Of worms and compost

More people are looking at ways to create good, healthy soil for growing

Back when Mel Andersen started his composting business, All Things Organic, the only place in town that thought green was the farmers market on St. Paul Street.

"When we started, 20 years ago, Wal-Mart didn't even a natural section," said Andersen. "Now they are everywhere."

And so are Andersen's worm composting systems, which inhabit countless homes throughout North America. The reason, he believes, is a growing movement toward natural, healthy and self-sustain lifestyles.

Gardening is a big part of that movement, with people not only growing their own fruits, vegetables and flowers, but doing so in a way that doesn't use chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

That's where composting comes in. Breaking down yard and garden waste and coffee and tea grounds creates a healthy, natural soil that makes a perfect fertilizer.

"This makes soil like Mother Nature makes it over thousands of years," said Andersen. "This makes it faster."

Andersen turned to composting when he and his wife moved from Brocklehurst, where the soil is decent for growing, to Sahali, where he found the earth wanting.

The move coincided with the creation of All Things Organic. Andersen opted for worm-based composting because the worms quickly create the purest, most rich soil.

A worm factory is a multi-tray system that can be adjusted as needed. The bottom tray collects the worm castings that have broken down the household waste into organic soil. It can be emptied monthly as the worms consume the compost.

"All this happens from the gut to the butt," he said.

Worm castings have a high content of humic acid that is a natural soil glue vital to binding humus with mineral soil and helping to prevent it from being washed away.

Humic acid is also vital in making minerals and nutrients available to plant roots, he said. Humus is the top portion of soil that is alive and feeds plants. Mineral soil by itself is considered dead soil.

The middle trays are where the worms live and feed. The bigger the household, the more trays are needed. Andersen said the worms thrive within the space they are confined to. There will never be more worms living in the factory than necessary.

And, because the factories are stored indoors, composting continues year round as opposed to weather permitting, making it an efficient way to create soil, said Andersen.

Outdoor composting is the most common method. Shawn Ulmer, nursery manager at Art Knapp Garden Centre and Florist, said there's a variety of ways to go about it, from building piles in the corner of a garden to high-tech barrels that cost hundreds of dollars.

The barrels churn the compost, which is crucial to producing soil, she said. Otherwise, people need to stir the mix of garden and kitchen scraps in order to ensure efficient composting.

Turning the compost keeps it moist and breaks the material down quickly. Otherwise, it can take a year or more to create the nutrient rich soil, said Ulmer.

"If you don't (stir the pile) it gets hot and slows down," she said.

Ulmer recommends against putting any diseased yard scraps or anything sprayed with chemicals in the compost. It's also best to avoid meat, as it will attract rodents.

Most people with a vegetable garden will compost, but the activity is also becoming popular among first-time homeowners who are excited to start a garden, she said.

"There are a lot of people who have done composting."

Art Knapp sells compost bins, which cost anywhere from $80 to $300, she said.

To learn more about All Things Organic or inquire about worm composting, go online to www.allthingsorganic.com.

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