Composting 101

Composting 101 Video

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​​Transcript

[Music]

[Georgeann Moss]:  Good afternoon everyone, it's 12 o'clock so we're gonna go ahead and get started. My name is Georgeann Moss, I'm the executive administrator of Sustainability Outreach and Initiatives for Dallas College. On behalf of myself and the sustainability team and our wonderful partner and sponsor, EarthX, we welcome you today. For those of you who've never participated in one of these before, I just want to let you know that there are three ways to communicate with us. One is through the chat box, use that if you just have a comment that you wanna make. There's also a Q&A box, use that if you have a question that you would like an answer to, and then we're also gonna have some polls that occur during the presentation, and a screen will pop up and you'll be asked to answer a question. So those are the three ways that you can talk to us. At the end of the webinar, an evaluation will pop up, and we ask that you fill out the evaluation because that's what helps us improve these as we go along, so it's very short, won't take long at all. This webinar is being recorded, and it will be available on our website about two weeks from today, so you'll be able to refer back to it if you like or share it with your friends, and now I'm gonna tell you about our wonderful guest speaker for today, Lauren Clarke. Lauren is a native Texan on a mission to make you rethink and reuse – she's on a mission to make you rethink and reuse your urban environment. She's the founder and CEO of Turn, a sustainability company that benefits businesses and households while reducing their environmental impact. Their subscription based model not only helps the environment, but it rewards those who join them. Lauren studied violin performance at the University of North Texas, strategic communications at Columbia University, and was in the culinary arts program at our own El Centro campus of Dallas College. She has a broad background in marketing strategy, doing work for large and small companies, she's a certified master gardener with Texas A&M AgriLife, and a certified culinarian with the American Culinary Federation. She is supremely for her husband and her two children. So Lauren, thank you for being with us today, and I'm turning it over to you.

