient content, and create a better environment for plant life.

    NOTE Reserve your very best quality worm compost for amending the soil of vegetable gardens only. When watering, keep edible fruits and foliage clean using only fresh water rather than any tea preparation.

    The More You Know…

    Here we are, well into a brand new year! At the Squirm Firm, we resolve to continue with our month to month discovery and sharing of how raising compost worms impacts our world and this little corner of the earth we stand on.

    It’s been great to know we are in this together! For those of you just joining the party, sign up here to be among the first to see each new issue we email. Once a month you’ll receive your personal newsletter access to all the answers and interesting worm farming techniques we’ve been digging into. Because there’s always more to explore and ways to grow!

    Happy worm composting!

    Storing Compost – Tips On The Storage Of Garden Compost

    Compost is a living thing filled with organisms and microbiotic bacteria that require aeration, moisture and food. Learning how to store compost is easy to do and can increase in nutrients if stored on the ground. If you are making your own compost at such high levels that you cannot use it right away, you can also store it in a compost bin. You will need to control the moisture levels during compost storage, as it may become moldy when soggy, but it should not dry out completely either.

    How to Store Finished Compost

    Any good gardener plans ahead. This may mean that your compost for the following year is finished before it is time to lay it. That means keeping compost in a condition where it is still moist and nutrient rich for the next season.

    One of the easiest methods of compost storage is on the ground covered with a tarp or plastic sheeting. This will prevent excess moisture from rain and snow runoff but allow a bit of humidity to seep

    in and keep the pile damp. An added benefit will be the worms that can get into the pile and leave their rich castings behind.

    One of the main considerations in how to store finished compost is space. Compost storage on the ground is an eyesore and requires garden space, which many home growers are short of. You can use your compost bin and keep the compost lightly moist and turned, but many of us have a constant batch of compost going and the bin is needed for the next generation of rich soil amendment.

    In this case, you can store the compost in plastic bags or get a couple of cheap garbage cans and store it in these. For the best results, check the compost for moisture levels and stir it up to bring the damp bottom layer into the top drier layer. Use a garden fork to turn the batch. If the compost is evenly dry, mist it lightly and stir it.

    How to Store Compost Tea

    One of the easiest fertilizers to use for an organic gardener is compost tea. It not only adds fertility to the soil but can help prevent some pests and insects. Compost tea can be stored for up to four to six days in a sealed, light proof container. If you need to store it longer, you will have to provide aeration with a bubbler stone or aquarium pump. Keeping compost tea for future use will ensure a supply of lively beneficial bacteria and organisms to improve the health of your plants.

    How Long to Store Compost

    Compost should ideally be used as soon as possible. The longer it is stored the better chance it has of losing nutrients. Compost can be stored for the following season, but it should be used by then. You can also add more “food” to the pile if you are going to store it longer or mix it with an almost finished batch of compost. This will add more organisms and keep the compost viable.

    #1 Worm Bin
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    Vermicomposting, or worm composting, turns kitchen scraps and other green waste into a rich, dark soil that smells like earth and feels like magic. Made of almost pure worm castings, it’s a sort of super compost. Not only is it rich in nutrients but it’s also loaded with the microorganisms that create and maintain healthy soil. Clemson University Extension lists the following benefits of vermicompost in their article on worm composting:

    • provides nutrients to the soil
    • increases the soil’s ability to hold nutrients in a plant-available form
    • improves the soil structure’
    • improves the aeration and internal drainage of heavy clay soils
    • increases the water holding ability of sandy soils
    • provides numerous beneficial bacteria

    Because it’s usually made in modest quantities, vermicompost is often used as top or side dressing for one’s most demanding and deserving plants. Mixed with regular compost it adds a boost to garden soil. Blended with potting soil, it invigorates plants growing in containers, outside or in (properly made vermicompost has a slight, natural smell and is perfectly suitable for indoor use).

    With the right worm bins and supplies turning table scraps into valuable vermicompost is a cinch! Planet Natural has everything you need to get started: worms, a container and “bedding.” Plus books that tell you just how to do it. Now let’s rot!

