Sunday, February 19, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/19/06)

When my wife, Gretchen, passes my composters, a sky-hook is attached to her nose. She makes comments beginning with phrases, such as "Why did you?" and "What on earth are you?" or the word "Ugh!" However, she likes the results. The other day she stamped her foot, flaired her nostrils, flared her red hair, and cougared her green eyes when she demanded that I give her some compost for her flower barrel. The final accolade came when she said, "You know, this stuff of yours really smells sweet."

At first my composters got out of hand and really stunk, but now that I’ve gotten the hang of things they don’t stink anymore. Early in my composting career I used too much nitrogen material. During those stinky times Gretchen called me "Fly Face" because of the flies hanging around the composters. She didn’t know she dated herself to 1960 when Chester Gould’s comic strip Dick Tracy was in vogue and General Eisenhower was President. "Fly Face" was a criminal with flies circling his face.

Last fall, things came to a head when I began composting on top of the ground. The bins were full, and I wasn’t about dispatch my tomato and zucchini vines and sunflower stocks to the cruel machinations of Environmental Services. I dug shallow trenches on the vacant vegetable beds, dumped in garden clippings, coffee grounds, and tea leaves, and covered them with soil. Soon they were cooking, slowly.

Then Gretchen remembered that her beloved grandmother, Flo, a Kentuckian who plugged rattlesnakes and rodents around her house with a shotgun, dropped kitchen scraps on a pile in her back yard. Grandma Flo had a great vegetable garden. Aha! Now, since it was good enough for her Grandma, it was good enough for me. However, I wouldn’t recommend Grandma Flo’s method unless one craves a rodent-feeding site.

So by messing around I found a slow-cooker way to compost besides hot bins from the city. It was trenches on vacant vegetable beds. Even in winter microbuggies toil away in hot bins sending up clouds of steam and yielding mature compost about every three weeks. The trenches filled with yard clippings crock pot all winter long, yielding their goodies in the spring.

More sophisticated, slow-cooker gardeners build three-sided bins, usually of concrete blocks or spare lumber. They toss organic material in the bins, turning it now and then, producing great compost in the spring, summer, and fall.

An indoor form of composting is called vermicomposting or worm casting which is not fly-casting. First, get a wormery, either home-made or store-bought. The home-made variety can be made from a small plastic container with the approximate dimensions of 14 inches wide by 21 inches deep by 9 inches high. Drill a couple of holes in each side and cover them with a screen. Duck tape holds the screen in place. Since the worms like it dark, keep the lid.

Next, shred newspapers to three times the side of the container. Then in another container dampen the shredded newspapers and put them in the bin, making sure the dampened newspapers aren’t soppy and matted. Watch for puddles on the bottom. Now, that the wormery’s beds are made, it’s ready for guests.

The best guest worms are red wigglers (eisenia foetida), not earthworms. They can be purchased on the Internet or by phone through the mail. One Internet site is Two pounds or two thousand worms are best for the size container mentioned above.

The worms must be fed to get castings. In and out. They like minced left-over vegetables and fruits. No meat, dairy, fat, salt, or citrus. Small amounts of coffee grounds and soil are good for the worms’ gizzards.

Worms like air so the wet newspapers should be fluffed now and then. Keep the wormery away from vibrating contrivances. The temperature is best kept between 68-72 degrees as in a garage or under a sink.

After a few months, harvesting the castings is a cinch. Move all the material to one side of the womery, add fresh newspaper to the other side, and feed on the new side. The worms will migrate to the new side and the castings can be harvested from the old side.

Composting with worms is a sure-fire hit with small children. Most children like the squiggling, wiggling things. They like growing things, too. In addition to home entertainment, the worm castings are very rich and are useful for enriching the soil, especially in window sill gardens.

Now, that we are in a fearful drought, compost is the way to go. By adding organic matter, the soil retains moisture effectively as well getting fertilized.

Copyright (c) Dana Prom Smith 2006

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