I laughed when I saw that today’s Daily Prompt is Chuckles. I also thought of the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That is exactly how I feel about dandelions this time of year.
Two days ago, I saw this strip of dandelions near my home. It was at least 50 feet long and maybe more. Throughout the winter, I have been going to the grocery store to pick up lettuce that is going to be discarded. I feed it to the worms in my vermicomposting bins. The worms seem to be losing their enthusiasm for the lettuce, but they love the fresh dandelion greens.
The problem with the dandelions in this field is that it is part of light rail property and is completely fenced in. I have no way to access it, so I have to be satisfied with using the dandelions in my yard and the few that are on the street side of the fence.
Even though I know that it is important for me to focus on what I have, rather than what I don’t have, I have no doubt that I will still look longingly at the treasure that is beyond my grasp whenever I pass this field.
4) “Food waste that goes to the landfill breaks down anaerobically and produces methane; methane is 21 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.” (Environmental Protection Agency) from End Food Waste Now
9) “Around 100 million tonnes in the EU. If nothing is done, food waste could rise to over 120 million tonnes by 2020.” Another source Reported: “Each year, 22 million tonnes of food is wasted in the European Union, according to a new study, of which 80 per cent is avoidable.” (Both studies are reported. I do not know how to account for the discrepancy in numbers.)
10) “With an estimated 70 billion pounds (~32 million tons) of food waste in America each year, we must work together to capture more of this valuable resource for the nearly 48 million people in the United States who feel the effects of food insecurity.” Feeding America
Not wasting food has long been a value of mine but I am far from perfect about it. It will be a life goal I think.
I am lucky to live in a city, Seattle, where recycling and composting of food and yard waste has been available for years. Nowadays, if city residents put food or recyclables in their trash cans, they may be fined. The city’s food and yard waste is sent to Cedar Groves where it is turned into garden compost.
I also compost some of my food waste in two worm bins. One is a big outdoor wooden bin, and the other is a Worm Factory bin that can stay inside my house or on my back deck. Vermi-composting creates high quality fertilizer.
Amma has made recycling and composting a major priority for the ashram. Every resident and visitor sorts their trash into separate bins labeled for paper, soft plastic, hard plastic, yard waste, food waste, sharps, sanitary, cloth, dust and hair. Last year there were 16 recycling stations, such as the one in the photo above, scattered throughout the ashram grounds. Since so many more flats have been built since then, I imagine the number of recycling stations have increased as well.
The yard and food waste from these bins plus the leftover food from the various kitchens and dining areas are taken to the composting center and the rest of the items go to the recycling center. Think about how much waste 5000-15,000 residents and visitors might produce in a day and you will get a sense of the scope of these projects.
Once the bins arrive at the recycling center they are re-sorted by volunteers. Items that were placed in the wrong bin are removed and put in the appropriate bin. Once that process is completed, the items are sorted for a third time, in a much more detailed way. For example, items in the paper bin are divided into 10 different subcategories.
The recycled items are sold and help to fund Amma’s humanitarian projects.
The food and yard waste bins are taken to the composting center. The food is put on a metal table and volunteers take out any non-food items such as plastic bags, spoons, etc. Then large food items are cut. Next, items such as fresh cow dung from the ashram cows, egg shells, shredded yard waste as well as wood chips and sawdust from the carpentry shop are added to the food in order to increase the bacterial culture and nitrogen or to make the mix drier. Once the food waste has been processed, it is formed into piles. The piles are covered with more shredded wood and yard waste. As the food composts, the piles can become very hot. You can even see steam rising from them. Volunteers aerate the compost by turning it with pitchforks. (This year I saw signs asking for volunteers to turn the compost at 2 a.m.!) The piles stay at the composting center for two to three weeks and then go to a farm or to the vermi-composting center to finish the composting process.
The yard waste is being processed at the same time as the food waste. The yard waste consists of materials that are gathered when the ashram grounds are swept each morning, along with other garden waste. The waste is put into a container that has a metal grate on the bottom. The grate allows the sand, pebbles and dust to fall through. Next, rocks, seeds, plastic and other items that shouldn’t be part of the compost are removed. What is left is the usable yard waste. That yard waste is then put into a shredder. Once shredded, it may be added directly into the food waste as described above, or it may be spread on the surface of the compost piles.
