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Check out the story on this crowdsourcing platform used to identify illegal fishing boats in sensitive marine areas Costa Rica.  Go get ’em!!

 

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Today’s post and illustrations come via Fix.com
 
Many of us like the idea of composting but don’t have the yard space to make it happen (I’m looking at you, apartment dwellers!). Luckily you can make your own black gold in the comfort of your own home with nature’s master composters: worms.

If your only experience with worms is seeing them on the end of a fishhook or dodging them on the sidewalk after a good rain, you might think all worms are the same. But they’re actually an incredibly diverse group of organisms. Most burrowing terrestrial worms are oligochaetes, a group with more than 10,000 known species. While their lot in life is to decompose organic matter, not all worms are suitable for indoor composting. Here’s a peek at the most common wrigglers, crawlers, and garden-variety earthworms.

Vermicomposting - Common Types of Worms for Vermicomposting

 

Deconstructing Decomposition

We know that simply layering leftover lettuce on the garden isn’t enough to get the nutrients to soak into the soil and make your flowers grow. We need decomposition to break down the structure of the lettuce and transform the nutrients into a form that new plants can use. But it’s not the worms doing the work. It’s bacteria. Bacteria are mini recycling plants that multiply quickly and use enzymes to degrade organic matter particles from the outside in.

Where do worms come in, then? Worms feed on the bacteria along with the leftovers. In doing so, they accelerate the process of digestion in two ways. First, as matter passes through their digestive system, it gets physically broken down, which provides the bacteria more surface area to act on. Second, worm guts add more bacteria and enzymes to the mix, which helps speed up the chemical reactions required to produce compost. The end products of worm digestion are castings: nutrient-rich additions to your indoor or outdoor soils.

Home Sweet Home

Worms, like any other organism, need food and shelter to keep them alive and happy. Let’s look at how to house your new wrigglers.

The size of your composter will depend on your space and your needs. How much space do you have? How much compost do you want to end up with? Most vermicomposters are stacked plastic bins forming layers of trays. You can purchase a starter kit and get going right away or, if you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, build one yourself out of cardboard, metal, wood, or plastic. Here are some pros and cons of each.

Vermicomposting - Selecting a Container for Your Worms

 
No matter what material you choose, you’ll need to add air holes to keep the soil aerated, and bedding, usually in the form of newspaper strips, to give the soil structure and maintain moderate humidity in your bin.

Worm food

Because worms eat bacteria, the real question isn’t what to feed the worms, but what to feed the bacteria! Whatever you put in your bin will get decomposed eventually, but because this is for indoor use, we want to make sure it’s efficient and both odor- and pest-free. The easiest way to ensure an odor-free set-up is to include only plant-based food scraps in your composter. Leave the meat and dairy for the garbage bin and rinse eggshells if you want to add them to the mix.

Vermicomposting - Feeding Your Worms the Proper Food

 

Watch It Churn

Your bin should be odorless, except for a natural earthy smell. Worms thrive in a humid environment (not soaking wet) that is well aerated and warm – 60 to 77 degrees F is ideal. If your worms are dying or if there’s a foul smell, you might need to make a few adjustments to the moisture, oxygen, or temperature. Here are some troubleshooting tips to help you along.

Ammonia: If you smell ammonia, you’ve got anaerobic decomposition (not enough oxygen). Your soil is likely waterlogged and your worms are suffocating. Drain your composter (adding more drainage if necessary), add dry bedding, and stir up your mixture to reintroduce some air to the system.

Flies: If you have fruit flies, try burying your new food waste or covering it with a good layer of bedding when you add it.

Harvesting

When it comes time to use your earthy black compost you’ll have two options: direct application or compost tea. Direct application is self-explanatory, but the nutrient composition will vary from batch to batch, so you might want to test it and adjust your mixture to meet your garden’s requirements. Compost tea is just what it sounds like. You steep your compost (and add sugar and aeration if you like) to get a nutritious liquid that’s great for regular watering via spray bottle.

If you want to keep your worms for another round of composting, you’ll need to separate them from the compost. The easiest way to do this is to prepare a new bin underneath the old one with some fresh bedding and food, then place a light or two over the top of the bin. The light will encourage the worms to migrate down through the drainage holes into your new, more enticing bin.