[Lauren Clarke]:  Georgeann, thank you so much, thank you, Dallas College, thank you EarthX for having me today, I'm thrilled to be with you and I hope you've had a couple of minutes here to look at this first slide and be sure that you follow Dallas College Sustainability on Facebook, and also mark your calendar for their 10th annual virtual Sustainability Summit on Friday, November 6th. Let's get going. So today we're going to start – we're going to talk today about the basics of urban composting, in your backyard if you live in a house, of course if you're in a condo, in an apartment, you could actually do composting there as well. I hope this time will be informative and fun and informational and interactive. You'll see there will be some poll questions that will come to you in the chat, if you have questions, please submit them in the chat, and Georgeann or Laurie can interrupt me and I will try to answer the best I can. Today we're gonna talk through some of the basics of composting: what is it, why is it important, how is it made, how do you know when it's ready, how should it be applied, and also the very methodologies for composting. What I like to do during this presentation is spend sort of the first part going through some of the science-y aspects of how composting works, and then I'm going to pause and ask if there are any questions about that section, and then we'll move into the nuts and bolts which are the very methodologies for composting, all right, and then we'll have some time for Q&A at the end. So my goal is to get to the end of this presentation in 40 minutes, and then allow for some interactivity. This is me, I started a company doing composting two years ago in Dallas, it came about actually because I really love gardening and I really love cooking, and so those are two of my core passions, and then I came across this intersection of a problem with food waste. You know, compost is such an incredibly important part of gardening, as soil health is very important for it, and then us Americans, we love to cook and we actually have a problem with food waste, so the business that I started came out actually of two sort of varying passions and I came across this intersection of a problem and said, let's start to do something about it. So all this being said, if you want to ask a question about gardening or cooking or even engaging your kids in composting, I have two kids at home, a 20-year-old and a 5-year-old, and I also have six backyard chickens, so there are no sort of topics that are off limit for me during our time today, and I just encourage you to feel comfortable asking whatever questions you'd like to know. All right, so it seems banal, but I'm gonna just start with the basic definition, what is compost? And there was a poll question I think at some point asking how many have you composted before. All right, I imagine some of you have, maybe some of you haven't, Jasmine wants some chickens, I love it. Here's the poll question, have you ever composted before? All right, in a nutshell, compost is organic materials that have decomposed to create a stable soil product that feeds plants, okay, and those organic materials, generally speaking for us in an urban environment, are food waste from our kitchens, and yard waste from our yards, okay, and that is the basic definition, and you can see there some nice finished compost. Why is composting important? On our website we have a link to lots of sources and reasons, we have sort of a top ten list, but I always feel like it's important to start with the why of anything, and I don't want to be too long about it, but I think about the why for composting in three different dimensions. One, it's incredibly important for our environment. Compost – rotting food waste in our landfill creates methane gas, which is a horrible greenhouse gas. In fact, the UN Environment has said that if food waste were represented as a country, it would be the third largest emitter of methane gas into our atmosphere, behind China and the U.S. The average U.S. household generates 650 pounds of compostable materials each year. The city of Dallas itself says that approximately 30% of what goes into our landfills is compostable kitchen or yard waste, and you're gonna see that 30% to 40% ratio across many different cities and actually many different global numbers, it's generally 30% of what goes into our trash is food. I'm thrilled, by the way, that the city of Dallas has issued, and that the city of Dallas approved a climate action plan, and zero waste is one of those pillars for our city. You can read more about that at dallasclimateactionplan.com, so check that out. Okay, so food waste is a problem for our environment, that's the first point, the second point is food waste that goes to the landfill in our trash is actually a wasted resource, because it is a valuable component in creating compost, okay? Compost is an amazing part of our soil that should be there, there's so many benefits to our soil. Compost has a wide spectrum of macro and micronutrients that balance and stabilize the pH, and it improves soil structure, drainage and aeration, and retain moisture, and if you think about Dallas-Fort Worth or Texas and our usually quite dry environments where water is a really precious resource, compost is something that we should all be adding regularly, at least once a year, ideally every growing season, back into your vegetable beds or your growing beds. I do want to delineate here that compost is not fertilizer. Fertilizer is meant to replace missing links in your plant's diet. Think about vitamins, right? Compost has the whole spectrum of nutrients, it's more of a, I would say, general multivitamin, whereas fertilizers can replace one or two or three missing links. The third dimension of why the benefit of composting, I like to say it's economic. So you know, if you're not a believer in the environmental climate change issues, well, let's think about your wallet, okay? Us Texans love our perfect green grass, our perfect looking yards, and we're willing to spend a lot of money on yard services, trimming services. If you're regularly applying compost to your urban space, I'd like to make the argument that you're actually gonna save money because you're not necessarily going to need as much, or hardly ever, those fertilizers, those expensive services. You're gonna be saving on the cost of your water, you're gonna be saving on the cost of your fertilizers, so if you're just a total pragmatist, I would argue with you on an economic standpoint that utilizing compost in your landscape will save you money. So those are some of the why's. All right, I want to pause here and show you this slide, it's issued by the USDA, and it's called the soil food web, and the point of this slide is illustrative that there is a whole universe beneath our feet, and you know, culturally and historically in America, we have been fascinated with space exploration, and I'd like to think that we have perhaps underestimated and neglected the exploration of the soil and the universe beneath our feet. Some of the players on this stage can be seen with our eyes, you know, the bugs, the birds, animals, worms, some of these things are microscopic, the fungi and the bacteria, and so – oh, good to see that poll, all right, awesome, so most of you have already composted, that's great. Check out the soil food web, there's a ton of cool new research being done about microbes and microbial communication. You know, there's so much emphasis right now on our gut bacteria and the health of our guts, same thing is happening with soil health and that research is really powerful, understanding how important our soil health is. Healthy soil makes healthy plants, and healthy plants makes healthy food that can make healthy people, so check out the soil food web, and if you have kids at home, it's good fun to let them go out in the backyard and play around with these guys. In fact, I have a 5-year-old and that's part of our adventures outside is you know, welcoming these creatures, and there was another poll question that I submitted to you all, and that is, are bugs in your compost a good thing? I guess I sort of answered that question, but it comes up a lot when I teach this class, is people ask me, okay, I have roaches in here, I have pill bugs and whatnot, or ants, and so I'd like to know if you guys think that is a good thing or not, based on what I've just told you. Okay, how is compost made? I'm sure most of you like to cook or have cooked at home, so I like to make the analogy of cooking when you think about making compost and that construct of a recipe. There are four main ingredients that go into making compost. If you remember anything from this