    In general, having a worm bin requires very little attention. Worms are surprisingly low-maintenance housemates. They don’t need to be fed every day, they make no noise, and their bins only need to be cleaned every three to six months. They can make for a fascinating learning experience for kids that not only includes biology with one of their favorite creatures, but also wider environmental lessons. Composting with worms isn’t just good for plants. It’s also good for the planet. It keeps food waste and other organic material out of our trash and reduces use of landfills. No wonder it’s encouraged by state, county, and city municipalities who deal with waste disposal and its costs, both in dollars and environmental damage. Spokane, Washington offers it citizens information on worm composting (PDF) to encourage its residents to give it a try. The City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada posts a page on its City Farmer News that not only contains a video how-to but also offers worm bins to residents. It even has a call-in hotline for composting information. Not to be out done, the state of California has an animated, interactive game that teaches the basics of vermicomposting and its benefits. It’s called The Adventures of Vermi the Worm (link no longer available).

    What You’ll Need

    In addition to your readily available kitchen scraps, you’ll need worms, a container, and bedding. Planet Natural offers all the worms, composting bins, and supplies you need to get started.

    The size of your worm bin (or how many bins you can put to use) and the amount of worms you’ll need will depend on how much usable kitchen waste your family generates. Keeping a record for a week or two of how many pounds of suitable waste you produce (also consider volume) can help determine how large your vermicomposting operation should be.

    The Right Worm For the Job

    “A worm is a worm is a worm” may sum up your thoughts on the subject, but all worms aren’t created equal. Don’t try using your garden-variety night crawlers. They need to worm their way through dirt to eat and survive and don’t dine on organic waste. Most of the smaller worms found in your landscape are also not suitable. Most of them are likely to be Lumbricus terrestris. The essential difference, besides adaptability, is that L. terrestris is a deep-soil dweller (as its name suggests), while worms for vermicomposting are litter-dwellers that neither need nor want several feet of earth in which to delve.

    The worms needed for composting are Eisenia foetida, also known as red wigglers, brandling or manure worms. E. foetida will eat its weight in garbage every day, reproduce prolifically, and survive a variety of feeding conditions. Lumbricus rubellus (manure worms) will also do well in composting bins. Ordering worms from a dependable supplier will ensure that the worms in your bin will survive and perform the task you provide them.

    How many red wigglers will you need? Some vermiculture experts recommend a one-to-one ratio: one pound of worms, approximately 1,000 worms, to one pound of garbage added daily. Mary Appelhof, also the author of Worms Eat My Garbage, recommends two pounds of worms for every pound of garbage.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that worms multiply like rabbits. (Or maybe it’s more like rabbits multiply like worms!) If you give them adequate food and a good home they can double their populations every 90 days. You may want to start out slow and with fewer worms than you think you’ll need and the resulting worm population explosion will take care of the rest.

    Bins

    A good worm composting bin is easy-to-use and efficient. There are a number of fine commercial bins available or the handy among us can build their own.

    Commercial Bins

    A wide variety of commercial worm bins are available for composting, from simple, ventilated boxes to various “stacked” versions. Most are suitable for basements, entry ways, and other out-of-the-way corners in the home. They can also be used outdoors, at least seasonally, if protected from extremes of heat and cold. Bins with layered trays make harvesting finished compost very easy; this is the primary advantage they offer over most home-made bins and one-room bins.

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    In a stacked worm bin, the trays are used in succession, each one coming on line after the one below fills up with compost. When it’s time to move the worms, food and bedding gets placed on the next tray up; the trays are designed so that worms can indeed migrate to the next level. When they’ve left the old one behind, it can be removed and emptied — and then replaced at the top of the stack. As long as it’s left empty, it has nothing to attract the worms. Only when food waste is present will worms move in.

    Homemade Bins

    Simple bins made of wood or plastic can be quite simple to make. It’s important that the material be opaque as worms do not like light. A tight-fitting lid isn’t necessary; worms don’t generally try to flee their quarters. Tight fitting lids cut-off ventilation. But some sort of cover is important, both to shut out light and to keep moisture in.

    Bin size depends on the number of worms you’re planning to house and the amount of garbage you want them to recycle. A couple of structural rules pertain to all. First, worms generally need floor space rather than head room. (Commercial bins that look tall usually consist of several shallow trays stacked on top of each other.) A one-room bin need be no more than 12-18 inches (30-45cm) deep. Ventilation and drainage are a must. Here are plans (PDF) for a very functional wooden bin from the fine folks at Seattle Tilth. More general bin suggestions, including using a plastic storage crate as a bin, can be found at this University of Nebraska Extension page.