For years, the composting center has been located on the main ashram grounds. When I arrived at the ashram in November, I discovered it had moved. Now it is near Kuzhitura Farm, a 20 minute walk from the ashram. Pick-up trucks take the food and yard waste to the new center and the volunteers who work there generally ride bicycles. The new center is about three times the size of the original one.
Working with the food waste
The Red Worm Composting blog states that “Worm composting (also known as vermi-composting) involves the breakdown of organic wastes via the joint action of worms and microorganisms (although there are often other critters that lend a hand).” That process creates some of the highest quality fertilizer that exists. Red worms are the type of worms used for vermi-composting.
In the vermi-composting center, worm beds are formed from the food and yard waste compost. When the beds are ready, the worms are then added to the piles. Each day, a “slurpee” made from cow dung and water is poured on the top of the beds. The worms rise to the surface and feast. It takes about three months for the worms to turn the compost into fertilizer.
The ashram’s vermi-composting project moved to the Kuzhitura Farm location over a year ago. When I visited the new center last year, there were eight to ten worm beds. This year there were only the two shown below. I asked one of the people in the food composting center about the change and he told me they had discovered they were using way too much bedding material for the number of worms they had. Taking care of two big beds would certainly decrease the amount of time it took to maintain the beds!
There was another big change this year. In the past, when the fertilized compost was ready, volunteers separated the worms from the compost by hand. It took many volunteers and a lot of time to accomplish that process. (That was a job I loved to do!) The worms are now separated from the compost with a machine that is like a sifter. There was no staff present when I visited so I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to anyone about it, but I did take some pictures of the sifter.
The fertilized compost produced at Amritapuri has always been dark in color and very light weight. I’ve been jealous because it is so much nicer than what my vermi-composting system in Seattle produces. One of the people from the food composting center showed me some of the compost that is created using the new shifting process. It was even darker than it has been in the past…. and was so light-weight. I hope to learn more about these changes the next time I visit Amritapuri.
Vermi-composting is a process by which worms make high quality fertilizer for the garden. I have a large outdoor worm bin as well a smaller bin that stays in the house during the winter and on my deck the rest of the year. I blend most of the food scraps I put into both worm bins, but last week I decided to put some bigger pieces of food in the small bin so that I could watch the worms at work.
First, I gave them part of a large round zucchini that had been partially cooked. I tore it into 4 pieces before I put it into the bin. Within 36 hours nothing remained of the zucchini except the skin and the hard stalk that had connected it to the plant.
Next, I decided to put an acorn squash that had fallen off of the vine and was starting to deteriorate in the bin. Again, I tore it into four pieces. This time the vegetable was raw so it is taking considerably longer for the worms to eat it.
I took these photographs over a three-and-a-half day period. It is clear that only the seeds and probably the skin will be left when the worms finish their meal!
Perspective means different ways of seeing things.
When some people see worms they get squeamish. They wouldn’t even think holding them and letting them run through their fingers.
The picture above is of the worms in my vermicomposting bin. I feed the worms and in turn they create fertilizer! I love watching the worms. I particularly enjoy it when the time comes to separate the worms from the fertilizer (the fertilizer goes to the garden and the worms go back into the vermicomposting bin) because I get to pick them up and feel them squiggle in my hand.
As I look at the vegetable plants that are growing in my garden now, I know the worms have played a significant role in making them so healthy. I feel immensely grateful that they are doing such an important service for me and for the earth.
By 9:00 this morning, I had already been given the opportunity to witness one of my less virtuous sides. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, one of the sevas (volunteer work) I do at Amma’s ashram in Amritapuri, India is to work in the vermicomposting center, separating the worms from the compost they make. The harvested worms are sent back to make more compost and the finished compost is bagged and stored for use in the gardens. This is the third year I am doing this seva.
