Composting

Managing Landscape Waste

Ever since the State of Illinois banned the disposal of landscape waste in landfills in 1990, residents and local governments have been challenged with what to do with the leaves, grass clippings, tree limbs, brush and other materials accumulated during the care of lawns and gardens. Recycling landscape waste can save landfill space and can also protect the environment and make wiser use of these natural materials.

 

Leaves GRASS
CLIPPINGS

 

You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble when mowing if you let the grass clippings lie on the lawn. You may have heard a few myths about this practice:

It increases thatchNot true. According to the University of Illinois, thatch is actually dead roots; grass blades decompose more quickly and actually add nutrients and improve the soil.

Leaving clippings hurts the lawnNot true. In fact, one bag of clippings equals almost a quarter pound of organic nitrogen, something a healthy lawn needs.

To do the best job of cutting grass, mow when it is dry and don’t cut more than one third of the grass blades at any one mowing. Keep your mower blade sharp. You can use a mulching lawn mower or purchase a mulching blade for your existing mower, but it’s not necessary if you follow these tips.

If you are a gardener, you may want to collect some of the grass clippings to use as mulch around plants. The mulch keeps the weeds down, retains moisture and keeps the soil cooler, which is important in hot weather.

 

Leaves Leaves

 LEAVES

The easiest way to handle leaves is to mow them into small pieces and let them lie on the lawn. This works best with smaller leaves of course, and if you do not have too many. If you still want the satisfying chore of raking leaves into piles, use them as mulch around your shrubbery or spade them into your garden.

Burning of leaves is not recommended. It is restricted in some municipalities in Ogle County, and it can be a safety hazard and health irritant. If you feel you must burn leaves or other landscape waste, please follow these guidelines:

  • Follow local regulations. Ogle County Code requires a minimum of fifty feet from the materials being burned and the nearest residence. The burning of landscape waste is allowed only on the premises on which the waste is generated, when weather conditions will readily dissipate the smoke, and if it does not create a visibility hazard.
  • Never leave the burn-pile unattended.
  • Keep it small and have a garden hose within reach.
  • Do not burn at night or in high winds.
  • Do not burn wet leaves, trash or paper with your leaves.
  • Do not burn on asphalt or concrete.
  • Be considerate of those around you! Elderly people and people with health conditions can be threatened or made to feel miserable when you burn leaves. Don’t burn landscape waste if your neighbors are having a picnic or hanging laundry out to dry!
Grass COMPOSTING Grass

The best way to manage much of the landscape waste is by composting it. It uses less energy, causes less pollution, and doesn’t require a lot of work. Compost is organic matter that is naturally broken down by bacteria, fungi, microorganisms, and insects into a dark brown, crumbly material (humus) resembling rich topsoil. Compost adds essential nutrients to soil, loosens heavy clay soils and helps retain soil moisture.

Compost is produced when yard waste is piled in a heap or in bins constructed of wood, fencing, or concrete blocks. Garden supply stores, mail order catalogs or internet merchants offer a variety of specially designed compost bins. Instructions on how to build a compost bin are available at the Ogle County Solid Waste Management Department, or other related resources are available at Books about Composting.

Proper composting requires adequate water and air which can be achieved by turning the pile regularly. It can take anywhere from six weeks to a year to make compost from yard waste. The process can be speeded up by frequent turning, maintaining a proper carbon to nitrogen ratio, and shredding leaves and garden waste into smaller pieces.

The following links offer excellent information and instructions on composting:


Composting Council of Canada – A composting information resource
Composting Glossary
Master Composter
Rodale Institute (Soil and related topics)
Soil Health Menu
The Compost Resource Page

 


Vermicomposting 


Using earthworms and micro-organisms to convert organic waste into black, nutrient-rich humus is known as vermicomposting or vermiculture. When you feed leftover food to worms rather than throwing the food into the garbage, you are helping the environment. This leftover food is staying out of the landfills. The worms eat the plant and animal leftovers and the waste from the worms can be used on your house or garden plants.

QUICK GUIDE TO VERMICULTURE

(COMPOSTING WITH WORMS)

Why Compost?

Recycling the organic waste of a household into compost allows us to return badly needed organic matter to the soil. In this way, we participate in nature’s cycle, and cut down on garbage going into burgeoning landfills.

Why Compost With Worms?

Worm composting is a method of recycling food waste into a rich, dark, humus or compost that can be used as a soil conditioner. The great advantage of worm composting is that this can be done indoors and outdoors, thus allowing year round composting. It also provides apartment dwellers with a means of composting. In a nutshell, worm compost is made in a container filled with moistened bedding and redworms. Add your food waste for a period of time, and the worms and microorganisms will eventually convert the entire contents into rich compost.

Background Information

Below is some general information and several important factors that should be addressed when considering composting with worms.

Types of Worms:

There are many different types of worms living in our soil. However only very few are well suited to composting. The most commonly used are eisenia foetida or redworm (also known as ‘red wigglers’) and lumbricus rubellus. These worms can be purchased at local bait shops or ordered through the mail or via the internet. One pound of redworms (about 1000) is needed for a typical worm bin. If ordered through the mail these cost about $20 – $25 per pound, delivered. Nightcrawlers are not well suited for composting food waste.

Oxygen:

As all living things, worms need oxygen to survive. Therefore the container in which you choose to house your worms should have adequate ventilation, but preferably a mesh of some description should be used over the vents in order to keep out unwelcome intruders such as flies. Worms breathe through their skin and because of this they require a moist environment in order for the exchange of air to take place.

pH:

The pH of the bedding is a very important factor in the smooth running of your worm bin. If it becomes either too acidic or too alkaline this will upset and possibly kill the worms. You should therefore check this regularly using litmus paper or a pH meter. A suitable level is around pH 7.

