Straw Bale Worm Composting

Description unavailableWorms are industrious, tireless workers. Did you know worms never sleep?  They eat our garbage and turn it into productive soil. Worms can be kept in a small bin with no odor in an apartment or small space. They are part of the solution to our collective nature deficit disorder.  It’s no wonder that Charles Darwin spent almost 40 years of his life learning from worms. They are super amazing creatures.

One of the schools I taught gardening at this summer had set up a straw bale worm composting system in the spring. By the end of the school year, they were separating all their worm-friendly lunch scraps and adding them to the bin, all but eliminating the compostable waste component going to the landfill.

They set it up something like this. First went in a layer of bedding (carbon) that consisted of dried leaves, shredded paper, shredded cardboard and some loose straw. This layer contained little or no nitrogen as you don’t want the layer to heat up in advance of the worms arrival. Red worms will not survive if the pile is above 95˚C or hotter. About 12 inches of bedding is a good place to start. Wet the bedding with a hose. Make sure you have adequate drainage. Worms need to stay moist because they break down oxygen from the water and breathe it in through their skin. But, too much water will drown the worms.

English: Red wiggler

English: Red wiggler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After two or three days, when you are sure the pile is cool, introduce your worms. The ones they used at the school are the same ones I have in my home worm bin, Eisenia fetida, or red wigglers as they are commonly called. These worms thrive in piles of rotting vegetation and are ideal to stay in your worm bin working their way through the decaying matter. The school added around a pound of worms to the bin to start.

Begin feeding the worm your waste slowly at first, two- three days a week for the first couple of months. Dig a hole in the bedding and deposit your food scraps, then cover over the hole. Worms will increase their populations depending on the level of waste in the bin. Within a couple months, you can feed them everyday. And make sure to continue to water the top of the worm bin as needed.

Do not turn the compost in the worm bin. Turning compost invigorates bacteria and may make the pile too hot for the worms to survive.

Foods you should not put in your worm bin are meat, cheese, any dairy, garlic, onions, anything salty or covered in a sauce. Also avoid citrus peels. Citrus has an essential oil in its peel that is used as a natural insecticide and can be harmful to the worms.

To harvest the worm castings in this system, you should begin by adding the kitchen waste on one side. When you are completed with the one side, work toward the other. The worms will migrate accordingly and you can dig out the castings on the other side.

A rule of thumb in worm composting is to keep your bale at least two parts carbon (brown stuff like straw or dirt) to one part nitrogen (green stuff like grass clippings or kitchen waste). Too much green will make your pile anaerobic- slimy and smelly. Too much carbon will have no negative consequences. The carbon bedding serves as a home to the worms, but is also part of their diet. Keeping the layer of brown on top of the green waste will greatly reduce the chances of being visited by rodents and other pests interested in grabbing a quick bite to eat.

I’ve seen some posts online that show that you can continue with the straw bale system into the winter months if it is covered properly. I think this is pretty cool, but have no first hand experience with it.


Red Wigglers in my Worm Factory Worm Bin

For my personal compost, I use the Worm Factory 5-Tray Worm Composter kept indoors during the colder months. And by the way, I love the worm factory. It is so easy, the worms migrate from one tray to the next leaving behind their castings for you in a lower tray. The casting tray can easily be emptied into your garden and you have an empty tray to add to to the top to begin the process again.

Happy Worm Farming!!




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Students Heading Back To School Go Green

International Recycle Symbol

Image via Wikipedia

Students Heading Back To School Go Green- Click This Link to See a Recent Channel 10 Interview with Ian and Maria

Its wonderful to see so many ‘green’ back-to-school products this year out in stores. All companies want to be green  and some are greener than others, so make sure you do your homework before making those purchases. Look for products made from post-consumer recycled materials and products bearing the Forest Stewardship Council logo. Products bearing the FSC logo guarantee that the wood is from a certified well-managed forest.

Remember the first R is Reduce, so don’t buy more than you need. According to the Story of, 99% of the stuff we purchase (in North America) is trashed within 6 months of buying it. “How can we run a planet on that level of materials throughput?”, asks Annie Leonard.

The average American generates 4.5 pounds of garbage everyday! Floridians make twice the national average at 9 pounds of waste a day. And that is just a small portion of the trash created upstream to make the things we buy. From the Story of Stuff, for every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream (in production of the products we purchase) to create that one garbage can of junk.

There are a  few additional things you can do to make your child’s school year more sustainable. Find out if your school has a recycling program, and not just for paper. Plastic water and juice bottles, cans and glass are a major source of waste. Lunches are a big source of waste also. It’s estimated that on average, schoolchildren generate 67 pounds of waste every year thanks to the plastic baggies, brown bags, and other waste used to pack lunches. Buy your child a reusable drink bottle, get rid of the brown paper bag lunch and try a laptop lunch box with reusable containers. Pack a cloth napkin rather than a paper napkin.

Many schools are adopting edible schoolyard garden projects. Find out if your child’s school has one. These projects are excellent ways to connect children to the natural world around them as well as their food supply. They serve as hands-on science laboratories. Children can also learn about vermiculture as a means to compost their lunch scraps.

Everyone taking small steps together leads to big change.

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Julia Butterfly Hill: Our Disposability Consciousness is a Weapon of Mass Destruction

Julia Butterfly Hill is best known for living in a 180-foot (55 m)-tall, roughly 1500-year-old California Redwood tree for 738 days between December 1997 to December 1999. Hill lived in the tree, known as “Luna,” to prevent loggers of the Pacific Lumber Company from cutting it down.

In this video for the Global Oneness Project, she discusses our collective disposability consciousness. “When I started thinking about disposability consciousness, I went and asked a lot of native people that I know if, in their original language they had any words for waste, disposable, or trash, and I have yet to find in any traditional language words for waste, disposable, or trash because all traditional knowledge knows that there’s no such thing, ” says Hill.