    Choosing A Location

    Since worms are quite sensitive to both light and noise, a corner of the basement often works best for their home. They thrive at temperatures between about 55°-77°F (13°-25°C) which means that most basements should fit the bill. During summer months it’s possible to keep worm bins outside (at least in some places) as long as they’re in the shade. People have found ways to keep a worm bin in the kitchen, and even in the living room. In colder locations, bins can be brought inside for the winter months.

    Bedding

    #1 WORM BEDDING

    To give your worms a good home, you need the proper bedding that will take up anywhere from one-third to one-half of your bin. Keep in mind they like water and their bedding should be about 75 percent water. Make bedding out of strips of newspaper or shredded grocery bags, cardboard, or egg cartons, (no glossy paper), composted manure, old leaves, coconut coir, or a mixture of any of these substances. Just be sure that the material is clean and non-toxic as the worms will eat the bedding as well as the table scraps you feed them. If you’re working with cardboard or paper, soak the chosen material in water until it is easy to work with. Then rip it up into fairly small pieces and wring them out thoroughly. The bedding should be damp but not wet.

    Half-fill the box, but loosely, with bedding and add a handful or two of dirt as well as some crushed eggshells. The dirt provides roughage — you can also use a smaller amount of sand or cornstarch — the eggshells calcium. Fluff the bedding up as you put it into the bed. The worms need a place to burrow and you need a place to bury their food. This will keep odors and insects at bay.

    Introducing the Worms

    When the bin and bedding are in place, dig a shallow depression in the bedding, and place the worms in it. Then leave them, with the lid off or askew and a low light on overhead. The light will encourage them to burrow into the bedding. Leave the worms to acclimate for a week or so before feeding them. Food left out too soon will just rot and smell — not a good beginning for the new venture. Be sure to bury the food in the bedding rather than just scattering it on top. Again, leave them for a week, then check on whether the worms are eating and adjust quantities accordingly.

    What To Feed

    It’s easy to avoid problems if you supply your worms the right wastes. Fruit scraps, vegetable peels, tea bags, and coffee grounds are all good (unbleached coffee filters can also go in). Avoid meat or meat by-products as well as dairy products and oil foods. All those trimmings will do is attract pests like flies and rodents while harming your worms. What about pasta? Experts are divided on whether to feed worms pasta and other grains, so let your worms tell you what the best diet is for them. Of course, don’t feed your worms inorganic waste such as aluminum foil or glass. Also avoid colored-ink newspaper as these dyes can be harmful. Basically use common sense and you’ll end up with happy worms and plenty of compost.

    After initially feeding your worms, it’s best to feed them only once a week in small amounts. The idea is to give them only enough that they can eat, otherwise the leftovers (what they don’t process) will end up making your compost bin stinky.

    If your worms seem to be eating too slowly, you can either add more worms or you can try chopping up what you feed them. Much like turning the compost in a traditional compost heap (sans worms), chopping scraps up will speed the process along.

    Moisture/ Drainage

    For worms, moisture is essential to the most basic function of life, breathing. Lacking lungs, worms “breathe” through their skins, something that is only possible in a moist environment. Their bedding should therefore be damp. But if moisture starts collecting in the bottom of the bin, it can be a problem. The classic solution is to set a couple of low blocks (1-2″ high) in a large tray and put the bin on the blocks so that liquid can drain from the holes in the bottom of the bin. This is fine as long as you empty the tray frequently enough. Check from time to time to be sure that bedding has not blocked these holes.

    A turkey baster may be the best way to drain the tray without lifting off the bin. Mary Appelhof suggests several other ways to deal with excess water. If your bin has no drainage holes, the baster can again be pressed into service. But if you simply stick it down into the bin and try to suction up the liquid, it will almost certainly clog. Instead, scoop away the bedding from one area and lower a small strainer into the bin — you until you can see moisture rising in it – and then bring the baster into play.

    Another ingenious way to deal with excess moisture is the coir sock. Fill an old sock or stocking with dry coconut coir and lay it in the bottom of the bin. Check it from time to time. If it becomes waterlogged, remove it and squeeze it out saving the liquid, of course, for plants.

    Harvesting Castings

    Once the contents of your bin have turned to worm castings — brown, earth-looking stuff — it’s time to harvest the castings and give your worms new bedding. Worm castings can be harvested any time from every two-and-a-half months to every six months, depending on how many worms you have and how much food you’ve been giving them.