presentation, I would ask you to remember these four items, and they are brown things, green things, air, and water, ok? Brown stuff, green stuff, air, and water. We're gonna dive into that a bit more. The brown stuff are carbon sources, things like leaves, pine needles, dried plants, hay, wood chips, shredded paper are carbon sources. Yes, you all agreed that you should have bugs in your compost, I'm so glad. Yes, bugs are our friends, they are nature's decomposers, so thank you for responding to that survey. You know, carbon is probably the biggest, largest quantity of item that you want in your compost, and we're gonna talk about that ratio here in a minute, but I would like to challenge you to think about is saving your carbon sources if you want to compost at home for use throughout the year. It drives me crazy to see bags of leaves on the curb, because during the summertime you know, you might need those brown leaves for your compost, and in fact, in the summertime, because I used all my leaves, I actually use shredded paper from my shredder, cardboard bags, paper bags from Whole Foods or any of your grocery stores are another carbon source. So think about utilizing everything around you as resources, whether it's out in your yard or in your kitchen. All right, the first ingredient, carbon sources, the brown stuff. The second ingredient is the green stuff, all right? That's a nitrogen source. Food scraps are generally represented as nitrogen sources, grass clippings, fresh living plants, manure and coffee grinds – even though they're in the brown color – are considered a nitrogen source. On the righthand side of this picture, you're gonna see a bucket of really gorgeous looking food that's probably still edible, but that we compost in our Turn residential composting program. All right, so even if your food is rotting, it can still – and it's already decomposing – still go into your compost, so second ingredient, nitrogen sources. I want to talk about food scraps a little bit more, because if you're wanting to compost at home, there's a general dos and don'ts list. Take a second to look through the top portion here, raw fruits and veggie scraps are probably a no brainer, egg shells, beans, nuts and seeds, coffee grinds, filters, tea bags, I compost breads, grains, pastas and crackers at my house because I have a 5-year-old, we have a lot of snacks going on, and all that stuff is composted if it's not fed to my chickens. General no's are meats, fish, dairy, bones, liquids, fats and oils. It goes without saying you don't want to compost your glass, metal and plastics, okay? The reason why you don't want to do these other items, generally speaking, is just because it can create an unwanted odor and attract unwanted visitors, all right? We're gonna talk at the very end of this presentation about a couple ways that you can go completely zero waste in your kitchen and compost these things, but if you wanna compost outside using a container or a heap or something that's not covered, you're gonna want to really try to generally avoid these things, and same thing for pet waste and litter. Had a lot of questions about that. It's a general no-no, especially if you're using your compost to grow vegetables, reason being you know, the vaccinations and the medicines that we give our pets will come out, so general rule of thumb, I like to say, is if you're making compost for your edible landscape to feed your family, don't put your pet waste in there, all right? So this is a general dos and don'ts. All right, so we talked about the carbon sources, the brown stuff, the green stuff are nitrogen sources. Water is, of course, essential, and whenever you're adding organic materials to your compost, it's a general rule of thumb to go ahead and just wet that layer, something to keep in mind when you're thinking about where to start your compost pile, be sure you have access to water. You want to keep your compost moist like a sponge, but not like a wet towel. This is actually industry standard from the U.S. Composting Council and commercial facilities, that the optimum moisture range is 45% to 60%. You know, we talked about the soil food web and those microbes, and so water is required by those players in the universe for decomposition to start, okay? So you have to keep your compost moist. Fourth final ingredient is oxygen, air. Maintaining a well-oxygenated pile will reduce foul odors, the more you turn your pile, generally speaking, the faster it's going to break down, it will speed up the decomposition rate, and another factor here that's interesting is that the smaller the materials are going into your pile, the faster the decomposition rate will happen, the reason is because you have more surface area on those items, so if you wanna make compost faster at home and you have spare time to chop up your broccoli into smaller pieces before you throw it on your pile, that's gonna help it produce faster, compost. Same thing with the paper, same thing with your leaves, okay? If you have a leaf shredder and you shred those babies, it's just gonna make it start to cook faster, right? So the fourth ingredient is air. Now I need to stop here and talk a little bit about the quantity and quality of these four ingredients. There is a theory that you need to have a space for all of this matter that's at least three feet tall by three feet in diameter, some people will say four feet, but general rule of thumb there on why that is is because it's sort of the optimum starting point for mass, for the cooking process to start to happen, and we'll talk in a second about different shapes of compost piles and you know, containers that you can do. Again, every time you add in a layer of something, be sure you can moisten it. If you can mix it up, that's great, that's ideal. Pitchfork, shovel, whatever you have on hand, that will speed up decomposition. This last point is actually really critical, and it's called the carbon to nitrogen ratio, all right, C:N ratio. Now remember, the carbon are the brown sources and the green are the nitrogen sources, the ideal ratio for those things to break down and start the magic and the party to happen is actually 30:1, so you need to have a lot of browns to complement your food scraps, and that's why I tell people, even if you have to be that crazy lady like me that gets my neighbors' bags of leaves and puts them in my side yard, do it, okay? Because you need a constant supply of carbon to offset that nitrogen, and you'll see on the righthand side here if I move my picture about the optimal temperatures that happen when those ratios are applied, all right? Now, do you need to measure it out you know, with a cup or whatever of how much you're putting in? No, don't worry about that. I just try to tell people, add as much brown material as you can, okay? I don't go so far as to measure any of the things that I put in my compost pile, I just keep adding the browns whenever I can. All right, a quick comment on temperature. Generally speaking, the hotter the pile, the faster the decomposition. The ideal range is between 140 and 150 degrees, however, if it gets too hot, you can actually kill those good microbes that we saw in the soil food web picture, right? And then the rate of composting will slow. Some of you may want to compost your weeds and flowers and worry about, oh my gosh, are these things gonna be popping up all over my yard when I apply the compost? Just be sure you get it hot enough, above 130, that those things are going to be nuked. Now, you can buy a compost thermometer from a local nursery if you want and keep a log of the temperatures, I don't do that personally but it is something you can do if you really want to become scientific about it. Just a quick little story about how hot the piles can get, and on one of our community composting sites, we will harvest twice a year for our customers and we usually harvest once in late winter, early spring, when it's still cold outside, but the middle of our piles will be hot to the touch, so everybody in our team, even though we're bundled up in jackets and coats and hats, you have to be careful, it's like touching a hot skillet in the oven. I attended national training with the U.S. Composting Council, and the classmate sitting next to me was from Vancouver, British Columbia, and of course, they have subzero freezing temperatures up there, and at his facility, their piles were so hot, he said, that even though they were covered in ice, they were cooking inside and they actually had a fire start inside their piles, even though it had ice and frost on it. So it's a little bit mind blowing to think about the action and the heat and activity that's happening inside of the composting process. Okay.

