30 Days of Going Green: Fun with Composting!

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, landfills are the second-largest human related source of methane, reported to be a major contributor to the depletion of our ozone layer. In 2007 alone, landfills created 23 percent of all methane emissions on our planet.

Looking for a green way to help? Composting! That was this week's project. My roommates have been pretty accepting and helpful of my new "green" ways, which does make life a lot easier. If your housemates get freaked out about composting, you can proudly assure them that vermi-composting (composting using worms) is not only odor-free, but it is also completely sanitary too.

Composting not only helps reduce waste, but it can also save you money. The end product of a well-composted bin is a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can help grow hearty plants and vegetables at home. Small, organic gardens can flourish outside on a balcony or patio.

I couldn't resist starting one of my own. My patio is a bit too small, so I brought my compost bin to my friend's apartment. She has a large balcony where she grows everything from strawberries to spinach, so she was an ideal hostess.

To start my composting adventure, I googled, yahoo'd, youtube'd, and even asked Jeeves for the best and cheapest ways to do-it-yourself. I found out that composting can take anywhere from a few short months to a year, depending on the amount of food waste and the location of your compost bin.

Specially made compost bins can be found at any local hardware or gardening store, but they can be rather pricey. To help us fledgling farmers, the cities of Santa Monica and Los Angeles have a worm bin compost distribution program (smartgardening.com)that sells vermicomposting bins to residents for $33.23 and $66.46 to non-residents.

I wanted to experience the full spectrum of this experiment, so I chose to make my own compost bin at home with some old stuff I found in my parent's garage, and some cheap hardware options from Smart & Final.

In order to make my own composting bin, I had to first consider size. The size typically depends on how much waste your household creates. I live in a small apartment with three roommates and we create a lot of food waste, so I got a 2 feet high trash bin, drilled ten tiny holes along the sides and the bottom of one bin and placed it inside the other bin. This gives the worms some breathing room, and lets the juices drip to the bottom to be collected later.

The worms were a little more difficult to find. I called all the local gardening supplies stores, hardware stores, and a few bait shops, but either they were sold out for the week or they didn't sell worms at all. After a long search, I finally found Lara Laskay of Urban-Worms.com. Located in North Hollywood, she sets up Urban Worm booths at farmer's markets in Pasadena and Studio City during the weekends. Laskay was more then helpful in explaining some of the worm-workings of vermicomposting and holds local informational workshops that are listed on her Web site.

If you're worried about amounts of worms threatening your sanitation or stinking up your apartment, Laskay can put your fears to rest.

"A lot of people are scared of the worms being unsanitary, but they are actually very sanitary, " said Laskay.

She explained how red worms specifically consume the bacteria from decaying food, literally eating the bad smell out of your future soil.

Next I got some pointers from Gina Garcia, SMC's director of sustainable works. Not only does sustainable works have two vermi-compost bins in their backyard, but the school has one on the main campus by the dumpsters as well. Garcia explained how compost bins can be stored almost anywhere, especially if worms are used. Ideally, you should store the larger compost bins outside, away from direct sunlight. Heat does help the food decompose faster, but the worms will try to escape if it gets too hot.

"Try to keep the mixture damp, but not too wet; the consistency of a damp sponge," said Garcia.

Worms won't make it smell, but moisture will. To prevent this, just add more newspaper, dead leaves, or sawdust to reduce the moisture. Garcia also advised to avoid any meats, fats, oils, dairy, or citrus, because they strongly attract critters and animals that hurt the worms and composting process.

Putting it all together does get a little messy, but it is worth it in the end. When your composts have finished, that final product, called worm castings (aka worm poop) is the best fertilizer for any vegetables, flowers or plants you would want to grow. Vermi-composting also produces a "worm-tea" which is caught at the bottom of the larger bin leaking out of the holes of the interior bin. After you collect this you can give it back to your plants for some extra growing support.

Would you look at that? The elements of nature actually work together. I can't wait to see the transformation from food to flora. Check out my journey at thecorsaironline.com and remember to stay green!