    100% PURE & NATURAL

    When to collect the compost depends largely on whether you want to continue the operation year-round or shut it down for the summer. If you’re planning to vermicompost only through the winter, then you can set your bin up in the fall, feed your worms for three to four months, and then leave the bin untouched for another month or two while the worms eat through what remains of their bedding and any leftover food in it. Most will eventually die off and decay and what will be left will be almost pure vermicast, with very few worms left in it.

    If you plan to keep vermicomposting even through the summer, you will need to move the worms to a new clean home after the third or fourth month. The vermicompost you harvest will contain bedding and bits of old food as well as a high proportion of worm castings. Though not as pure as the vermicast left after most of the worms die, it nevertheless has high nutrient value, perhaps higher than the vermicast, which has passed so many times through worm guts.

    There’s more than one way of harvesting worm castings, but one popular method is to move everything to one side of the bin. Then push the partially composted food to the middle and add additional food scraps. Replace the lid. The worms will head for the new food. Once they’ve relocated to the food pile — it should take about two weeks — simply put on a pair of gloves and remove the worm castings without taking out any worms. Once they’ve been harvested, replace the bedding. (Tray-style commercial bins make this job a snap.)

    Note: As a worm eats its way through organic matter, it leaves behind castings, digested organic matter rich in nutrients and beneficial microbes. These microbes (as many as 10,000 kinds) not only control harmful bacteria, they aid plant growth, help fight off disease and nourish your plants with readily absorbed nutrients that keep them healthy and productive.

    Troubleshooting

    Vermicomposting is so easy as to be almost fool-proof. But problems can develop. Here are solutions for the most common worm bin problems.

    Odors

    Sometimes a vermicompost bin will develop a rotten smell. It’s important to realize that this is not the smell of the compost or of the worms; it is the smell of rotten food. Most often, this happens if the worms are being fed more than they can eat. But it may be simply that the food is not buried deeply enough. Either way, make sure the food is buried and stop feeding the worms until they catch up, or remove the rotten food, wait a few days, and start again on a smaller scale.

    If the odor doesn’t go away, check that the holes around the bottom of the bin are clear. If the bin has drainage holes, make sure it is up on its blocks, so that the underside is ventilated.

    Worms on the Loose!

    Worms trying to flee the bin is a clear sign that something has gone wrong. It’s usually one of two things: either the castings have built up too deeply or the bedding is too acidic. Obviously, if the problem is castings, the response is to harvest. If you don’t have time to do a complete bin change, tear up some extra newspaper or other bedding material and toss it into the bin. This may hold the worms until you have time to harvest the castings and set up new bedding.

    Acidity

    If that doesn’t seem to be the problem, try adding crushed eggshell to the bedding to reduce acidity. Too high a proportion of peat moss or coconut coir (especially peat moss) can make bedding acidic, as can too much citrus fruit or peels in the diet. Mix more shredded newspaper or cardboard with the bedding and cut out all citrus fruits.

    Fruit Flies and Gnats

    The first trick is to figure out whether you’ve got fruit flies or gnats. Or both. They’re both small, flying insects but the fruit flies tend to be rounder and paler. Gnats are fairly slender and quite dark. Often the tell-tale difference is behavioral: gnats resist flying, frequently trying to scramble away rather than taking to the air.

    Fruit flies: Completely buried food should not attract flies. A fly population indicates that food is exposed or rotten, which may mean that there is too much of it. Citrus fruit, especially, will attract fruit flies. Clean out some of what is there and wait for several days or a week before feeding the worms again. When you do, give them less and bury it deep. This should bring the fruit fly population under control.

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    Eliminate gnats from your kitchen with the BioCare® Fruit Fly Trap. A natural attractant entices these troublesome pests into the decorative container where they become trapped and drown. Safe and effective.

    One suggestion for trapping fruit flies comes from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection: put a banana peel inside a plastic bag and make numerous holes in the bag with a toothpick or small knitting needle. Put the bag near the bin and wait several days. Because fruit flies are particularly drawn to bananas, they will find their way to the banana peel but the vast majority will not be able to find their way out again. Don’t feed your worms any bananas while you’ve got this trap set; you don’t want the flies to be distracted from the one source of banana.

    Gnats: These can be remarkably pesky for unlike fruit flies, which hang around the fruit, fungus gnats like light (your computer screen) and damp places (your nose). Furthermore, unlike fruit flies, they can damage plants. So even if you don’t worry about the few in your bin, it’s important to eradicate them from finished compost before using it. This involves inoculating the batch with beneficial nematodes.