[Georgeann Moss]:  This is Georgeann, I have a question.

[Lauren Clarke]:  Yes?

[Georgeann Moss]:  I have heard of compost piles catching on fire, how common is that and what do you need to do to avoid that?

[Lauren Clarke]:  That's a great question, and it has to do with the mass of materials, so it happens in commercial facilities because their piles are way too high and they've created too much mass, so it can do with the size of your pile, it can also do with lack of moisture and it not being wet enough, it can also be a factor of not turning it, which can cool it down. If you think about like putting, you know, a can of soup in the microwave and it's way too hot, one of the fastest ways to cool it down is to stir it up, right? So it could be a matter of also not giving it enough oxygen, so those are three general things. I haven't heard of a lot of people that I've talked to that have compost fires at their house, but it certainly can happen. Did that answer your question?

[Georgeann Moss]:  Yes, thank you.

[Lauren Clarke]:  Sure. All right, so when is it ready? You've done all this hard work, right, how do you know when it's ready? Well I'm a pragmatist, even though I've had a lot of training on this, I still use this at home, use your five senses, okay? It should be a dark brown color, much like regular soil, it should smell earthy, should have a loose, crumbly texture and feel, the mass will have likely shrunk to 1/3 of its original volume, the timeliness of how quickly it all happens all is based on the factors of those four ingredients that we talked about, okay. You can also get a lab test as an option, but that's not necessary. If you've never composted before and you wanna know what your soil is like in your backyard, you can get a pH test at your local nursery, or you can utilize the Texas A&M soil laboratory to get a report, and I highly recommend that. We get our compost tested with them and we also use a couple of the industry tests. This picture right here is actually our finished compost with Turn, and it came from all the leaves and the food waste and stuff that you saw earlier, and we've had great test results with it using very rudimentary methods, which we're gonna talk about in a second. So when is it ready? Best recommendation is use your five senses, and if you're worried about it after that, then you can try to troubleshoot and see what you think is going wrong. How can you use compost in your yard?

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]: Lauren, we have a quick question before you move on.

[Lauren Clarke]:  Yes.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  Jasmine was wondering, she says she usually forgets to turn her compost, so if she buys red wigglers to do the work, is that okay?

