Vermicomposting Update!

This week was our last class meeting before presenting our projects. Hannah, Briana, Megan and myself (Erika) just met to finalize certain aspects of our project concerning vermicomposting. We put all of our information into one power point. We plan on meeting one more time before our final presentation.

 

While researching vermicomposting, Hannah and I found a unique video that explains how to create and maintain a vermicomposting bin in your home or apartment. I’m sharing this video in case anyone is interested!

 

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Tuesday we talked about the actual size of the operation we were looking at, we got some numbers so we should be able to tackle the project with a little more information on what we are dealing with now. Clemson gets about 36,000 llbs per month of food waste,  so our idea would be to use 3 different methods to tackle all of the waste,  our standard pile of compost method, the vermicompost beds, and *possibly* the dehydrating/composting thing from IWS that we are currently testing out at Clemson house.  The dehydrator may take some stress off of the in-vessel unit, but because it only deals with food waste, the salt content of the products is extremely high and makes the compost practically unusable.  Unless the material was heavily diluted and allowed to further decompose with organic material like cuttings and wood, the product would be worthless.  Though vermicomposting is slow, it is faster than traditional composting, and the products are much more valuable. I think it would be worthwhile. I actually read a research paper on vermicomposting vs. traditional composting, and the results were pretty impressive. I would skim over it just to get the gist, it was pretty interesting.

here is the link:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10889860802690513#.Uo44LsSkp8F

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Composting in a greenhouse?

So i was having trouble logging in when i was supposed to do an entry earlier, but better late than never!

A couple weeks ago i was looking for ways to (efficently) keep worms alive and active during winter, i came across this article about one lady’s method for vermicomposting. I would definitely recommend reading/ skimming/ or even just looking at the pictures in this article. I love that this method could be kept at a relatively small scale, or expanded to a larger scale operation. I found this article before we went to the airport for the tour, but looking at both systems gives a good perspective on how we could use methods from each system to make our own. 

When we toured, the lady at the airport (whose name i forgot…)  asked if we had an empty building that we could keep the vermicomposting bins in, unfortunately we don’t have empty heated buildings to keep dirt and worms in at our disposal,  BUT what if we made a greenhouse to keep them in? That’s where the article comes in, they put their worms in a greenhouse to keep then warm in the winter, however they keep their compost below ground in concrete lined boxes to ensure the worms don’t over heat. These boxes are have lids divided in two 4 foot panels, They harvest the compost by luring the worms to the opposite side of the box with fresh food, once the worms migrate to the fresher side they collect the abandoned nutrient-rich castings. 

The harvesting at the airport seems much simpler and less tedious, im still trying to wrap my head around a way that would encompass the best of both worlds. The greenhouse is ideal because it uses passive energy in the winter and wouldn’t cost too much for upkeep. Perhaps a greenhouse with removable panels

Something to ponder.

im a very hands on, DIY sort of person, so the thought of buying bins like we saw at the airport, or buying a greenhouse makes me cringe, i think it would be fairly simple to construct our own system, first as a small scale prototype then maybe expanding if we succeed. 

-Briana Cairco

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Field Trip Followup

After visiting the Charlotte Airport’s fantastic vermicomposting set-up and speaking with the extremely knowledgeable owner of Go Green, it is easier to see how Clemson could implement its own program!  Though the airport bought ready-made worm bins, it would be cheaper for Clemson to build its own, and homemade bins would be just as good as manufactured ones.  We would probably want to build our bins out of wood.  They would need to be between one and one-and-a-half feet deep with a tight mesh grate across the bottoms, through which the castings will be able to filter.  The worm bins at the airport were very long–maybe fifteen to twenty feet long.  It would probably be easier for Clemson to make smaller bins, between three and five feet long, and probably no more than two feet across.  The trickiest part of the construction is creating a mechanism that will scrape the castings down from the mesh bottom of the bins.  Go Green’s owner suggested a sharpened blade attached to a rope.  The bins will need to be set upon legs, and then comes the fun part!

The bins will require around one pound of worms per square foot, and these worms will require a bedding of newspaper and semi-processed compost to keep them happy.  The worms at the Charlotte Airport eat the compost right out of the in-vessel composter, so we could do the same thing with our worms.  We could also sprinkle pre-consumer food directly on top of the worm beds, and they like coffee grounds too!  About 1 inch of compost should be added to the bins each week.  Any more than that, and the worms won’t be able to eat it fast enough.

One of the neatest ideas we got from Go Green’s owner was in regard to heating the worm bins in cold weather: she puts space heaters under her worm bins and covers the tops of the bins with a tarp to keep in the heat.  Simple, yet effective.

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Field Trip!

This week in composting we discussed our time lines for our final project. We were also informed of the upcoming field trip on Friday (October 25, 2013) to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport Composting Facility to learn about vermicomposting on a large scale.