    Beneficial nematodes (Steinernema feltiae) can also be used in the bin itself, though eventually the worms will eat them along with just about everything else in reach. With luck, they’ll get the gnat larvae before the worms get them.

    Coffee grounds seem to discourage gnats as well. Fruit flies, however, love them — which is one reason why it helps to know which one you’re dealing with. Sticky traps, fly paper, and traps baited with apple cider vinegar or red wine can all help control a problem with either gnats or flies.

    Mold

    Mold in the bedding, curiously, indicates not that the bedding is too wet, but once again that it is too acidic. Change the bedding and cut out citrus fruit completely until the problem is solved; reintroduce it slowly and carefully.

    Related Questions

    • What products to compost

      Hello,

      You will be able to source all of the essential elements in order to build a great compost pile without having to look too far! As long as your carbon to nitrogen ratio is optimal (25-30:1) your compost pile will be breaking down properly. Here are some lists of acceptable additions:

      Carbon Rich Material “Browns”
      Cardboard (free of dyes)
      Corn stalks
      Fruit waste
      Leaves
      Newspaper
      Peat Moss
      Saw dust
      Stems & twigs
      Straw

      Nitrogen Rich Material “Greens”
      Alfalfa/Clover/Hay
      Algae
      Coffee grounds
      Kitchen food waste
      Garden waste
      Grass clippings
      Hedge clippings
      Manures
      Vegetable scraps
      Weeds (that have NOT gone to seed)

      ​Things to Avoid
      Meats
      Bones
      Fats/oils/grease
      ​Diseased plant material
      Colored paper
      Coal/charcoal
      Cat/dog waste
      Manures from carnivorous animals
      Onions
      Garlic
      Citrus peels

      As for the rhododendron and holly leaves, you can definitely put them in your compost pile. However, it is a good idea to really chop or shred them up, as they take much longer to break down due to their fibrous and waxy make up. It really depends on how quickly you are trying to create usable compost. It might be a good idea to have a separate pile going that you incorporate those leaves into and another pile that you do not. That way you can have a pile you know will rapidly break down into garden goodness and have yet another ready to use later on. Good luck!

    compost tea, last how long!

    Actually you do. I don’t know if you are including the actions of protozoa in your understanding of dominance and balance in AACT.
    From Teaming with Microbes pp 155:
    “…it can be difficult to grow fungi in quantities sufficient enough to make a balanced tea, much less a fungally dominated one. This is because bacteria not only grow but multiply rapidly in tea given adequate nutrition; whereas the brew time is almost never long enough for fungi to multiply in tea-they only grow bigger. The better way is to activate fungi in the compost prior to making the tea allowing populations to multiply before they are teased out of the compost and into the tea brew.”
    (italics added after by me, withhold adequate nutrition at first = slow down bacterial bloom, hypae only grow bigger = given time and bacterial predation by protozoa they will “dominate” vs bacteria , santas beard, etc = activate fungi)
    Keep in mind that tea talk about bacteria and fungi falls very short of the whole picture. Protozoa are the real key to a balanced tea. They are the organisms responsible for processing the surging bacterial populations into a more balanced system (the bacteria bloom rapidly but are also prey for protozoa during the brew, not dominating further and further and eating the fungi) that resembles a soil food web, one composed of soil organisms in a aerated liquid with many islands of compost, dusts, etc to anchor to and release from.
    from microbeorganics.com
    “…a large population of protozoa, usually mostly flagellates. If you have a good quality compost or vermicompost, protozoa will already be present, often in a resting cyst. If you have an efficient aerated brewer you can pretty much count on having a high flagellate (protozoa) population combined with bacteria/archaea and fungal hyphae (not mycorrhizal) at 36 to 44 hours brew time (65 to 72 degrees F).”
    Tim is quite an experienced based authority which is why I take his advice and brew longer for balanced teas. In AACT and many other avenues, I think balanced is a more ideal goal as opposed to dominance.

    The two key reasons to use compost tea are:

    1. Impart microbial life into the soil or onto the foliage of plants
    2. Add soluble nutrients to the foliage or to the soil to feed the organisms and the plants present.

    The use of compost tea is recommended whenever the organisms in the soil or on the plants are not at optimum levels.

    SFI can analyse your soil and leaf samples so that you gain an overview as to whether the organisms in your soil/plant leaves are at optimum levels or not.

