Composting means breaking down organic material. There are three kinds: aerobic, anaerobic, and vermicomposting. Each has its pros and cons. Households, farms, restaurants, schools, offices and places of business produce compostable materials. For example, food scraps, grass clippings, leaves, animal manure, and coffee grounds are all compostable. Composting is useful for making inexpensive fertilizer for lawns, gardens and farms. Here is a run-down of each type.
With aerobic composting, air is introduced to help break down materials quickly. The compost needs to be turned every few days. This is where a “tumble” style of composter can save a lot of time and effort. Add scraps, then turn the handle or spin the composter to keep it aerated. You will probably want to add plenty of green matter that contains lots of nitrogen, such as grass clippings. As the bacteria break down the high-nitrogen-content scraps, the temperature of the compost will get higher. This speeds the process. Also, moisture may need to be added from a hose or watering can. The odors from aerobic composting will be bad if you don’t keep it moist and forget to turn it frequently. Also, you need to leave lots of air space in the composter.
You can tell, just by looking at the word, that anaerobic is the opposite of aerobic. Anaerobic composting takes almost no effort at all. Just chuck scraps into a compost pile or composter, and don’t fuss with it for a year or more.
However, hold your nose! Anaerobic composting stinks to high heaven. Without oxygen, some pretty nasty bacteria take over. This is what happens in a landfill, and it’s not healthy. Landfills produce so much methane, they can actually have explosions! Methane is a greenhouse gas that is bad for the environment. Many a garden party has been spoilt by a stinking, neglected anaerobic composter!
Vermicomposting uses worms, oxygen and moisture to safely break down organic material with few odors. Basically, worms do most of the heavy lifting, and bacteria also helps. Red worms are favorites for this type of composting. Vermicomposting is preferable to the other two methods, for these reasons:
- Very little odor (it should smell “earthy”)
- Very little, if any, dangerous anaerobic bacteria and methane
- No need to “turn” frequently
- Can be done indoors or outdoors
- Easy to harvest the fertilizer, especially with a tray-based composter
- Kids love taking care of the worms
- Takes minutes a week
- Worms become part of the household and work for you
- If you like to go fishing, you get an endless supply of bait
Composting worms love to eat non-acidic vegetable and fruit scraps from your kitchen and garden. They enjoy grains like rice, oatmeal, pasta and bread. Just make sure you don’t include oily foods, meat or dairy products. You can use aged manure from herbivores, such as cows, horses and rabbits. Make sure the manure has aged at least a few days or longer. A few clean, crushed eggshells provide grit and help balance the bin’s PH. Fallen leaves and grass clippings, in smaller quantities, are great.
Starting vermicomposting involves selecting a type of composter, and then ordering composting worms.
- Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm offers a videos about making your own composter, as well as a selection of convenient composters you can order online. We also have information on building your own composter. Some people want to compost outdoors when the weather is warm, and indoors in the colder months; our Worm Factory 360 and Can-O-Worms composters are perfect for this.
- To get you started with vermicomposting, order a bag of our champion composting worm, the Red Composting Worm Mix. We carefully package and ship the worms so they arrive alive. We also offer Super Reds, which are larger and better suited to be released into the garden.
So, given the choice, steer away from anaerobic composting unless you have no sense of smell. Aerobic composting with a tumbler or pitchfork works, but it’s for outdoors only and requires a bit of work to maintain. Vermicomposting with worms is the best of both worlds: you can compost indoors or out, and the worms become your partners in reducing waste.