Vermicomposting: Sustainability with a Thousand Helpful Pets

A main goal of the Bethlehem Food Co-op is to create a source of locally-produced, healthy food for its residents. While waiting for the grocery store to open, members can learn to grow their own gardens and create a sustainable source of food.

Sustainability is a hot topic right now. With increased pollution, oil prices, and landfills quickly filling up, many individuals and businesses are looking toward ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Joining a local food co-op is just one way to contribute to a greener future.

In addition to small steps like using renewable energies, reusable grocery bags, and using public transportation, composting can help reduce landfill waste and encourage growth of vegetation.

On April 4, 2018, the Bethlehem Food Co-op sponsored a session at Northampton Community College on the practice of urban composting. Joe Klinkhoff, who has hosted numerous classes on fermentation and composting processes for the co-op, taught the two-hour class.

Participants learned about three main types of composting. While traditional composting requires significant lawn space that city residents rarely have, there are ways for every household to practice urban composting techniques.The main urban composting technique, called vermicomposting, requires the use of worms to break down many types of organic matter. To start, you need to purchase red worms and provide them with a worm bin. These bins can either be DIYed or purchased online pre-made.

Once assembled, a substrate is added to the bottom, worms are moved into their new home, and the top is covered. Roughly once a week, compostable organic materials (vegetable peelings, rice and pasta, coffee grounds, etc.) that would otherwise be thrown away can be placed in the worm bin and covered up. The worms eat the organic material and break it down into worm castings and worm tea that can be used in vegetable or flower gardens.

What’s even better is that the worms can break down other materials. All that junk mail, pizza boxes, magazines and other items we all accumulate can be used in vermicomposting, which greater reduces the amount of items that will be thrown in the trash.

With any kind of composting, there are pros and cons. On the positive side, you can add a large supply of materials to the worms, and they break it down. If done properly, this kind of composting produces little smell, has a small footprint, can be done indoors, and is cost effective after the initial start-up price. On the negative side, vermicomposting does require start-up expenses, hands-on attention, and fats and meats cannot be composted.

A second type of composting discussed, called Bokashi composting, focuses on the initial breakdown of materials rather than full composted.The process includes throwing any organic scrap into a specialty bucket with a pickled whey or rice agent until the bucket is full. Then, the bucket is sealed for roughly two weeks while the materials decompose. At the end of that time, the contents can be buried deeply in gardens, where they quickly finish the compost process.

The final type of compost Joe discussed would be ideal for coffee drinkers or mushroom lovers. Mycoremediation involves introducing mushroom spawn to the substrate, which can range from coffee grounds to old clothing. One simply fills up a large jar with the substrate and spawn until it’s full. The mushroom mycelium will grow inside the jar. Once it become entirely fuzzy and white, the lid of the jar is removed and water and sunlight are introduced. Quickly, mushrooms will sprout. A single jar can produce multiple crops of mushrooms.

Between these three types of composting, Bethlehem residents can find at least one way to help reduce their waste going to landfills and help yield beautiful flowers or home-grown vegetables.

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