Gettin' Wriggly

April 30, 1999

By Michael Jessen

Steam rises into the late afternoon cool air as the inhabitants wriggle around in the warmth. A description of a pleasant dip at one of the West Kootenay’s many hot springs? Nope, this is the scene as I add a bucket of kitchen waste to my Earth Machine composter.

The wrigglers are earthworms that are busy devouring the accumulation of kitchen waste I put in the composter during the winter. They’ll soon be done and the result of their hard work will be a dark, nutrient-rich, earth-smelling soil conditioner commonly called humus. If you have a garden, lawn, trees, shrubs or even plant boxes, you can use this conditioner to enhance the soil and the plants growing in it. Composting in your backyard also cuts down on household garbage. In fact, up to one-third of a household’s garbage is compostable, significantly reducing the waste going to our landfills.

If you haven’t yet tried composting with an Earth Machine, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary wants to help you get started. On Saturday, May 1 the district is sponsoring a truckload sale of composters in the Waneta Plaza east front parking lot. The 750 Earth Machines will be sold on a first-come, first-serve basis for $45.00, all taxes included, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tea bags, egg shells, corn cobs, coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peelings, and other kitchen leftovers make excellent compost. So do yard wastes such as fallen leaves, grass clippings, weeds before they seed, hedge trimmings, and the remains of disease-free garden plants.

Meat, bones, or fatty foods such as cheese, salad dressings, or cooking oil should never be composted. These attract pests such as bears, raccoons, and neighbourhood dogs. Speaking of dogs, pet wastes should also never be composted as their feces may contain organisms that can cause disease in humans.

The composting process is simple: it requires organic material (kitchen and yard wastes), moisture and air. Simply alternate types of organic waste, keep the pile moist (like a wrung-out sponge) and stir or turn it about once a week to ensure an adequate supply of oxygen. It is helpful to have some soil included in order to add microorganisms to the pile. A wooden compost bin or plastic commercially made composter is recommended to keep the compost pile neat, efficient and manageable.

The efficiency of the compost pile depends on the mix of materials and the ratio of carbon to nitrogen. If, for example, there are mostly materials that are high in carbon, such as sawdust or dry leaves, composting may be very slow. Adding materials that are high in nitrogen, such as grass clippings or kitchen scraps, will speed things up. If the pile is giving off an ammonia odour, the problem may be an excess of materials high in nitrogen. Adding some high carbon materials, such as leaves or soil, will help.

Other causes of compost pile odour are excessive moisture and heavily compacted material. In these cases, turn the pile frequently with a pitchfork to allow it to dry out and ensure it is well aerated. A compost pile that is working well will not have an unpleasant odour.

Composting can be done all year round. Cold weather will not destroy your compost; decomposition just slows down. This past winter, earthworms continued to live in my composter under a blanket of dry leaves. Admittedly, they didn’t have a lot of get-up-and-go, but now that the weather is warmer they’ve multiplied by the hundreds and are eating my kitchen scraps and turning it to soil.

A survey of Kootenay-area composter buyers discovered the typical home composter was eliminating about 15 pounds of waste every week from their household garbage, or about three-quarters of a pound per person per day. Combined with recycling, composting can reduce what the garbage collector finds at your door by 70 percent.

With its locking lid, the Earth Machine composter will ensure optimum operating conditions for your compost. You’ll find the Earth Machine user-friendly and problem-free. There are now over 1 million Earth Machines in use in over 1,000 communities in North America.

Why not join these satisfied buyers on May 1 by buying your first – or maybe your second or third – Earth Machine. Worms will find it “hot stuff” and you’ll love it because it works!


All columns archived here are copyright © 1999 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.