Vermicomposting, or composting with worms, is a fantastic way to quickly turn your kitchen scraps into a nutrient-rich soil amendment. It's cheap and easy, and when managed properly, can even be done inside your house.
Red wigglers, Eisenia foetida, are the best worms for vermicomposting. They are relatively hardy, reproduce quickly, and consume their own weight in organic matter each day. Unlike the common earth worm, red wigglers live near the surface of the soil, so can be fed and managed quite easily inside a bin.
There are a variety of options for your worm bin, but you'll at least need something eight to twelve inches deep with a lid. This could be a five gallon plastic bucket, a Rubbermaid container, or a wooden crate. Whatever you use, make sure you keep the lid closed but not shut tight, as this restricts air flow. Red wigglers like the dark, but they also like oxygen. Plastic containers are better for inside the house, but require a few drainage holes at the bottom to avoid high humidity and over saturation. Place a tray or extra lid underneath to catch the liquid that drips out - worm compost tea is a great fertilizer! Untreated wood, while not as long-lasting, readily absorbs moisture and has adequate drainage. You can drill a few holes in the bottom to collect the compost tea, but make sure they're at least six inches apart. Prop the corners up on blocks, find a tarp or tray to collect the drippings, and you're all set!
When starting your worm bin, you'll need six to nine inches of fluffed bedding. Shredded newspaper mixed equally with peat moss or potting soil works great. Moisten little by little, allowing the bedding to soak up water to the point where it feels like a damp sponge. Then add your worms! A small container like a five gallon bucket only needs a handful, while a large crate could use a whole pound. We got our worms from the Wonder Worman, but you can usually find red wrigglers at a bait shop as well. Keep your bin in a warm, dark location that stays between 40-80 degrees Fahrenheit - in the garage, under the sink, or in a shady area of the yard - and don't feed for a week. The worms will survive off their bedding. Then start small with a sprinkling of leafy greens, gradually building to a half a pound of food scraps per day for each one pound of worms.
Feed your wigglers fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds and filters, tea bags, crushed egg shells, and shredded junk mail at any time; and bread, pasta, onions, and garlic sparingly. You may also want to add some sort of grit (sand, sterile soil, oyster flour) to your bin to help worms chew through the tougher food. Stay away from citrus, dairy products, meat, fresh manure, and oily or processed food. These will attract rodents and make your worm bin smell. Not adding these foods and your bin still smells? Check the moisture level and drainage. You may need to add some dry newspaper or drill more bottom holes. Or you may be feeding your worms faster than they can break it down, resulting in spoiled produce. Bury the food that's already there and cut down on amount or frequency of feedings. As your worms reproduce, they'll be able to take on more scraps.
After three to four months, you'll most likely have some worm castings - aka worm poop - to harvest. One way to do this is to shove the castings to one side and fill the other with fresh bedding and kitchen scraps. In a week, most of the worms will have migrated over to the food, and you can harvest the castings all at once, picking out remaining worms and cocoons as you go. You can also just expose the inside of the container to sunlight and let the worms burrow down, harvesting layer by layer until you reach the bottom. Put worms and cocoons aside and place in fresh bedding once you're finished. Use the worm castings as a soil amendment, mixing some in around the base of each plant. It is rich in both macro and micro nutrients, as well as beneficial micro-organisms, making it the perfect organic compost for your garden or house plants! It's so easy, and a great project for kids!
We're excited to announce our recent partnership with Lights Out Bend, a volunteer-based advocacy group focused on "safeguarding migratory birds in our urban environment through education, progressive civic policies and avian rescue, rehabilitation and research." They're asking Bend businesses and residents to:
Twice a year, millions of birds migrate through Bend along the Pacific Flyway, using moonlight to navigate at night. Artificial lights attract and disorient these birds, often leading to deadly collisions. But more than 80% of these incidents could be prevented by simply turning a light off. We're doing our part by re-evaluating our current lighting situation and incorporating LOB's message into our Hopservatory education programs. We're also raising money to purchase bird tape to donate to the restaurant and brewery that would safeguard our local bird population.
With the upcoming opening of the Hopservatory, we're also concerned about light pollution. While you will be able to see bright objects like planets, galaxies, and constellations during your visit, the more subtle features will remain hidden unless we can decrease the amount of light shining up into the night sky. You can see in the diagram below the effect light can have on our view of the stars and Milky Way.
Until recently, humans have had unobstructed views of the night sky, inspiring poetry, novels, stories, paintings, religion, philosophical discussion, even scientific discoveries. Without the night sky, we would never have been able to navigate the globe, set foot on the moon, or learn about the wonders of the universe. We're dedicated to keeping this pioneering spirit alive. There's still so much to learn about our planet and the universe that surrounds us.