[Lauren Clarke]:  Oh yeah, that's great. I mean if you want to add – and we'll talk about vermicomposting in a second, but that's a great way to let these wonderful creatures do the mixing for you, if you want to inoculate your pile with red wigglers that will be fine. We didn't really talk about inoculation, but some people will say oh, you need to have a starter to get your compost cooking. You can buy those things at a nursery, you can buy molasses, which is sometimes used as an inoculation tool, however, all of that's not necessary. To get your pile cooking, you have those four main ingredients, and if you just add a little bit of finished compost to your pile, that's gonna get it cooking. But great question about the red wigglers, I mean those guys are wonderful, and there's several different types of composting worms, we'll talk about that in just a little bit. Thank you Jasmine, for that question. Okay, so where can you use compost? I flip that question on its head and say, where can you not use compost? Because there is literally nothing that it can't be applied to in your urban space. Use it as mulch, use it as seed cover, top dressing, add a little bit to your plants that are hurting, some of your shrubs. You can apply compost on your turf, on your sod, and that's wonderful. I do that regularly because I always have problem spots throughout the growing seasons. Just be careful when you're doing that, that it's a very thin layer of compost. You don't do it when the temperatures are too extreme, too cold or too hot, and then the other thing is, if you have a pair of soccer cleats or a pitchfork, you're gonna wanna try to aerate that turf, your grass, before applying the compost to avoid thatching, to basically just avoid a lot of like tangled hair effect with your grass. So you can use compost everywhere, even on your houseplants. All right, so I'm gonna pause right here because we kinda got done with the science-y portion of how composting works and how it's made, does anyone have any questions about anything I just referred to before we dive into methodologies?

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  Erica was asking, in what instance would you recommend a lab test?

[Lauren Clarke]:  That's a good question. I really try to delineate the importance of the quality of my compost based on its usage. So I love gardening, my backyard is edible gardening, I feed my family with the plants that we grow, so if I were to be really concerned about what's in there and are there any negative materials, that's probably when I would do it. If it's an ornamental plant, hydrangeas, something like that that's not super expensive, I wouldn't worry about a lab test. If you're applying compost and you see your plant start to suffer, then there might be something wrong in there, that's another possible scenario where you might want to get it tested. You know, commercially speaking, they test compost at major facilities for the presence of pathogens and then the presence of fecal matter, which sounds bizarre, but you know, if you're using manure from a farm where they have fertilizers and the horses are eating the fertilized grass, and their manure is used to make the compost, that could be a problem. So those are some sort of scenarios when you might wanna think about using a test. Was there another question? I thought I saw one pop up.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  No, that was the last question I had.