    Chemical-based pesticides, fumigants, herbicides and some synthetic fertilisers kill a range of the beneficial micro-organisms that encourage plant growth. On the other hand, compost teas improve the life in the soil and on plant surfaces. High quality compost tea will treat the leaf surface and soil with beneficial micro-organisms instead of destroying them.

    What is compost tea?

    Compost tea is a liquid produced by extracting bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes from compost. Compost tea production is a brewing process that is as simple to master as making a home brew. Just like perfecting your home brew, brewing compost tea may at times seem frustrating.

    However, if you concentrate on what you are doing and choose a suitable compost tea brewer that meets your specific needs, then creating a compost tea that will improve the health of your plants is relatively easy and well worth the effort.

    If you want to introduce a highly beneficial group of bacteria and fungi, protozoa and possibly nematodes, buy good compost that has these organisms, and make Actively Aerated Compost Tea. There are a number of compost brewers available to choose from in the market. When purchasing a tea machine, you should ask the manufacturer to provide information on oxygen levels during the tea brewing cycle (the brewing process has to be aerobic) in addition to a standard food web analysis (molecular analysis of diversity, and total and active bacteria and fungi, and protozoa, present in the tea made under standard conditions).

    The benefits of using a compost tea that contains ALL the food web organisms are:

    • Improved plant growth as a result of using beneficial organisms to protect the plant surfaces. The organisms occupy infection sites and can also prevent disease-causing organisms from finding the plant.
    • The tea improves the nutrient retention of the soil thus stimulating plant growth. If your soil can retain its nutrients it helps minimise the need to use fertiliser. A healthy soil is less likely to leach its nutrients into ground and surface waters.
    • Increasing the nutrients available to the root system leads to a stronger healthier plant. The predator-prey interactions increase the available nutrients required by the plant and enables it to absorb them in the correct dosage at the time the nutrients are required.
    • Compost tea assists in reducing the negative impact that chemical-based pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers have on beneficial micro-organisms in the ecosystem.
    • Improves the intake of nutrients by increasing foliar uptake. The beneficial micro-organisms increase the time the stomata stay open, while at the same time reducing evaporative loss from the leaf surface.
    • Reduces water loss and improves the water retention of the soil thereby reducing the need for frequent watering.
    • Improves tillage by building a better soil structure. Only the biological components in your soil can build its structure, and ALL the organism groups in the food web are required in order to have this occur. Thus your soil must contain not only bacteria but also fungi, protozoa, nematodes and micro arthropods. (Please be aware that the plate count method on its own does not supply you a complete overview of your existing soil foodweb.)

    Compost tea contains not only all the soluble nutrients extracted from the compost, but also contains all the species of bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes that are present in the compost. Not all the organisms in the compost, but representatives of all of the species in the compost are found in the final compost tea brew. It is therefore imperative that the compost you use in your brewer contains only the beneficial species of organisms required.

    Foods extracted from the compost, or added to the tea, grow beneficial organisms. Together, the beneficial bacteria and fungi growing on the compost foods, and on the added foods, result in a variety of many different species.

    The method you choose to adopt when brewing is critical in ensuring your final brew contains the nutrients desired. In order to retain the organisms in the tea, brewing conditions must be closely monitored and maintained to produce the end product desired. The biological organisms that are active and performing a function will differ, depending on:

    • temperature of brewing,
    • the foods added to the brew,
    • oxygen concentrations in the brewer during production,
    • the initial compost used: which species are present that can be extracted,
    • the length of time tea is brewed.

    Aerobic organisms are the most beneficial as they promote the processes that a plant needs in order to grow without stress and with a greater resistance to disease. To enhance this community of beneficial’s, the compost tea must remain aerobic (greater than 5.5ppm oxygen). Anaerobic conditions (below 2 to 4 mg oxygen per L for example) during brewing can result in the growth of some quite detrimental microbes and also produce some very detrimental metabolites. It is best to avoid extremely low oxygen concentrations during brewing. If low oxygen concentrations occur, brewing must continue until the organisms stop growing on the added foods, so that oxygen will diffuse back into the brew. The bacteria that cause human diseases almost invariably require anaerobic or reduced oxygen conditions in order to survive in competition with aerobic organisms. Only in reduced oxygen, or anaerobic conditions, can human disease-causing organisms out-compete the normal set of beneficial bacteria or fungi growing in soil, compost or compost tea. If you’ve done a good job choosing or making your compost, the compost will not contain any human disease organisms. The tea will not contain human pathogens if there were none in the compost.