The International Dark-Sky Association has some really great information and public outreach materials (like the infographic below) I highly suggest you check out. Decreasing light pollution is not just a human problem; it affects all life on our planet. So help us protect our health and heritage by joining Lights Out Bend and taking the pledge today! Every little bit helps!
Hot dogs, baseball, apple pie...and green lawns? Few things are as irrefutably American. Starting in the latter half of the twentieth century, as "victory gardens" lost their shine and suburbia took hold, many home owners opted for the new ideal of a clean, expansive, bright green, weed-free lawn. And that tradition has largely continued to this day.
Being soft and bare-foot friendly, grass offers the perfect space for outdoor entertaining. It absorbs and filters water, improving water quality and reducing storm water runoff and erosion. It provides oxygen and creates a cooling effect during hot summer months, and trap dust and dirt that would otherwise find itself inside your home. Lawns offer many benefits to home owners, but they also come at an environmental cost. According to the U.S. National Wildlife Federation, 30% of water on the East Coast and 60% on the West Coast goes to watering lawns. In states that already suffer from drought conditions, that's a huge drain on resources. 18% of all municipal solid waste is yard debris, and the average lawn receives up to ten times more chemical pesticides per acre than farm land - that's 70 million tons per year. Those stats are staggering, to say the least. But what can we do?
1. Start with healthy soil. Most plants thrive in slightly acidic soil, so perform a simple pH test to determine if you're in that ideal range of 6.5 to 7.0. Even if there are nutrients in the soil, plants can't necessarily absorb them unless the pH is correct. See nutrient availability chart here. Add lime to raise pH and sulphur to lower it. Spread a thin layer of compost on top of your lawn every year if you can. This helps increase organic matter and water retention, and will benefit both clay and sandy soils. Most lawns become compacted over time due to heavy foot traffic, so aerate accordingly.
2. Be water smart. Allowing the top couple inches of an established lawn to dry out between waterings forces roots to grow deeper, increasing drought tolerance, so water deeply and infrequently. Most lawns need just one to two inches per week. Test your sprinkler output with a measuring cup or rain gauge and adjust as needed. Water early in the morning to discourage fungal and bacterial diseases.
3. Switch to an organic fertilizer. Maintaining a lush, green lawn with synthetic chemicals is one of the most inefficient landscape practices we perform. Think about it - we go through the whole rigmarole of buying expensive fertilizers to apply at least twice a year, but then we pick up the grass clippings every time we mow, effectively removing the only source of natural fertilizer our lawn receives and wasting money in the process. Switch to an organic fertilizer like seaweed, bone meal, blood meal, epsom salt, or compost tea and leave those grass clippings on the ground. They're small enough that they biodegrade within the week and become unnoticeable anyway.
4. Don't be overly concerned with weeds (unless they're listed as invasive to your area). You may think those dandelion and clover heads are unsightly, but native pollinators love them. Clover is also a nitrogen-fixer, so naturally helps keep your lawn greener. And if you really can't stand the weeds, mechanically pull or spot spray with a citrus oil or white vinegar weed killer early in the season. Chemical herbicides kill up to 80% of earthworms in your yard and can be tracked inside your house, persisting longer than they do outside. They can also leach into groundwater sources, causing pollution down the line. Use corn gluten meal as a pre-emergent. It's safe, natural, but not as long lasting as its synthetic counterparts so may need to be reapplied multiple times. As with most organic methods, all of these require more patience and vigilance, but you'll be rewarded with a healthier lawn and household.
5. Know when to mow. Most grasses can be kept at two and a half to three and a half inches tall. Don't mow too short or you risk exposing surface roots, causing your lawn to dry out faster. And never mow more than one third of a lawn's height as it can send grass into shock. When trying to tame an overgrown lawn, start high and gradually work your way down. Cut slightly shorter in the fall to avoid mold problems.
6. Replace traditional lawns with a native, drought-tolerant grass mix or other lawn alternative. Native grasses are already suited to your area's climate, so should perform better without supplemental watering or fertilizing. In recent years, low-mow and no-mow grasses have become more popular for low-maintenance areas. There are so many other options for a beautiful yard! Try planting ground covers like thyme, clover, sedum, ajuga, creeping charlie, moss, snow-in-summer, or sweet woodruff. These never need to be mowed and have the added benefit of seasonal flowering. You can reduce your lawn area by adding foundation plantings, shrub and perennial beds, or even a small edible garden or raised vegetable bed. Go all out and build a dry river bed and rock garden. The possibilities are endless.
What is certain is that chemically-saturated lawn care is hard on your wallet, your health, and the environment. So switch over to organic methods today and start planning a more creative yard.
Lisa Kronwall, WGC Horticulturist