[Lauren Clarke]:  All right, so the next point I make is definitely gonna get more and more interesting, I like to start with the most boring ways and methods to do composting at home, and end with a grand finale of probably the most cringe-y, disgusting ways, so okay, here we go. Ways to compost, this may seem so, so obvious, but I actually learned this in my training with Texas A&M. There's this idea of walkway composting, and that is literally putting those leaves, putting those branches in parts of your urban space where you often walk, and the process of you walking on them is going to help them start to decompose, and then by the end of that season, after you've had some rain and snow, that organic matter is going to be beautifully sort of decomposed so that it's ready to put back in your garden. I have an area that I walk in my side yard and it has a couple of trees, and I just scoop the leaves in the middle, and again, I just keep walking through it, and then I use that to put back in some of my front yard bed every year. So obvious method here, walkway composting. Think about the forest, okay? The forest is floor, you don't see the National Park Service importing compost to the forest, okay? Nature is meant to do these things on its own, so think about that and think about your urban space, and letting these things break down naturally. Sheet composting, okay. So this is a very simple method, and the idea here is, whenever you cut your grass and you have an extra bit of it, or you are raking a couple bags of leaves, just add those items back into your garden or landscaping beds. You are just adding another organic matter to your soil that's going to break down and attract those microbes and those good guys in the soil food web. This is sometimes called the lasagna method of composting, if you think about the different layers of lasagna. This is a picture of one of the vegetable beds in my backyard, you'll see some leaves in there, we pruned the peach trees, I think there's a dead flower arrangement on the bottom. Okay, so I literally put all this stuff in here in the winter, and then I cover it with some soil and compost in the springtime and it just adds another beautiful layer, and here's what it looks like during one of the growing seasons, and so for me, like I don't really care what it looks like during the winter, what people think about it aesthetically, because I know that I'm adding the good stuff back to the soil. All right, so that is called sheet composting. This is another old school, old school method, and it is literally digging a hole and burying your scraps, and it's called a compost pocket. The idea here is that again, you're just adding another organic infusion of materials to the soil over whatever you're growing. I've done this at home, because I don't tell anybody anything that I haven't tried myself personally, and actually I do this regularly because I have three trees in my backyard, so sometimes I'll dig a hole and just do a little compost pocket between the trees because they produce a lot of fruit. I will say, please be careful to dig the hole deep enough to not attract other animals or rodents. We have a really lovely frisky cocker spaniel who, when I did not bury it deep enough once, found it right away and it was a big hot mess, so please be sure if you're gonna do a compost pocket that you bury the scraps deep enough. All right, heap method is probably the classic method that you've heard about your grandmother using, there's two different ways you can do this, one is the slow way and the other way is the fast way. So the lefthand side here is a heap or a pile, this is at one of our community composting sites and we've got – you can see little bits of eggshells and green stuff and we've got mulch and grass, that's a static method, and if we just turn that occasionally, which we turn it once a week at least, you will have finished compost in about six months. If you want compost faster, there's this method called the Windrow method, and that is what commercial composting facilities use, and there's Windrow machines that basically are constantly turning these heaps of compost, and that of course helps it to break down faster, and that can be creating finished compost in about three months. I want to be sure I didn't miss something, and I don't think I did. All right, so heap method, you've got the slow method and you've got the fast method. This is probably the most common thing that you'll wanna think about in your yard is having some sort of container. For those of you who live in a house, there's so many different ways that you can get creative to have a compost pile. The first two images are landscaping wire and fencing, that's me doing a glamour shot next to my pile at U.S. Compost Council training. They split us up into groups and we had a competition over the course of a week with different recipes to see who could make the hottest pile the fastest over the week. You can, if you're big into up-cycling, use some pallets, you know. Deconstruct those babies and build your own square, your pile. You're gonna see on the righthand side, a thing called a tumbler, which is really heavily promoted in landscaping stores. This is the one in my backyard actually. I'm not a huge fan of this method as a composting way, just because I don't know how much oxygen is getting in there, moisture, I can't see it, so I prefer actually the more old school method. But compost tumbler, if you're really worried about animals, rodents, whatever getting to your pile, this is totally a valid way to compost at home. Okay, I like to share this picture, this is another container method, this is a square one, it's called a shepherd's bin, I think I paid $40 for it. What I like about this, and you can see, there's pine needles and stuff, is each of the corners, you can pull up a stake and basically take off one of those sides and dig out the finished compost from underneath it and use it and then mix it up a little bit. This is probably my absolute favorite container to use, and it's funny because this year, I had the most amazing acorn squash that grew out of it and I had six acorns, and of course we ate all of them, and they were amazing. I've never been able to successfully grow acorn squash in my garden, but it was a gift from the compost gods, and you know, there's another added benefit. And yes, it's okay to eat food that's grown from your compost. This is another picture of one of the compost piles in my side yard, and this is a chicken wire cylindrical container, it was $5 from ACE Hardware and some wire cutters, and then I just clipped the ends and hooked them, and I keep adding extra leaves and extra things that come from my side yard or from the chicken coop, and it just keeps sinking down, it just keeps decomposing. What's pretty cool about this is, to the question of the lady earlier about worms, a couple weeks ago I kinda scraped the top of it and there are worms and bugs at the very top of this container, which is pretty cool. They basically have traveled from underground and are just having like a little fiesta party inside this cylindrical compost method. So you don't have to be expensive or do anything crazy complicated to do composting at home, you can use very simple techniques and very inexpensive materials to get the job done. All right, compost is a worm buffet, yes it is, Jasmine. I love talking about Hügelkultur, it is in a very basic way, utilizing decaying wood to create a growing space and to create compost. This is sort of a centuries old technique, it's used in all parts of the world, especially where water is a major resource issue, and the concept here is to try to start with the bigger pieces of wood, downed limbs from a storm, and then layer them with the smaller pieces on top, cover it with brushes and twigs, leaves and grass, composting soil, you can actually create a vegetable growing space this way, and you'll see that picture in the center is some vegetable growing beds, the righthand side is my own Hügel bed and the starting of one. I used Christmas trees, I used lots of wood after a storm, leaves, now it's gorgeous, it has blackberries and asparagus and herbs and lettuces growing all over it, and I need to update this to include that picture, but think about all the downed wood that we have after our big Dallas storms, why don't you get creative and try to do something with that? The decaying wood releases moisture and nutrients over time, so that's the power of what happens with Hügelkultur, and a little translation of that is the pathway of the forest. Okay, I told you we're gonna get more and more disgusting as we went on the continuum here. Worms are a great way to compost, and that methodology is called vermicomposting. This is so great for those of you who might be in an apartment or a condo where space is limited. Now, be sure you get the right worms, okay? Red wiggler worms are probably the most commonly utilized composting worms, you can order them on Amazon and get them like in one day, if you live in Dallas, on Amazon Prime, okay? You can also purchase them from a wonderful local organization called Texas Worm Ranch, and Heather Rinaldi is a pioneer in vermicomposting across the United States, she has an amazing organization. If you're interested in learning more about vermicomposting, I would highly recommend taking one of her classes. The idea here is that the worms eat your food scraps, and their castings, or their excrement, creates a valuable soil amendment called worm castings. You can do it very basic with a Rubbermaid container, drill some holes in the side, get some shredded paper, moist shredded paper, get your red wigglers in there –