    What is the shelf life of compost tea?

    The shelf life is short for a high quality compost tea with those active organisms necessary to attach firmly to leaf surfaces and not be easily washed off. In the research that we have done with 24 hour brewing cycles, after just 6 hours without any aeration the oxygen levels are lowered by over 300 %. If the compost tea is not used within that time, you need to aerate, agitate and add more food to the tea to feed the micro-organisms.

    Tea Definitions

    • is a brewed water extract of compost,
    • contains all the soluble nutrients that were in the compost,
    • production methods include completely aerobic (AACT), using fermentative selective conditions (FCT), using long term brewing conditions so that the tea returns to aerobic conditions after several weeks, as the smell goes away (LBCT), or using truly anaerobic conditions (NACT).
    • A true compost tea should contain ALL of the organisms that are present in the compost. Loss of certain aerobic groups when using FCT, LBCT or NACT methods leaves it questionable whether these products should even be called compost tea. They lack a large component of the biology needed to obtain the optimal benefits that are possible from compost or compost tea.

    Put-to-sleep teas

    • The organisms in the tea are ‘put-to-sleep’ using a long-brewing time, or through the use of a chemical that minimizes the activity of the organisms. Unfortunately, the putting-to-sleep process invariably kills many, many species. Through documenting these processes we have found that generally species diversity is reduced by around 50% during the putting-to-sleep process.

    Compost Extract

    • A water extract from compost that has not been brewed. This just contains some of the organisms found in the compost. No growing time is allowed thus the levels of active organisms are lower.
    • Soluble nutrients, enzymes, hormones and plant growth compounds are very much present. However it does not take long for the enzymes, hormones or plant growth compounds to be taken up and consumed by bacteria or fungi in these materials.

    Compost Leachate

    • Extraction of the organisms is minimal, so that this material is almost strictly the soluble nutrients that were in the compost. Because of the minimal amount of biology in this material, these enzymes, proteins, hormones and other materials do not disappear as rapidly as in a compost extract.

    Plant tea

    • Compost is not involved. May have good organisms present in the tea, if the active beneficial’s were present on the plant surfaces.

    Manure tea

    • Compost is not involved. A typical concern will relate to amount of human pathogen load present in the material. Some documentation says with adequate aeration and coupled with the right organisms that the biological activity can reduce the human pathogen levels. More testing to substantiate these claims is still required.
    • Manure teas should not be used on any crops for human consumption any earlier than 90 to 120 days before harvest.

    SFI has a basic Compost Tea Brewer for sale in our onlineshop –

    Compost Tea

    SERIES 18 | Episode 26

    My grandad, like most men of his generation, enjoyed a good cup of tea, and so did his garden – but his vegetables enjoyed a very different brew. At any time in his garden he would be making compost tea, using two things – either his own homemade compost or well-rotted cow manure. And it’s very simple to do.

    Start with some shade cloth – grandad would have used a hessian sack but modern shade cloth is just as good because it allows all the goodness through and keeps the compost in – to make the tea bag. Then take about 2.5 litres of compost and put that in the centre and wrap it up tightly – so that none escapes – and do the same with the cow manure.

    For this recipe, use 2.5 litres of each in 24 litres of water. That’s roughly a ratio of one to 10. Whichever you use, compost or cow manure, make sure they’re well decayed and pulverised. Now, add the tea bags to two buckets of water – which each contain about 24 litres of water and they’re half-full already.

    To add these individual components to a garden bed, 2.5 litres of manure would probably cover half a square metre of garden bed. But by brewing them in water, to make a tea, it liberates the nutrients and particularly the micro-organisms, and covers a larger area.

    Add some extra water to the buckets to top them up. Use rainwater from the tank but it’s ok to use tap water, but just leave the water to stand for 12 hours, so it gases off any chlorine. Chlorine is not selective, and will kill the good micro-organisms as well as the bad. It’s the good ones that are essential for compost tea.

    The secret to making a really good brew is oxygen. You need to agitate the mix two or three times a day. These volumes are fine for an average-size garden. For a large garden, make a brew in a larger tub – just like grandad, who always had a full-size bathtub on the brew.

    After about a week, the concentrate is ready for dilution. There’s no hard and fast rule but a dilution rate of around one to four usually works. The aim is to produce a nectar coloured liquid that’s strong enough to feed your plants and stimulate the soil, but not so strong as to harm seedlings or pot plants.

