Ozark Outdoors

Firefighters add vermicomposting to gardening repertoire

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Firefighters are known for saving homes, and for promoting fire safety.

Now, they’re doing their part to help protect environment by recycling their food scraps through  “vermicomposting” at 10 of Springfield’s Fire Stations. The idea is to compost food scraps that were discarded with the help of worms, which can turn many types of kitchen waste into a nutritious soil for plants.

The rules are pretty simple. With few exceptions, cooking scraps go into a special bin. The worms feed on non-meat organic waste such as vegetables, fruits, eggshells, tea bags, coffee grounds and shredded garden waste. The worms break down the scraps to enhance soil drainage and boost the nutrients available to plants. It takes about four months for them to produce compost for plants, which the firefighters plan to utilize in garden areas.

Vermicomposting is something any homeowner or even apartment dwellers can try for recycling kitchen scraps.

Vermicomposting is something any homeowner or even apartment dwellers can try for recycling kitchen scraps.

“Our fire stations will be able to harvest the compost for use in station gardens,” said Battalion Chief Julie Williams. “Healthier soil means healthier fruits and vegetables on our plates. It’s a win-win!”

Chief Williams, who spearheaded the effort, says the program is about education and environmental sustainability. Kids will learn about the worms during station tours and hopefully consider trying it at home.

The bins were provided courtesy of the Sustainability Division of the Department of Environmental Services, in support of their sustainable choice to recycle organic food waste.

Homeowners can use vermicomposting as well

Compostable materials are a major component of household garbage. Through composting, homeowners can reduce their solid waste by up to two-thirds. However, building and maintaining a compost pile in the back yard may seem too involved and unsightly to some homeowners, but there is an alternative. Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is a way to reduce household waste without the “hard work” of a compost pile.

Apartment dwellers who don’t have back yards are increasing finding that vermicomposting is useful when gardening space is extremely limited.

Worms used for vermicomposting are redworms (Eisenia foetida), also known as red wigglers. They prefer dark, moist conditions with plenty of air circulation and temperatures between 55 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Many commercially-available bins are on the market, though homemade versions can be just as productive. Whether they are made out of wood or plastic, there are three key things to consider when assembling yours:

1) Size: Collect and weigh compostable kitchen scraps for one week. For each pound of refuse per week, you will need 1 square foot of surface area of bin space. Bins should only be 8- 12 inches deep. Materials tend to pack down in taller bins which results in areas with reduced oxygen.

2) Placement: Make sure that you have a location where you can store your vermicomposting bin. Convenience is something to consider, so many people choose to place their bin under the kitchen sink. However, anywhere that temperature requirements can be met will work. This could be in the basement, garage, or even in the Earth.

3) Materials: Bin materials should have a clean history. Do not use materials that have been used for chemical or pesticide storage. Always clean materials well before using for vermicomposting. Wood bins absorb moisture which dampens temperature fluctuations and helps keep moisture levels inside the bin at optimal levels. Plastic bins do not breathe as readily, so extra attention will be needed to make sure the contents aren’t too wet.

When you have your bin constructed and know where it will be placed, you’re ready to begin filling it. There are two components that you will need to provide for the worms, bedding and food. Common materials used for bedding include shredded newspapers, computer paper, cardboard, leaves, straw, or other compostable material that can soak up water. Using bedding material from several sources helps to create a favorable environment for the worms. Soak the bedding in water for approximately 24 hours and then squeeze it to remove excess water. Fill the bin approximately 2/3 full with fluffed bedding. Allow the bin to settle for several days before adding the worms. During this time, begin collecting kitchen refuse. When you have gathered enough refuse to spread over the entire bin, add the worms (approximately 500 per cubic foot of bin space) and the refuse to the bedding in the bin. The worms will quickly work their way to the bedding and begin coming up for food as needed. Keep in mind that they like dark environments, so cover your kitchen waste with additional bedding to keep the light out. If animals will have access to the bin, you may wish to attach a more restrictive lid.

For information on home vermicomposting, including compostable materials, where to get worms, and how to harvest the compost, contact your local University of Missouri Extension office. In Greene County, the MU Extension Office is in the Springfield Botanical Center, 2400 S. Scenic. Reach them at  417-881-8909.

 

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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