I did some research on the facility and found out that the facility is a $1.1 million recycling facility.  The facility also focuses on vermicomposting, and holds 300 pounds of worms in an 8,000 square foot bin. Each day, compostable items are collected and loaded into a pre-composter. The pre-composter then breaks the materials down in order for the worms to easily digest the material. It then loads the material into the vermicomposting system. The worm’s castings are then used to fertilize the facility’s land. If the castings are not used at the airport they can be packed and sold. Overall, the composting facility is designed to process two tons of waste a day. The airport has reduced the trash it sends to the landfill by 70 percent. The composting program has created new jobs and is expected to save the airport a ton of money in waste disposal costs.

I am looking forward to learning more about the vermicomposting program due to my groups project focusing on bringing a vermicomposting program to Clemson. 

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Compostable Dining Halls?

Last week during our meeting we had a visitor come talk about the idea of using compostable dining ware, cups, and plates in the Clemson House dining facility. It was interesting to hear all of the goals of the dining department at Clemson and very cool to hear about how much is being composted from campus each day. It turns out that Clemson is not the only university that is trying to compost in all of its dining halls, however. After a little research I learned that universities like Yale, Kansas State, Boston, The University of Virginia, and many more have also been trying to implement a composting program over the last couple of years. I looked at what kind of composting programs are in place for our state’s universities and found this pretty informative article from MUSC. (http://www.musc.edu/vpfa/eandf/sustainability/compost.htm) Yay for composting!

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We like Worms!

Briana, Erika and I (Hannah Spencer) are going to start investigating vermicomposting and how it might fit in to Clemson’s composting facilities.  The stuff people do with worms is really cool!  After some preliminary research, it seems to me that most large-scale commercial vermicomposting ventures focus on manure–worms love manure.  But there are also several inspiring examples I have found of people using worms to take care of kitchen scraps, which is more along the lines of what we’d want to do here at Clemson.  For instance, a man named Mark Yelken (“The Worm Guy”) of Washington state started a vermicomposting business after realizing that all of the landfill space on his home island had been completely filled up.  That meant that every scrap of waste the people of the island produced had to be hauled away and put into somebody else’s landfill.  So to combat this inefficient and unsustainable use of resources, Mr. Yelken began distributing buckets to his neighbors.  They brought him their food scraps and he mixed it with a little manure donated from local organic horse farms.  The result was a beautiful, nutritious, locally sourced, organic fertilizer that became very popular very fast.

I like this example because Mr. Yelken didn’t have any superb facilities at his disposal, or even necessarily much money; he simply saw a problem, and used a little extra land, some worms, and a few plastic buckets to try and solve it.  Of course, he had to eventually acquire some machinery, but I was surprised at how small and simple the contraptions were.  His process is simple and effective, kept afloat by neighborly participation and a lot of legwork on Mr. Yelken’s part.  I think that our project should, like Mr. Yelken, start small and think big, looking to utilize as much as possible the resources already in place to create something new (and wormy) at Clemson.

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Fall Projects

This week the composting group discussed ideas for fall projects. While the ideas have not yet been finalized, there are two emerging projects: an expansion of the vermicomposting project and a comparison of different commercially-available compostable products to see which is best-suited for Clemson’s facilities. One issue with expanding the vermicomposting section of the facility deals with the worms involved in the process, which go dormant (experiencing diapause) in cold temperatures, therefore to maintain this type of composting during cold weather, some sort of shelter and heat source is required. The comparison of compostable products, such as cups and utensils, would hopefully be used to determine which products would be used in future events on Clemson’s campus. We are all looking forward to getting to work!

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Zero-Waste Orientation

Hey composters!

Every summer we have hundreds of freshmen come through campus for Orientation. This summer was extra special since all the Orientations were zero-waste! All of the materials – forks, spoons, knives, plates, napkins, and cups – were compostable! We worked with Clemson Home to get this initiative going, and we are very pleased with the results. Initially, we worried about the utensils taking longer to break down, but it turns out the cups were the hardest thing to break down. For all of the July Orientation sessions, we composted 9620 lbs of materials! We are so grateful to have had this opportunity! We will also being collecting food waste from the Clemson House dining hall fulltime. With our efforts expanding, we feel like the sky is the limit for us to achieve new goals.

We also have our new group for the fall semester! We are excited to start projects and get the ball rolling once again!

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Food for Thought

Are you a Clemson Tiger in need of some sustainability guidance? Here is your guide:

http://www.clemson.edu/sustainability/resources/index.html

Maybe it’s just us, but we’re excited to find this resource on the Clemson web! It’s a wonderful thing to be able to access, so make sure you tell your fellow Tigers where it is. It’s not hard to be green, especially when you know where to look and what to do!

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