It Might Sound Crappy, but Composting Is Awesome

Author’s Note: Prepare for knowledge and puns!

Do you have a lot of food waste stinking up your trash? Tired of increased water bills from excessive flushing? Or are you simply looking to grow a thriving garden of food and plant life in and around your home? I present to you the s**tiest hobby around: composting!

Most have a general knowledge of what composting is, but to gain a deeper understanding, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, which breaks down everything from the basics to comparing turned-windrow and static compost piles. One of the most popular and easiest methods of composting is with help from our grubby friend, the worm.

In vermicomposting, worms are used to speed the decomposition of organic matter in the soil. The smaller the food, the quicker they will devour it and produce castings (worm droppings). For 20 years, Nancy Warner of The Worm Ladies of Rhode Island has been teaching classes and guiding new composters in the ways of the worm.

“The worm castings are an excellent source of microorganisms,” said Nancy. “And when you’re using worm castings, you aren’t using any chemicals.”

Red wigglers, or Eisenia fetida, are reputed to be the best for devouring trash while in captivity. Able to consume double their own weight, red wigglers eat organic garbage such as leftover fruits and vegetables. Plus, you don’t have to worry about any foul odors because the bacteria are devoured by the turdy-tunnelers. In addition to kitchen garbage, worms find an interest in animal fur, natural fibers and even vacuum cleaner bags, which comes handy when you have dogs and cats. It is recommended not to feed them any animal-based foods like meat, dairy or other high-fat food so they can breathe easier through their oily skin. The number of creepy crawlies you need is based on the amount of food waste your household produces. Most measure one to two pounds of worms for every 18 gallons of waste.

The latest developments in vermiculture have produced a tea, but not one to drink. Made from worm castings and other ingredients, the tea is sprayed on plants rather than directly into the soil. “According to the [studies], it provides 5,000 times more microorganisms for the plants than just the plain castings,” Nancy explained. “By that, you are getting a healthier plant.”

If worms aren’t your favorite thing in the world, you might consider composting your own self, by which I mean composting your own waste. Let’s talk humanure! Yes, you can use your own excrement for garden excellence. Not only can it be an agricultural resource, but it saves on clean water and reduces infrastructure demand. Do-It-Yourself humanure toilets are a thing of the past and continue to be around in the present. For centuries, humanure was regularly recycled and even sold off by cities to farmers in need of that good ol’ “nightsoil.” To create humanure, you add “duff,” or a mixture of sawdust and ashes, to your waste. Then you dump out full buckets into composting bins full of straw, weeds and shoveled up dirt to bake in the sun. Of course, this is just a brief overview of the process, but you can refer to several YouTube videos and websites such as Mother Earth News and HumanureHandbook.com on how to make your very own. Figuring out how to discuss your new hobby with your neighbors is up to you.

To think of humanure’s impact on a grander scale, I highly recommend reading up on the Humanure Power Project.  Put together by three students at Tulane University, the project aims to build community blocks of humanure toilets to help produce energy for 12-volt batteries for household use. In a country like India where more than half of their 626 million citizens do not have access to public toilets and live in poverty, this could not only provide a place to unload, but provide a needed source of electricity and stop the spread of disease and food and water contamination.

Some have debated if humanure is healthy for the soil based on the questionable chemicals humans consume. A 2013 article in NPR stated that 50% of biosolids produced in the US go through treatment at sewage plants and are returned to fertilize farmlands. Though regulated through the EPA, questions are still asked about possible pathogens or pharmaceuticals that might remain in the treated fertilizer and its effects on the food that’s grown. The US Geological Survey currently is performing studies to understand if it is a health risk. Questions like these and others involving composting can be answered at an upcoming local trade show.

The Environmental Council of RI will hold the RI Compost Conference & Trade Show on Thursday, March 9, from 9am to 3pm at Rhode Island College’s Student Union. Workshops at the event include vermicomposting, humanure, panel discussions on research and programs, and Whole Food Market’s work in waste recycling. You can even meet the awesome “Worm Lady” Nancy who can answer all of your questions on vermiculture. Just remember to pace yourself during the day so you don’t get pooped out.

Register for the ECRI’s conference at environmentcouncilri.org/content/2017-compost-conference-trade-show.

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