Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bedding for worm bins and the zen of shredding newspaper

Shredding newspaper has become my second hobby (next to vermicomposting). To provide bedding for my herd, I shred a lot of newspaper.

I like newspaper because it is free and plentiful. The papers come to my home and yesterday's paper is always available.

Office paper works equally well (for an office bin, your shredded office paper would work great). You want long strips, so a standard shredder works (but not a cross-cut shredder). Long, thin strips are better because cross-cut paper tends to mat when wet and you want your bedding to be airy.

Most non-glossy printed material can also be used since most high-quality laser toner and ink-jet inks are non-toxic. If you are going to use a lot of lot of a single source in your worm bin, check with the manufacturer to be certain. The Portland Press Herald uses non-toxic ink.
There is a technique to shred newsprint. I prefer to hold it by the folded edge (1-2 sections at a time) and shred into 1/8-1/4 inch strips. It shreds really easily and it makes a nice swooshing sound. For a long time Bert thought I was sweeping every morning!

Another advantage of newspaper is that shredding it is relaxing. It sounds strange, but I shred A LOT of newspaper, and I have come to enjoy this quotidian task. It is a morning activity I appreciate after I feed my herd. I shred yesterday's paper in the cellar and listen to NPR while I sip my coffee. It is a few minutes of meditation before I start my day.

Happy shredding!


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What can you do at home to help save the world?

In response to Natalie Jeremijenko's charge " do we translate the tremendous amount of anxiety and interest in addressing major environmental issues into something concrete that people can do whose effect is measurable and significant?"
I present the following list of things we can do to help the environment:

1. Reduce/reuse/recycle wherever you can: many garden centers will accept plastic pots returned after purchase.

2. Conserve ground water: build a rain garden to reduce runoff, collect rain from gutters for dry days, and water in the morning.

3. Put out native bee boxes: encourage local pollenators. See Kate's Bee Boxes link on my web site.

4. Share your wealth: grow food for neighbors, and encourage them to grow their own and buy locally.

5. Use Best Management Practices & Integrated Pest Management for pesticides and insecticides you may use in your yard. Yes, you'll have to do some research on what you're using, but it will make the application more effective.

6. Grow natives: native plants require less work and are more hardy since they're already adapted.

7. Go renewable: consider renewable resources for mulch, potting mix, etc. What is plentiful in your area and how can it be used?
8. Start a worm bin. If you already have a bin, start a bin for a friend. Worm binis make great gifts!

9. Educate your family, friends, and neighbors: tell them about your successes with the above. You'll be surprised how many will adapt your ideas.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Fruit Flies

I have a FAQ on my web page about fruit flies (, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate.

This time of year, fruit flies can be a real problem in the worm bin (not that they're bad for composting), but they are annoying to have in your home. The good news is you can get rid of them pretty quickly by following these suggestions.

Let's start first with prevention
  1. Make sure your compost scraps are covered (especially in the summer). This is especially important if your scraps are kept near a window.
  2. Bury all food deep in your worm bin and keep the bedding layer at least 3” deep.
  3. If you have fruit flies in the kitchen or where you keep your compost scraps, assume they are laying eggs on the compost scraps. Either freeze the compost scraps or take them to your outside compost pile.
Dealing with an infestation **First know that fruit flies have a life cycle and there is an end to the problem.** The quickest way I’ve found to deal with fruit flies is as follows:
  1. Remove adult fruit flies from your worm bin and nearby area. You can do this by vacuuming them, using sticky traps, or vinegar traps. You’ll need to vacuum them at least twice a day for 2 weeks to be sure you get all the adults from the eggs of the generation you first removed. Sticky and vinegar traps should be monitored and replaced when needed.
  2. Make your worm bin less attractive to the flies. This means not adding more food to your bin until your infestation is under control. Your worms can go without food for a few weeks. Fruit flies cannot.
  3. Make your bin more dry. Slightly dry bins are less prone to develop flies (addresses a potential pH problem). You are not looking to make a BIG change here only a slight change in dampness. Adding freshly shredded newspaper to the BOTTOM layer of your bin will do the trick. Alternatively, you can upend the contents of your bin and add more bedding over the former bottom contents.
  4. Fruit flies need to fly to mate-- if you fill your bin with newspaper that will also help.
  5. OPTIONAL... I read a tip earlier this year from a fellow vermicomposter (in Australia!) who uses diatomaceous earth (I may have spelled that wrong) to control flies. Flies are VERY bad in Australia apparently. I have not tried it, but you can get DE from garden centers (or Ace Hardware). DE kills insects and it won't hurt worms, plants or you. I think it is worth a try in combination with the other steps. If you have used DE, let me know how it worked and how much you used.
If you follow these steps you will be free of fruit flies in a few weeks. The most important things you can do are bury your food and kill/remove the adult fruit flies.

Happy composting!