Q We live in a condo, and worm composting has resulted in drowning worms. Are there other options?
A I have to commend you: this deep into the dark season, most people aren’t thinking compost. They’re mulling over exit strategies. But, let’s face it, whether you’re hermitting or cooking up a storm for company, you’re probably churning out more food scraps now than in all those summer nights you spent on patios. (O patio, wherefore art thou?)
If you’re trapped in an apartment tower or condo, hauling your perfectly biodegradable food scraps to the garbage chute knowing they’re destined for a sad, wasteful life in landfill can be pretty guilt-inducing. Especially if you live two doors over from a single-family household whose green bin the city picks up weekly – or who prod and stir their own backyard bin.
But envy doesn’t have to be a sin if it motivates you into indoor composting! Option number one is of course the one you’ve already taken a stab at: vermiculture, the art of worm composting. It may sound skin-crawlingly creepy to the insect-averse, but if you’re comfortable with the idea of using harmless squigglies to reduce your garbage output by a third, as you clearly are, then it’s worth another shot. (Otherwise, proceed to option two).
If your worms needed swimming lessons, maybe you were feeding them too many soupy scraps without enough dry bedding. The truth is, vermiculture is a tricky business until you figure out just the right ratio of worms to food (essentially 2:1) Also, 10 bucks says you were using a single plastic bin with too few drainage holes as your vermi-bachelor pad. These look simple enough to manage, but they’re actually rot-prone and create a lot of extra work when it’s time to separate your worms from your compost.
You’d be better off with a worm hotel – essentially a series of stacked trays. The worms slowly migrate from the bottom to the top floor, which means you can collect your super-rich compost from the bottom tray after a few months without much interaction with the wrigglers. You can order one, as well as red wiggler compost worms and other supplies from www.vermiculture.ca and http://www.greenventure.ca. http://www.cathyscomposters.com also sells the right worms for the job. Make sure to pick the right size vermiculture factory for your food scrapping needs. Some process only 6 pounds of food a week; others (like Can-O-Worms) can do 6 pounds a day.
Vermi-virgins, take note: there’s no need to fret that you’ll end up with worms wiggling out into your kitchen unless you starve the little guys.
But if all this sounds way too complicated and/or you have a fear of worms, there is another way. And, no, it doesn’t involve leaving garbage bags to rot in the sun on your balcony, as one reader suggested. (This works for a leaf/grass mix if you throw a shovel of dirt and some hot water in it, poke lots of holes in the bag, then rotate it once in a while – but with food leftovers you’re likely to end up with a stinky mess, not valuable compost.)
Option number two is in fact pretty high-tech, entirely insect-free, odourless and ridiculously hands-off. It’s called the NatureMill. This mechanized baby definitely costs more ($299 to $399 plus shipping at NatureMill.com, or $449 at Homedepot.ca, which carries older models but should have new ones in the new year), but all you do is toss in paper and food waste (including meat and dairy!) and, bam, roughly every two weeks, a red indicator light pops on telling you it’s time to harvest your compost.
Heat is the active ingredient here rather than worms, and it gets that by using a minimal 10 watts of electricity a day. Plus, the machine is made of recycled materials and purportedly recycles its weight in waste every 10 days. This thing has gotten lots of praise from those in the know and scored Popular Science Mag’s 2007 Best of What’s New Award.
So those, my friend, are your choices when it comes to indoor composting. You just have to decide if you want to fork out for the high-tech route or give those little squigglies another shot at your lasagna.
QDo solar Christmas lights really work?
ASeems counterintuitive to power holiday lights with the sun’s rays when there’s so little natural light to be had these days, but, yes, Virginia, solar Christmas lights do exist. The question is, do they deliver?
It all depends on what type of fixture you’re looking at. Canadian Tire only carries the outdoor kind and they need a good eight to 12 hours of full sun to put out 10 hours of light. You can’t really guarantee they’ll be shining for long on those grey, overcast days, which is why these ones come with a battery-powered option, complete with charger.
Indoor versions are tough to find but you could always just use them on your (local, pesticide-free) tree and run the cord outside so the solar panels sit in the sun. Not ideal, but hey, they’re nuke- and coal-free and don’t cost a cent to run, so we love them anyway.
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