Saturday, December 26, 2009

Compost Journey

Kate Zidar's class on Waste Management rekindled my hidden desire to compost things. The benefits of composting in a 4-story walkup apartment building in the city were surprisingly overwhelming. The diversion of smelly organics from a several day stay in our building's trash room at the bottom of the hallway was a major motivation, as was the constant food source for a hard working army of worms. It was these worms, however that helped me understand the true challenges of urban composing.

Prior to this year, my only experience with composting was in a back yard, with lots of space. Composting in plastic bins is a completely different animal, and there was a learning curve. I started with a plastic chinese food container with newspaper, random food scraps, coffee grinds and a small handful of worms Aurelia (from the union square LESEC compost stand) gave me. Our team upgraded to a few bigger bins as the compost mass increased steadily until currently occupying a 20 gallon bin. However, 2 colonies of worms suffered throughout the journey.

With the 10 gallon bin sitting in my kitchen with a vented lid, the smell was too noticible to keep as it was (even while excluding all meats and dairies). However, reducing the air vents provided an unexpected quick death to my worms, as their oxygen ran out. $11 got me another 1/2 lb. The solution to keep these ones alive was to move the bin out to the fire escape, as I could keep the lid off entirely. This seemed the perfect solution until the massive rains of the summer of '09 overflowed the bin on two occasions. The second occasion drowned my second colony of worms, as effectively draining my bin was more tedious than i thought, especially when the darn rain wouldn't stop! Covering the bin again was still a challenge as the water kept getting in. I needed a better setup.

I arrived at the following solution:

This worked perfectly, until of course the harsh December frosts posed a threat to the third colony of worms. I contemplated insulating my bin, maybe dropping the entire bin into a larger bin lined on the inside with a sandwiched blanket, but then another thought crossed my mind. Since I was bringing many of my outdoor plants inside to survive the cold, what if I also brought the bin back inside, keeping it both warm and accessible. I had blue polystyrene and 6" flex duct so I could keep it lidded with a passive exhaust out the window. It seemed crazy enough to try...

For the past month, the team has been doing great. The worms, right within view of the kitchen, wait patiently each day for their feeding. The only hurdle with this setup were the fruit flies, trapped inside the bin, but inevitably escaping when the bin was opened for feeding and stirrings. The solution, which has worked thus far, including spreading concentrated deltamethrin around the perimeter of the rim and brim of the bin, where the flies previously congregated. It worked immediately. It should be noted that deltamethrin should not come into contact with the compost matter nor human skin, as it is toxic and not for amateur use.

I currently have a steady enough flow and enough compost to occasionally re-pot certain plants and also provide some hearty richness to friends upon request. If you want any, let me know.