Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Urban homesteading: Vermiculture

I have been obsessed with the notion of urban homesteading for awhile now. I love living around people, but I also love the idea of growing my own food, keeping chickens, having a few pet goats, bee-keeping, composting, etc. (want to learn more in a very readable, simple book? Check out Little House in the Suburbs). When I found out that the city of Austin offers a $75 rebate for the purchase of a home composter, how could I not?

After doing a little (ok, A LOT) of research, I found that keeping a large compost bin outside would be not plausible for us for a few reasons. Most compost bins need three parts browns (leaves, yard waste) to one part greens (food waste) and we have a lot more food waste and it would be hard for us to gather yard waste. The seminary is planning on doing composting at the main buildings, but they will be having it hauled away. I want to make my own for my future garden that is not yet in existence but will be in a few weeks (Texas! Year-round growing season!!) I realized that in a small space without our "own" yard I would need to do vermicomposting. If you don't want that means, it means: worms! Thousands of worms, living with us! Well, they were living with us inside for a while, until some roaches came, and now the bin has been relegated to a shady spot on our back "porch"... They can't be hotter than 80 degrees, so in the summer we'll bring them in and try to figure out how to keep the unpleasanter species out.

I love them. I never thought it was weird for people to love their red wriggler composting worms, but wasn't sure how I would love these worms. And let me tell you, I am in love with this whole vermiculture thing. They are so fun. The kids love having 1,000 (or maybe more now) worms hanging out on our back porch and ask every chance they get to "check on them." I love that I get to feed them my kitchen scraps (mostly veggie peels and carbs, no fats/onions/meat/citrus, I have learned). I have attempted on multiple occasions to compost (hauling our rotten food to the campus bins at UW, throwing them on the piles at the gardens, etc.) but all my efforts have been fairly unsustainable. Walking a mile with a bucket of food waste (or bringing it on the bus!) when it's 10 degrees outside makes throwing it the garbage seem a heck of a lot easier. And this is easy. All I have to do it chop up our banana peels, throw in the coffee groups, the egg shells, the carrot peels. I keep it in a bucket on the counter and then at the end of the day empty it into the worms' home. I was afraid we'd kill them, having no experience with worms but it seems almost fool-proof. The container came with supplies to make bedding, you throw it in, keep it wet and order some worms online. They arrive, you dump them in, pour some water, and start adding food. Easy enough for the kids to do. While we don't have any "results" yet -- it takes a few months for compost to mature, I have a feeling it will just get easier, and so far the worms appear to be thriving in their new home. I love that my kids are thriving learning about nature and natural processes and reducing their footprint by not throwing away perfectly good banana peels.

I am thrilled that I live in a progressive city that pays its residents to compost! You can also order a cheaper, super tiny trash can, which we have done but hasn't arrived yet. They also have a program to reimburse for rain barrels, my next endeavor.

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