Friday, June 06, 2008

Compost compost - worms or electric?

Why am I obsessed with rotting food?

Food waste accounts for about half of what we toss away each year. Food waste (as opposed to food refuse which is food stuff that can no longer be used to make anything else to eat - see the Woman's Institute of Domestic Arts and Sciences especially the introduction to the first volume) is stuff like carrot peals, the outside leaves of a cabbage, too old leftovers, and apple cores. Things that sure, if I was completely impoverished, I would be using to make things like soup stocks &c. or at the very least make better meal planning so that there was not so much waste, but as it is I tend to just toss this stuff.

Half of my rubbish is food stuff, but it's not that I'm an overall wasteful person. I am very careful not to use paper towels if I can get away using a rag cut up from old t-shirts which can then be re-washed. In fact, a roll of paper towel lasts us almost two months and would last twice that if I didn't eat so many poppadoms. Same with packaging; I buy things with minimal amount of packaging and in the size that will be consumed before the expiry date. So when I say that half of what we toss away is food waste and refuse, you have to take into account that for two people living in an apartment, we produce precious little garbage.

We don't just toss this stuff away. Over 1/3 of it goes into the recycling (often after being used and re-used like using the back side of scrap paper for notes before sending it on to it's new life) and just under 1/2 of what we produce, the vegetarian food scraps, goes to the garden to feed lovely little worms. Even plastic grocery bags have three lives before they find their way into the bin - they bring groceries home from the store, they bring vegetables from the garden, and then they go and wrap up the garbage we toss into the dumpster (strata legislation demands that it be wrapped in plastic to deter rats and other pests).

I'm very conscious of what goes into the trash. But that's not really what I came here to talk about.

I want to talk about compost.

I keep an allotment garden. It consists of two VERY small garden beds that live on land owned by one of the local community associations. For reasons that do not need explaining at this time as they would spark considerable protest against the community association and probably result in considerable legal action if not simply financial auditing, not to mention it gets me all hot and bothered just thinking about it, but they are having a hard enough time of it right now so I won't tell you who they are and I would rather they just keep on pretending that the garden plots don't really exist while they deal with their own problems... for reasons like those, composting is not permitted at the place where my garden grows. We even have to pay to have garden waste carted away and we have to pay to have soil and mulch transported in. It's not really a win-win situation here; more like lose-lose.

But I'm here to talk about compost, not politics.

In the winter, when practically nothing grows in my garden except aphids and slugs, we trench compost. Its a way of putting the food scraps into the soil without attracting rats or the attention of the community association. It's also very efficient as it takes only 3-8 weeks for majority of the compost to turn into worm poo. When summer comes around, this is no longer an option as it would mean digging up my vegetables to plant compost.

So for the first time, I cannot trench my compost, I cannot take my compost to the garden and put it in a bin, and I am not willing to toss my food scraps down the garbage shoot and waste all that lovely potential soil. I need another option!

I need a composter!

Lately I've discussed two composting options: an electric one and one that grows worms.

Worms are far more affordable.

I like the worm system I showed you because, with most worm composting, it tends to be a messy series of complex tasks that need to be completed every few days to keep the worms alive but with this system, you don't need to sift through the smelly compost to get the 'black gold'. It seems quite quick and easy to use, it composts paper and most food waste.

There are a few drawbacks. First off, the worms do not eat meat waste. Not a problem if you are vegan, but still an issue for my home. Second, the worms can't be too hot or too cold. Easy for most people as the temperature range is quite forgiving, but not so easy for me. I want my compost to live on my balcony which is south facing in full sun. In the summer it gets too hot, in the winter, too cold. Basically there would be two months out of the year when it wouldn't kill my worms to live outside. There are also a few other things to worry about: do they have too much liquid, is there enough food for them, is there too much? It's a bit like keeping a pet. You can't just go on vacation and hope they will fend for themselves.

Conclusion: the worms are a good option if I had the right place to keep them and I wanted to put the effort in. They are affordable and efficient, but not the right choice for me just now.

The electric composter is kind of pricey;

but, it seems a good fit for me. It will handle the amount of compost we produce, it processes meat scraps and just about everything else we could ever want, but no junk mail and not too many citrus fruits. It can go out on the deck or inside as it claims to produce almost no odour. And, the upkeep is about $10 per year. It's also pretty cool looking! The biggest drawback is the initial price. But I hear that the Government of Canada is sending me some money to be more eco-friendly (but I'll believe it when I have the check in hand), so I can pool that with what they send my dad and it will pay for most of the price.

Conclusion: I think I've already decided to go with the electric composter. I just wanted to write out my reasoning to make certain I wasn't completely insane in spending that much money on something that makes dirt (can you believe that the government puts tax on this?!? Outrageous!). With the amount of compost I'll be keeping out of the land fills, that thing about it not producing bad gas, and the amount of soil and fertilizers I won't have to import to my garden, I think that it will more than compensate for the environmental impact of the electricity, shipping and manufacturing of this product in a year or two, if not sooner.

That was a long post, even for me. I bet no one will read the whole thing, but I enjoyed writing it.

1 comment:

Josiane said...

It was interesting to read the reasoning behind the choice you are making. I'm looking forward to reading more about your experience with your composter.