Let’s talk about year-round composting. In Ottawa.
We are a family of 5 and have put our green bin at the curb about 5 times since early November when it got too dark and cold for me to take compost to the outdoor bin in the evenings. That’s not because we don’t generate green waste. We just moved it inside. To a small space next to the washing machine.
Firstly, we don’t produce a lot of green waste – well, we try not to. We always use what produce is in the fridge before buying more, eat what’s on our plates and try to use food waste where and when possible (vegetable stock). Regardless, coffee grinds and chicken bones need to go somewhere.
Everything gets separated in the kitchen – worm bin or bokashi bucket. Banana peels, tea leaves and basically anything that isn’t acidic or from an animal can go into the worm bin (vermi-composting) for the little guys to break down. Everything else goes into the bokashi bucket, including animal products and waste.
You may have heard of worm composting (also called vermi-compost), or “worming away your garbage” or maybe even seen worm castings for sale at a garden center. It’s a pretty common form of compost, ideal for indoors, small spaces, and getting kids involved. They feast on the bacteria and fungi that thrive on food waste. You know when your banana starts to turn brown and over-ripen? Bacteria smell the sweetness coming off the banana and are very quickly all over it – worms are all over them. Worms will eat mouthfuls at a time and poop it all out leaving behind beautifully brown, aerobic castings. But, they stick to a strict diet and they like their food fresh. They can’t have animal products or anything acidic – they can’t survive in an acidic environment and will steer clear of citrus peels and tomatoes. They eat thoroughly, and prefer their food fresh. The worms I started out with in the fall were few and small so getting through a yogurt container of food took some time. Now that they’ve grown and multiplied we direct more compost to the worm bins.
What doesn’t go to the worms, goes into the bokashi bucket. Bokashi is a form of anaerobic composting that uses a fermentation process to break down the waste. Because everything is fermented before being fully composted it’s safe to put dairy and meat waste into a bokashi composter. This is basically our catch-all for compost. We’ve been filling one 5 gallon bucket after another all winter. They can fester for a few more weeks and get added to a large outdoor pile as green material.
Normally I’m not very supportive of anaerobic composting, but this isn’t anaerobic conditions in a pile, this is a purposefully anaerobic system where air can wreak havoc. If not done properly it will mold and smell, but when done properly the waste slowly breaks down and has a rapid finishing process in the ground or a larger compost pile. It’s another great indoor system, provided you have somewhere to put the waste when the fermentation microbes have done their job. This year, I’ll be using it in an outdoor compost pile, but in the past I have dug a hole in the lawn or garden and dumped it in. Because of the per-fermentation, it doesn’t attract animals as there’s nothing there for them to eat.
I expect we’ll get six full bokashi buckets this year. But as the worms continue to grow and expand to new bins, next winter we’ll be able to direct more food waste to them and have fewer bokashi buckets.