Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Apartment Waste: Thoughts & Challenges

I can't, in good conscience, throw "everything I don't want anymore" into the garbage. . . There's a language of trash; what is it, this stuff I no longer need?:
break it down....
food scraps
q tips
fabric softener
odds & ends
plastic bags
old/broken furniture
and more and more and more
Unneeded. Superfluous. Extra. Objects we need to make disappear and vanish. A diversion of responsibility. An easy answer: the garbage chute. We don't really have much of a choice. I use re-using, recycling and composting as ways to reduce my garbage output. If I want to compost as an apartment dweller I face certain challenges. Most apartments (mine was built in the 70's) provide ways to dispose of trash, via garbage chutes conveniently located on each floor, but that's where it ends in terms of services/facilities provided for disposing the waste we produce by living. Even recycling is a challenge. There is no separate chute for recycling in my building (it would be fantastic if there was!). Residents who wish to recycle must bring down their recycling from their units in the elevator to the back of the building where recycling bins are located. Many residents opt to leave their recyclables in the garbage chute room, expecting maintenance staff to do the actual recycling. I'm sure many residents don't recycle at all. Perhaps expanded recycling services in apartment buildings would change this. Our building does not encourage residents to recycle or compost. Twice a year a "Waste Watch" newsletter is distributed in apartment resident's mailboxes. The most recent issue encourages apartment residents in the city to recycle and to talk to building staff about adding more bins if the current ones are consistently full. Our building doesn't have that problem, but maybe that points to a lack of recycling.
Composting presents similar challenges to apartment dwellers. I am grateful that our building has a 3 compartment wooden composter located outside of it. I have not seen many around other apartment buildings. Like for recycling, residents must bring down any food waste they wish to compost. I don't mind, as in my mind recycling and composting takes effort that is well worth it in the end. I just wish recycling and composting weren't initiatives individual residents take on themselves, but responsibilities citizens must meet. Improved recycling and composting programs for apartments would help facilitate this movement. Vast structural changes in how our city manages, thinks about, talks about and deals with its waste are required to get citizens (especially apartment dwellers) to actively participate in the management of their own waste by providing accessible and easy to use facilities necessary to make such participation prevalent. At least most residential neighborhoods consisting of houses in Toronto have the Green Bin Program for food and other organic waste. A Green Bin Pilot Program for Multi-Unit Residents is occurring, and I hope it results in the spread of such programs to all apartment buildings in the city. Apartments can be green too. It's up to both the city and building managements to provide the equipment and facilities, and up to the residents to take the initiative to divert as much waste as possible from the garbage by both recycling and composting through provided facilities. Both go hand in and and require each other for success. I keep a certain amount of faith that people do honestly care about this stuff, that it's not just a hassle. When you think about your waste it forces you to think about your lifestyle, and the unusable by-products of it, and we need to do that more.
Although I am vermicomposting, I am finding that I am producing more food waste than I can feasibly feed to and keep around for the worms (at least for now since I'm building the worms up to eating more food). Thus, I continue to use the composter outside my building. I don't see many other residents using it, in fact the only other person I saw using it was a homeless man picking out food scraps I had placed in it. I also wonder if any one uses the compost produced from the bin. Who tends to it? Is it the city's bin or the apartment's? These are questions I need to look into further.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Seedlings Growing

Morning Glories





Mesclun Mix

Herb Mix

Cherry Tomato

Pomodoro Tomato

These photos were taken today while the plants were sunning on the balcony. So far everything seems to be growing pretty well. The cats got to the morning glories and chewed off the tops of a row. We sprinkled blood meal in the soil of the pots staying indoors to both fertilize them and to help prevent the cats from digging in the pots. It worked for a while, but then I guess it faded away. I will have to add a bit more, as well as plant some more morning glory seeds.

I also moved the vermicomposter out onto my balcony about 1 week ago since the weather has been quite mild, even at night. They appear to be thriving when I check them. I fed them a bunch of lettuce yesterday (3rd feeding now altogether). I also added a layer of hay to the bin and sprayed water to moisten the bin. I think it dries out faster when it's outside due to its ventilation holes.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Seedlings Sprouting

We planted the seeds on April 14th. On the 16th, the first sprout to come up was that of a Marigold:

The next day, it looked a little bigger
and gained some friends

On the 18th, the Morning Glories started to appear:

and many more followed the next day

The first cherry tomato sprouted on the 19th:
as the Marigolds grew

Herbs and the Mesclun mix are also starting to sprout. We bought these pansies to add some immediate colour. They're beautiful:

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gerbera Daisy

Vermicomposting: Feeding Process

This morning I fed the worms for the second time. I found the quadrants I divided my bin into were too big so I am using them only as a guideline. I fed the worms just next to the first spot I buried their food. This way I won't be digging into the last feeding's food scraps. If I feed about 2 or 3 times per week, it should be about a month before I have to bury in the same spot again. Below is a better documentation of the process of feeding the worms:

Dig a gully in the bedding about 3 inches deep.