    Sieve the concentrate, just to make sure that the watering can rose doesn’t get blocked. A tip is to use a white-coloured bucket because that helps to judge the colour as you’re diluting.

    Remember, to make compost tea, add one part compost to 10 parts water, allow it to brew for a week, agitating daily, and then dilute the concentrate at a rate of one part concentrate to four parts water.

    Making compost tea is simple and quick and has three advantages for the garden. It’s a gentle tonic for plants. It encourages microbial activity in the soil, helps to break down organic matter and releases nutrients for plants, and some of those micro-organisms protect plants against disease. And thirdly, it continues a family tradition – my grandad really knew his onions.

    Everything You Want (and Need) to Know About Composting

    Composting has become a big trend in the gardening and sustainability world, with earth-friendly folks taking their trash and turning it into treasure, moving toward a zero waste lifestyle and taking advantage of some zero waste disposal options in the process. Not only is it environmentally smart to make your own soil, but it also saves you the time and money spent at the gardening center. Plus, you’ll have less organic, biodegradable waste to drag to the curb on trash day.

    Interested? Savvy Gardening’s Niki Jabbour, author of The Year Round Vegetable Gardener, breaks it all down.

    What is compost?

    Composting is the recycling of natural ingredients—think potato peels and carrot stems from your kitchen—and the trimmings from your lawn. The result is compost. “It can be as simple as piling up some leaves at the back of your garden and waiting a year or two for them to break down, or you can build a bin, adding specific ingredients in exact proportions to speed up decomposition and create a more balanced, finished compost,” Jabbour says. That pure, rich compost can then be used in perpetuity as food for your lawn and garden.

    RELATED: The Five Rules the Woman Behind Zero Waste Home Always Follows

    What are the benefits of composting?

    First of all, making your own compost is free, so you never have to spend money on enriched soil again. It’s also a great way to reuse and recycle scraps from your kitchen and garden that would otherwise just wind up in the garbage—which is why zero wasters have adopted the practice. The biggest benefit may be to your green spaces, though. “Compost improves the quality of the soil, allowing it to retain nutrients and moisture better, with a better texture,” Jabbour says. “Finished compost is dark brown and crumbly, and while it can take months of years to create it, it’s well worth it.”

    How should a newbie start composting?

    The easiest thing to do is begin collecting compost ingredients (raked leaves, potato peelings and other kitchen scraps, disease-free garden waste, etc.) in a back corner of your yard. Build a big pile and wait for them to break down over time. This is called “cold composting.” If you want to get more involved, you can either buy or build a bin and more specifically measure out your ingredients. People who don’t have a sprawling yard can buy small, odorless compost containers that fit easily in kitchen spaces; when the containers fill up, they can be emptied at community gardens, local gardening shops, and other locations that offer composting.

    “There are two main types of ingredients: the carbon suppliers and the nitrogen suppliers,” Jabbour says. “Carbon suppliers are ‘brown’ materials like leaves, shredded newspapers, or dried grass that are no longer living. Nitrogen suppliers are fresh, ‘green’ ingredients like vegetable peelings, garden plants, coffee grounds, or fresh grass clippings. Those have a high moisture content and are quick to decompose.”

    Ideally, you want to aim for a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1 for your compost pile, which is the perfect balance to decompose the materials. Either way, it doesn’t take much, so for any at-home gardener, it’s definitely worth the small effort. For apartment-dwellers, it can greatly reduce their waste production, moving them closer to a zero waste lifestyle.

    WHEN IS COMPOST READY?

    Hands full of finished compost

    Compost is ready to use after anywhere from one to 12 months, depending on the size of the materials placed in the compost system, the degree of management, and the intended use. Compost that will be used as a top dressing or mulch can be applied after the least amount of time. Compost that will be used for growing plants in containers must be thoroughly composted.

    There are many terms for compost that is ready to use. Some call it “stable,” others call it “finished”; still others call it “mature.”

    Signs that your compost is ready to use

    • The pile has shrunk significantly, up to one-half its original volume;
    • The original organic materials that you put in are no longer recognizable for what they were;
    • If you are using a hot composting method, the pile will be no longer generating a significant amount of heat.
    • The compost has a dark crumbly appearance and has an earthy odor.

    If your compost is not ready for its intended use, it should be “cured” for a period of time. Curing is the process of allowing compost that has completed the hot phase of composting to finish the composting process. Make sure the compost is moist and aerated during the curing period, which can be as short as one month or longer than a year.

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