Hill examines how waste and disposables are magnifiers of our lost connection to the sacred. “Those forms of disconnect work best when they just subtly weave themselves into the fabric of our lives where we just take it for granted that we’re going to go to the coffee shop and get coffee that came from an exploited community somewhere where a forest was destroyed for a monoculture, put it in a paper cup that used to be a forest, put a plastic lid on top of it that used to be an indigenous community somewhere in a beautiful area, drink it, and then throw it away where it goes back and pollutes a nature community or a human community at the end.

We cannot have peace on the earth unless we also have peace with the earth. Our disposability consciousness is a weapon of mass destruction.

It is the most joyful life-affirming choice to let go of disposability consciousness and to reclaim every moment, every day, every choice as a step towards healing.”

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Ending the Plastic Cycle

Your Actions Matter: The  Shift From Raising Awareness to Raising Care

Fourteen-year-old J.D. Russo speaks out about plastic in this youtube video. “People need to stop trying to raise awareness and instead raise care. Because saying that raising awareness implies that you are trying to get people to know about something. And people know, its  just that people don’t care.” J.D. continues, “People need to be shown that there is a personal impact on them and a reason why they should not use these plastics.”

The solution, J.D. says, “needs to start with the consumers.” People are used to buying throw-away plastics…dont even think about it, get a plastic bottle…’Oh yeah, man, these are killing the albatross chicks. Its just once, I don’t usually do it.’ Maybe that plastic bottle in the stomach of the baby albatross that just killed it was somebody’s just once.”

And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate,

and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place

and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use.

And soon the earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles

and there was nowhere to sit down or walk,

and Man shook his head and cried:  “Look at this Godawful mess.”  ~Art Buchwald, 1970

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Composting with a Green Solar Cone Digester

composter for food scrapsWe’ve talked about worm composting as a way to recycle food waste. But worms don’t eat everything and if you do a lot of cooking, worms probably won’t keep up with all your waste.

In my yard, I also use the Green Cone System as an additional way to dispose of food waste.

The primary function of the Green Cone System is to accelerate the natural decomposition process by raising temperatures, maintaining aerobic conditions, and encouraging the growth of micro-organisms.

The system takes all household food waste, including vegetable scraps, raw and cooked meat or fish, bones, dairy products and other organic food waste such as bread and pasta. I’ve  also added shredded paper and newspaper before my municipality added these to the recycling program.

How does it operate?

Simplified, the solarcone consists of a two-layer recycled plastic cone above ground attached to a basket below ground. Just put your food waste in and the unit uses the heat from the sun to promote air circulation between the inner and outer cones and start the aerobic digestion process.

How much food can it take in?

The system takes in up to 11 pounds of food waste a week. It reduces the waste primarily to water, carbon dioxide and a small amount of residue left at the bottom. The distributor suggests that after about 5 years, the small quantity of residue can be dug out by removing the upper basket and distributed in your yard. I have had mine for about three years and have never had to clean it.

Are there any odors?

No. Because the basket is covered by ground, there are no offensive odors.

Is it safe from children and animals?

Yes. The lid of the solar cone has a button latch. There is also a safety bar across the top. Since you dug a hole for the basket, it is safely in the soil.

I love my green solar cone digester. This system is almost maintenance-free. It is rodent-free. There is no need to chop food, layer, turn, or water it like with a compost pile. Its a great addition to a home or school already composting with worms or  maintaining a compost pile. Its also excellent for homeowners looking to cut down on the household waste they send to their landfill.

For more information, go to or google ‘green cone composter’. I also saw several municipalities offer this product to their residents at greatly reduced rates as part of a recycling program. If you are interested, contact your city and ask them to look into this program.

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Living Beyond Earth’s Budget & Happiness

Thanksgiving is a recognizable holiday to most Americans but can anyone remember the event that fell on September 25th of this year?

September 25th was Earth Overshoot Day and marked the day when humanity begins living beyond its ecological means.

According to the Global Footprint Network, collectively at the present time, humanity is using 1.4 planets worth of resources. Many people in western countries like the US  are using four to five planets worth of resources. Since we only have one planet, I want to pause here for a moment because living beyond our means in this context doesn’t mean just paying some interest on a credit card. It is, quite literally, taking more than our fair share. In order to be sustainable, civilization must meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

But even today, we have over a billion people on the planet whose basic needs are not being met. While those people need to consume more, others are literally drowning in ‘stuff’. Annie Leonard used the term “stuff-saturated”  to describe this phenomenon in her presentation to the Bioneers Conference this year.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports the United States produces approximately 220 million tons of garbage each year. That’s an average of five pounds of garbage for every man woman and child in the USA. But, guess what?  Studies show Floridians generate almost double the national average of garbage – creating nine pounds of municipal solid waste each day.

What you throw out is only part of the story. In order to get one can of garbage, approximately 70 garbage cans of waste were created upstream in manufacturing the products we throw away. Looking at this system, it becomes painfully obvious that we are trashing the planet.

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Image via Wikipedia

So does having all this stuff make us happy? The studies show a resounding no!  The Happy Planet Index measures happiness over resource consumption or the efficiency that a country converts natural resources into human well-being. In 2009, out of 143 countries, the US ranked 114th, ahead of just a few African nations. The happiest country on the planet this year was Costa Rica, which is a country that notably has no standing army.

Another Happiness Index was just published this month by It found Florida ranked dead last in happiness of Americans by state. Is it a coincidence that Florida showed up as both the top producer of waste and the bottom of the Happiness Index?

Next time we will explore some alternatives to going crazy at the mall this holiday season as I pack for my holiday in Costa Rica.

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