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  Actually, you know what? I'm gonna do the third polling question, this is asking what are the four main ingredients of a compost pile? So she'd covered this a little while ago, I was waiting to make sure that you guys got that information and were synthesizing it, so we'll go ahead and ask that now. So there are four main ingredients to a compost pile, if you could just fill that in, and then hopefully we'll have that ready for Lauren when she gets back. Okay, so how do those look? Well actually, I can't see the results, so I hope you guys had 'em all right. Put into the chat, I can turn the poll on and I can turn it off, but I can't see the results, so if you will just put into the chat, first person, what are the four ingredients that you put into a compost pile? Carbon, nitrogen...Timothy, nicely done, you were paying attention, and you know actually, when I talk about this topic, I add a fifth ingredient, and it's time, so you've got your carbon and your nitrogen, your water and your air, and then you need the time for it to turn into a soil amendment, for all the microbes to do their thing and get jamming and get it heated up, and then when it cools down, that's when you know that all the microbes have run out of air and water. They've eaten it up, they've jammed and partied and had a great time, and now they've used up the air and the water, so now we need to add it back in, and that's when you turn your compost pile. So when you turn it, one of the questions was, how do you turn a chicken wire bin? Well, what really helps is if you have a bin that you can lift up off of your compost pile and set it next to it, so and then you turn the compost into the newly empty bin, and it's really a two person job, you need somebody to turn it and shake apart the materials so that you're adding the air in, and then you have to have somebody else adding the water. So yeah, so if you store compost in the winter for a garden in the summer, will it dry out? It shouldn't dry out, as long as you put it into an airtight container. You'll need to sift it, though, because what you end up with when you're finished composting is really mulch, so if you want the compost like what you buy in a bag in a store, you're gonna have to filter that out. You could do something as simple as getting an old screen, like a window screen, and putting it over top of a wheelbarrow or a container, and just sifting the smallest portions out, so and then if you put that into an airtight container it should be fine. You might want to add a couple of air holes just to keep any kind of anaerobic thing happening with it, but yeah, it should be fine, and compost is – it's not a fertilizer, it is a soil amendment, so no, fertilizer is not needed unless you use an organic fertilizer, but using organic compost really absolves you of ever having to use the nasty chemical fertilizers, that kind of – it kills off all the bugs when you add the poisonous fertilizers with all the chemicals in it, so you don't wanna do that. You want to do strictly organic, fire all of your guys who come by and spray the chemicals and put the little sign in your yard, you want to just go completely organic 'cause you want all of those beneficial bugs in your soil that creates great soil health, and then just adding the soil amendment of the compost with it really strengthens your soil, and the more bugs you find in your soil, especially worms, you know that you have really, really healthy soil. There any other – I think we're still waiting on Lauren to reconnect, so yes, compost is a worm buffet, absolutely. So I think that Lauren was just getting ready to talk about vermicomposting, which is the composting using your food scraps in a bin of worms, which is not for everybody, I get that, but they are the best roommates you could ever wanna have in your house, or houseguests, because they don't party, they don't make noise, as long as you don't put anything in there that's weird, it's not gonna smell bad, and you're going to have really excellent compost that you don't need to sift, that you can actually use immediately after you harvest it. So vermicomposting is incredible, it is like gold, and the great thing about it – so there's a good and a bad, a great thing is, it's so high in nitrogen that you don't need to use very much for your house, you know, to dress your houseplants or to add – the bad thing is that it's so high in nitrogen that it will burn the stock of any green things that you're putting it around, so make sure you use it in small quantities and that you don't let it touch the stalk of your plants, 'cause it will burn your plants because it is so extraordinarily high in nitrogen. So Lacy asks, when you're using paper, is the ink a problem? No, absolutely not. What you do want to do, though, is shred your paper. If you take a newspaper, for those of us who still take a newspaper, you can't just throw it in your compost bin. The trick is to make the pieces as small as possible and that speeds up the composting, method of composting sequence. So the more area that you have, the smaller the bits, the faster the microbes can decompose those materials. So no, the ink is not a problem at all, but you really just need to shred that paper. When is it too late to start, considering the upcoming cool weather? I don't understand the question. You can compost at any time, the weather does not matter, the sunshine does not matter, you can compost at any time at all, and Lauren had talked about you know, that compost piles covered with ice will still give off heat, and that is absolutely true. I have had compost piles in my backyard that just a couple of days after initially building it, I knew it was working because it was December, we had a cold snap, and it was like 28 degrees and I walked outside and there was steam coming off of my compost pile, so that really doesn't have any bearing on the situation. Yes, Georgeann, do we have –