Last year, there was a woman in the center who was working so fast. It seemed to me like she was taking handful after handful of the compost and making no effort to separate out the worms. She had way more experience than I did and worked many hours a day, but my judgment was that she was being careless and not taking her job seriously. “I”, on the other hand, was being meticulous, going carefully over every handful of compost looking for even the smallest of worms. “I” knew what I was doing and “I” was doing it way better than she was.
Fast forward to this year. Yesterday, while I was harvesting the worms, another woman joined me. This year there is a different set up in that the material we are to separate has been formed into mounds that are about 16 inches high. The woman sat down in front of a mound and started picking up handful after handful of the compost and placing it in the bucket which contained the finished compost. She didn’t even seem to be looking for worms, and I rarely saw her put a worm in the worm bucket. Then she started lightly brushing the sides of the mound with her hand. She would pick up the material she had brushed off and placed it in the compost bucket. Again, I was full of judgment. She was being so careless, while “I” was working slowly and methodically, making sure that “I” didn’t miss a single worm. I left soon after that so did not see how she completed the process.
I should mention that my way of harvesting the worms is very different. I know that worms gather at the bottom so I take the mound apart and go directly to the bottom. I am then able to quickly gather large numbers of worms and place them in my worm bucket. That process is very satisfying because I see the fruit of my action right away. Next, I examine every bit of the remaining compost to make sure I haven’t missed any worms.
I thought about that scenario during the day and began to wonder if there was something that I was missing. Was it possible that the two women knew something that I didn’t know? That would make sense since they were the ones who did this work day in and day out. This morning I decided to try it their way.
Once I looked at the mound with fresh perspective, I had a sense of what was happening. The outer part of the mound is drier and, in addition, is exposed to light. Worms want to be where it is damp and dark, so if the compost is dry or there is light, they would burrow deeper into the mound. And the act of someone brushing off the outside layer of the mound would certainly result in the worms quickly moving deeper inside.
Today, when I picked up the compost around the base of my mound, I discovered it didn’t contain a single worm. That was also true when I brushed the outside of my mound; none of the material that I brushed off had worms in it. It was not until I was much deeper into the mound that I found more than the occasional worm. Once I reached the center areas, I joyously harvested big clumps of worms!
It had taken me a full hour to separate the worms from one mound of compost when I did it “my” way. Using their techniques, I finished sorting two mounds in about 40 minutes! Clearly, these two women knew how to efficiently separate the worms and the compost and I did not. I not only had learned a new way to harvest the worms, but I had also received an opportunity to examine my arrogance! And it is still early morning. I wonder what the rest of this day will hold?
What an amazing experience it was to be able to watch the of representatives of the world’s religions speaking and signing a Joint Declaration of Religious Leaders against Modern Slavery. (We were able to see a live stream from the Vatican program.) I felt so privileged to be able to witness that event. I pray that their goal of ending modern day slavery by 2020 becomes a reality. And hopefully it will also lead to healing friction between the various religions. Continue reading “Living and Learning in Amritapuri, India- Dec 4, 2014”→
I have been vermicomposting for several years now. That is a process where red wiggler worms eat ground up food waste and excrete castings that become an incredibly rich fertilizer for the garden.
I have a Worm Factory that is meant to be kept indoors. I keep mine in my kitchen except during late spring and summer. During those months, I put the Worm Factory outside, on my back deck.
Last week, I made a snack for myself- raw food balls created from dates, almonds, peanut butter and dried cranberries. Once the balls were formed, I rolled them in coconut flakes. I wondered if my worms would eat the extra coconut, so I put some in the bin. They loved it! The next day, I gave them the rest of the coconut, and then put some leaves and unusable squash from the garden into my food processor. Once those items were processed, I added them to the worm bin as well. I had happy worms!
I have been trying to take a good video so you can see what the bin and the worms are like. My efforts were hampered by the fact that when I uncover the bin the worms are moving quite fast, but when the bin floods with light they either freeze or burrow further down into the bin. Finally, I figured out how to do it. Enjoy! (Hint: You will see the most worms towards the end of the video.)
As my post title says, I love my worms….. and my garden loves the vermicompost!