Vermicomposting - Havesting and Using Your Vermicompost

 

On Foreign Soil

Most, if not all, earthworms in your garden are not native to North America, since the last glacial period stripped the soil of most life: they’ve been introduced here from Europe. In general, non-native species are a major problem worldwide, both on land and in the oceans, as some species can become invasive, rapidly change an ecosystem, and cause negative impacts on other species and humans. So, while some worms have become commonplace enough to ignore, others, including hitchhikers in your vermicompost, have yet to become established. And we need to keep it that way. New worms pose a major threat to hardwood forests, where they would change the soil structure and growth dynamics of the ecosystem.

In order to be a responsible vermiculturist, just follow these easy guidelines.

Do get your worms from a reliable source. Find a local source instead of shipping them from abroad. This will greatly reduce the chance of bringing in new species.

Don’t choose red earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus), stick with red wrigglers. Red earthworms have a better chance at surviving cold winters than red wrigglers, and thus could pose an invasive environmental threat.

Don’t dispose of worms or compost in the woods or water, as they will survive there. This is the terrestrial equivalent of dumping your aquarium in the local lake. Many species of unwelcome algae, insects, and fish have spread this way.

Do freeze your vermicompost for a week before using it outside. This will kill worms and egg cocoons, ensuring that nothing but nutrients will be transferred to your garden.

Family Fun

Vermicompost can be a great way to get the whole family involved in a science project. There’s nothing wrong with having a pristine composting unit shipped to your doorstep, leaving it in the corner, and checking it occasionally. But if you want to take on the whole project, start small and see how long different foods take to decompose: orange rinds versus potato peels, for example. Fertilize some seedlings with compost tea and others without and watch for differences as they grow. It’s an inexpensive way to keep your kids (and you!) stimulated and thinking about the environment. Use the wealth of resources out there, and don’t be afraid to jump right in and give vermicomposting a go. Your red wrigglers might be the best pets you’ve ever had!

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Waste Free Restaurant

Author: Paul

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After many years of work, Energy Star with support from the Food Service Technology Center, the NRA and the Restaurant Facility Managers Associations are developing a criteria so restaurant can be certified as Energy Star buildings. Up until this point, restaurants have been kept off the labeling potential of Energy Star because of the variability in energy use among the buildings, and the variability of the types of restaurants.

However, in order to develop the certification program, they need your data. They are currently conducting the 2013 Food Service Energy and Water Survey to collect energy consumption data of restaurants across the country to help develop the performance score for the label. The purpose of the energy and water use data collection is to develop an Energy Star building energy performance score that will allow restaurants to compare their energy consumption to the national, industry-wide average and also to other stores within their brand. Eligible survey participants include full-service restaurants, limited-service restaurants, coffee or beverage shops, educational, military, corporate, or hospital cafeterias, and other formats. So get out your electric, natural, propane (and water) bills together and enter them into the survey to help develop the new Energy Star labeling program.

The first 40 restaurants to complete the survey and supply their energy use information will at least receive $20 Starbucks gift cards, and $450, $250, $150, and $50 gift card to randomly selected participants as well.

The survey runs from Wednesday, September 4th through Friday, November 1st and once the data is collected, the EPA will be able to develop a rating system from 1-100 and any restaurant scoring in the top 25% of their peer group can earn the Energy Star for their restaurant.

Visit the RFMA page for more information and to fill out the survey.

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I Forgot My Birthday!

Author: Paul

View of Golden GateI knew I was forgetting something recently and I finally figured out that sustainablefoodservice.com officially turned 4 last Friday. I say officially because March 15, 2009 was when I announced the launch of the site, but it had really been around since late 2006. While the concept for the site and a lot of my research dates back to 2002, the site came to life in an incredible studio apartment my wife and I had in San Francisco – that was my view of the Golden Gate Bridge and inspiration while I hacked out some code for this site.

Unfortunately, the view was short lived, as she was working a traveling job and after a few months the job was finished as was the apartment her company housed us in. The view for the following few months was a rock backyard in Mesa, AZ – not nearly as picturesque.

I spent the next couple years building the site out as I could between jobs and consulting gigs, as I do now, though the work is constant now and the sites gets less attention.

It’s been a really treat to maintain the site and hear from people all over the world that are building restaurants, developing mixed use developments, creating food waste programs for their cities, universities, high school, middle school, elementary school, every kind of school… I’ve chatted with people making their own chocolates, running kitchens for summer camps, remodeling restaurants, buying restaurants, wanting to compost, looking for sustainable packaging, and selling sustainable packaging – anyone want to import biodegradable packaging from China? I know of about a hundred options. It’s been a great run so far.

Thanks to everyone that emailed, called, posted or provided support over the years. Here’s to another four plus-ish years!

 

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