[Georgeann Moss]:  Thank you so much for filling in, Lauren told me that she's back on the call but I'm not seeing her, and so I'm wondering if she – does she need to have her role changed? Is she in the attendees? Okay, she's talking again, all right, I'm gonna go back on mute and try to call her.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:  Okay, does anybody else have any questions? We have about five minutes left, so we're just gonna keep this going, any other questions or chats? Yeah, Nancy, absolutely, carbon, nitrogen, water and air, you got it. Let's see, I don't see anything else. Brown stuff, green stuff, air and water, yes, you've gotta have the nitrogen and the carbon, absolutely. So back to the worm bin, what you wanna use is you wanna use the pre-consumer scraps, you don't wanna put anything in there that's from a dinner plate because of the contamination issue. So the rule of thumb is there are five things you cannot put into your worm bin, foods you cannot put, meat, bones, oils, sauces or dairy, So just start out with a bunch of shredded paper that's moist, not soaking wet, but just moist, damp, add your food scraps – add your worms first – put your bedding over top of them, pull back your bedding, add your food, put the bedding back over it, and the worms just do the rest. They will absolutely devour everything that you put in there. When it comes to harvesting the material, I've read several books and tried many methods on how to do that, it is not easy, so I always take the easy way out when it comes to harvesting worm castings and I just take everything, I take out half of the materials, and if the worms are in it, that's fine because the worms will do great in your lawn, so you just add all of those materials anywhere you need to in your yard and the red wigglers will do fine. It doesn't work the other way around with earthworms, 'cause earthworms eat dirt, they don't eat organic material, but the red wigglers will eat the organic material in your soil. So is there a specific order – Mina, Minu? - a specific order for what? For layering the bin or – always do it in layers, you always start with carbon on the bottom, but here's the funny thing, we always say that and that's what I've been taught in all of my classes, but as you're adding stuff in the bin and you're mixing up everything to add the air and the water, everything gets mixed up anyway. So yes, the standard answer is always start with carbon on the bottom, and layer it, but all your layers are gonna get all mixed up. Oh, but I do wanna mention one thing. So if you don't have a nitrogen source, I'm kind of adverse to putting food scraps in my compost pile outside, especially because of the things that can go wrong with it, you can use cottonseed meal, so you can go to a feed store, get a 50lb bag, and use three small coffee cans' worth of cottonseed meal for every layer of nitrogen. So if you do that, because it has no mass, you'll need twice as much carbon, but it will still heat up and increase. So I'm so sorry that we lost Lauren, but thank you for sticking around. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to let us know, we will be making this available, and so yes, Minu, so you were asking about layering the bin, yes, so it's carbon, nitrogen, carbon, nitrogen, but they're all gonna get mixed up anyways. So thank you guys – oh, there she is.

[Georgeann Moss]:  There she is, fabulous.

[Lori Delacruz Lewis]:​ Yay.

[Georgeann Moss]:  So if you will unmute yourself and if you will go ahead, and I know that we only have one minute left, but I really want you to quickly be able to tell people about your services, and as you know, Laurie has tremendous composting knowledge and so she has been filling in while we've been trying to get you back on, so thank you for your perseverance.

[Lauren Clarke]:  I'm so sorry about that everybody, I don't know what happened, but thank you for being here today, [audio malfunction] more information on composting, we actually do classes all the time very similar to this and so we'd love to hear from you. Thank you again for your hospitality, Georgeann, Dallas College, and EarthX.

[Georgeann Moss]:  And also, be sure and let them know that you will send them your PowerPoint presentation.

[Lauren Clarke]:  Yes, if you want my PowerPoint presentation, I'm gonna send my email, it's lauren@turncompost.com.

[Georgeann Moss]:  All right, and so Laurie, if you'll put that in the chat, I'll go ahead and tell everyone that again, this webinar will be posted on our website in about two weeks, please fill out the evaluation when it pops up, and Lauren will send you her PowerPoint presentation, and next week our webinar is gonna be by our own Laurie De La Cruz, who has filled in this afternoon for Lauren, and she will be speaking on citizen science for everyone while social distancing, and so it's a really cool concept if you haven't heard about it, it's a way for people to literally go out into the community and catalog things that then get uploaded into the scientific community so that they have more data to work with. So thank you all for joining us, and we hope to see you next week. Bye bye.

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