If the level becomes unsuitable it can be lowered by adding a dilute mix of white vinegar or raised by adding baking soda or calcified seaweed.

Temperature:

Redworms can tolerate a temperature range of around 10 degrees C _ 28 degrees C, although they will be most active at about 25 degrees C. If your worms freeze they will die. Consideration should therefore be given to the positioning of your worm bin. If you decide to keep it outside find a spot where it will not be in full sunlight during the summer months and remember to bring it indoors ( garage or utility) during the winter. Obviously the other option is to keep it indoors all the time, in which case you should not have to worry about the temperature.

Light:

Worms are sensitive to light and when they become exposed with it they will burrow into their bedding. This is useful when you want to harvest your worms.

Breeding:

If the conditions are correct Redworms will reproduce quickly. They will reach adulthood in about six weeks and can reproduce up to three times a week for their life span, which is generally around a year. Each time they reproduce they will deposit a cocoon which can contain anything up to 40 baby worms, although this number is usually around four. The worms population will be controlled by the size of their environment so you will never end up with too many worms.

Housing

Although there are a number of specially made worm bins available, many different containers can be used for the job. These can be a bucket with a lid, a plastic tub, homemade timber container or some other container. The important factors that should be considered are:

Worms will produce a lot of liquid so their home should either have drain holes in the bottom, or a layer of stone should be used to collect the liquid. If you choose the later you will need to fit a tap in order to drain it off at regular intervals. This liquid can then be diluted ( 1:10 ) to make an excellent plant food.

Your container should preferably have a lid in order to keep out pests, such as flies.

You must ensure that the container is suitably ventilated.

Once you have chosen your container you must prepare the bedding ready to receive your worms.

As mentioned earlier, worms need a moist environment in order to breathe. Therefore the bedding that you provide should be suitably dampened but not wet. Bedding can be made from a number of materials but probably the best and easiest is shredded newspaper.

Once the newspaper (no ad inserts) has been torn into thin strips (a shredder works great for this) it should have water added to it until it is uniformly moist. A handful of  sand, compost, or soil should also be added to aid the worms digestion process.

When the mix is complete it can be added into your container, after which you should introduce your worms. A small amount of kitchen waste may then be added to the mix and covered with the bedding (see Feeding). Initially the worms will want to explore their new home, so to prevent them venturing up the sides of the bin it is a good idea to leave the lid off for a while until they get settled into the bedding.

Feeding

Redworms are not that fussy when it comes to feeding time. Basically they can be fed most organic waste, although as they do not have teeth, their food must be soft in order for them to eat it. This does not mean that harder foods are unsuitable, only that it will take longer for them to be eaten.

They can be fed all types of fruit and vegetable waste. Coffee and tea bags may also be fed, although as these are acidic they should only be given in small quantities, as should citrus fruits. Grass clippings may also be given in small quantities, but if too much is fed it will generate heat and give off ammonia which will harm the worms.

Things to avoid feeding include meats & dairy products (the worms will eat this but it can cause bad odors and attract unwelcome insects), salty foods, manure from pets as these may contain antibiotics or harmful bacteria.

If your worm bin environment is satisfactory, you can expect the worms to eat up to their body weight in food each day. This means that a decent size worm bin should be able to cope with the kitchen waste produced by a family of four without too much trouble. If, however, you find that you are over feeding your worms and odors are becoming apparent, you should stop feeding until the worms have had chance to catch up.

Harvesting Your Worms

With continued use of your worm bin, you will notice that the bin begins to fill up. When it eventually becomes full you will need to harvest your worms so the bin can be emptied. This is a relatively simple operation and should not cause any problems.

As the worms feed just under the layer of food, the majority can be removed simply by scooping off the top three or four inches of bedding. Place them in a bucket or other suitable container until you are ready to replace them.

With most of the worms removed the rest of the bedding can then be emptied from the bin. This will be top quality compost that can be used in your garden. If you find, as the bin is being emptied, that there is still a large number of worms in the compost, they can be removed by adopting the ‘pyramid’ method of harvesting.

For this you will need a plastic sheet and a light source ( the best idea is to do it outside on a sunny day ). Place the contents of the worm bin onto the plastic sheet and form into a small piles. As the worms are sensitive to light they will burrow into the compost. Gradually scrape away the compost from the sides of the heap. As you do this the worms will continue to burrow away from the light towards the center. Keep scraping until all the compost has been removed, leaving you with a wriggling mass of worms, which can then be placed with those removed initially.

Once you have finished the harvest, your worms can be placed back in the bin, along with some fresh bedding, and the process can begin all over again. The worm castings or ‘compost’ can be added to your garden or houseplant soil for a wonderful soil amendment.

Troubleshooting

If your worm bin is maintained correctly you should not have any problems, however occasionally things can go wrong. Below are some possible problems and suggestions on how to remedy them.

Worms try to leave the bin: Check the moisture and the pH of the bedding. Also check that the bin is not situated near a source of vibration. Be sure your worms are not being subjected to extremes of temperature.

Bad smells coming from bin: Either the bedding is too wet or you may have over fed your worms. If they have been over fed stop feeding for a few days to let them catch up, and add some fresh bedding (shredded newspaper).

Bedding is very wet: Mix in some dry bedding until the excess moisture has been soaked up.

Fruit flies: Cover fruit and vegetative matter with enough bedding material to thoroughly cover it or wet several sheets of newspaper and lay flat on top of the bedding. This helps keep moisture in also.

Information above extracted from the following sources:

Darryl Poulson’s website at http://www.poulson.force9.co.uk/worms/index.htm (no longer active) and

The City Farmer By Gillian Elcock and Josie Martens http://www.cityfarmer.org/wormcomp61.htm

Vermiculture Links:

Worm Digest

The City Farmer

The Compost Resource Page