Pour in some food scraps (not too much).

Cover the food scraps with the bedding and leave the worms to do their magic.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Vermicomposting Update: They're eating!

This morning I checked in on the worms to see if they were eating the first pile of food scraps I gave them. I gently lifted the top layer of bedding in the quadrant I placed the food and was extremely happy to see the worms were concentrated in that area! So it's definitely working. The worms are eating so they must be happy. The moistness of the bedding remains good. I will likely add some more food scraps either tonight or tomorrow, small amounts at a time as I don't want to overfeed. If I am under feeding with food scraps, they can always eat their bedding.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Lift Off: Balcony Garden

Today we planted many of the seeds for this summer's balcony garden. Our focus is mostly on leafy greens and other vegetables. Grow your own food!
Here's what we planted:

--2 planters of Marigolds that will hang on balcony rail (those are marigold seeds in my hand ^)
Drought & heat tolerant plant, which is good.
--1 planter of mixed Morning Glories (blues, purples, & pinks). Will climb up trellis.
--1 planter of mixed Salad Greens & Romaine lettuce (already outside since like cool weather)
--1 pot of Spinach
--1 pot of Mesclun mix
--1 pot of Garlic Chives
--1 pot of mixed herbs
--1 pot of Spring peas (already outside)
--1 Pomodoro tomato plant
--1 Sweet Cherry tomato plant

Everything but the leafy greens and peas will remain indoors to sprout and grow. They will move outside onto the balcony in May, past the risk of frost. The peas, and tomato plants will need to be transplanted once they're hardy seedlings, as they were planted in small pots. All others are in containers they can remain in.
We will also be planting Scarlet Runner pole beans outside in May. Another trellis will go up for them. I'd like to cover as much of the walls and ceiling of the balcony as possible with climbing plants. Pictures of sprouts and seedlings to come!

Vermicomposting Bin Part 3: Feeding for the 1st Time

24 hours after we first introduced the worms into their new home I gave them some of our saved food scraps. I read it is best to feed smaller amounts during the first few weeks so that is what I am doing. I divided the bin into quadrants and will feed in a different one each time I feed. This will make sure the worms move through the entire bin. I buried the food scraps under several inches of the bedding, and also decided to add some more soil to the bin. So far, it does not smell bad and I am hoping the worms are happy in their environment but it's hard to tell. I need to do some more research on if moldy things are okay to put in the bin, as much of the food scraps I'm saving has mold growing on it. Hopefully this is just a natural part of the decomposition process in general.
Right now the bin is indoors as I am waiting for the temperature lows to be no less than 4 degrees Celsius outside, at which point I will move the bin onto my balcony. It was sitting under my desk by the window but I noticed when I opened it up to check if the worms had moved towards the food scraps I placed, that the bin was quite hot from the sun shining in, and although the bin is opaque, it was still shining through the plastic. I moved the bin to a cooler and more shady spot beside the couch to avoid the hot afternoon sun.
More of my vermicomposting process to come!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Vermicomposting Part 2: Preparing the Bedding & Introducing the Worms

The worms arrived today! I fetched them on my bicycle from the Grassroots store on Danforth Ave. Here's what they came in:

Several days before the worms arrived, we started to prepare their bedding by shredding newspaper into strips to nearly fill the bin.

We mixed in some hay with the newspaper and then moistened the whole bedding mixture.

After sitting for a few days while we waited for the worms to arrive, this mixture already began to decompose. We found the bedding material had shrank down and dried out a bit, so we wet it down, added more strips of newspaper and wrung it out well, allowing the excess water to drain out the bottom. The moistness of the bedding should be that of a well wrung-out sponge.

Once the worms came in we crushed up egg shells we had saved and mixed them in with some soil which we added to the bedding mix.

I then mixed the bedding material well with my hands.

Finally, it was time to add the key component, the red wriggler worms! We emptied them into the bin and watched and listened to them slowly penetrate down into the bedding.

Click to enlarge

I will let the worms settle into their new home for at least 24 hrs and then begin feeding them with my food waste. We have already been saving food scraps for our worms.

Larger food scraps such as banana peels and melon rinds should be chopped up into smaller bits, to help the worms break them down faster. I purchased a cheap knife and cutting board designated for this purpose.

This is an exciting venture and I look forward to observing the vermicomposting process unfold.

Breakdown of my Costs & Materials:

-plastic storage bin: around $5.99
-aluminum catch tray: $1.49
-screen: $2.99 (still have lots left on the roll for other projects)
-wooden legs and slats: free
-newspaper: free (subscription I had for free)
-timothy hay: $9.99 (still have loads left, can be used as bedding if needed in future)
-soil: free (remnants from bag from last year)
-eggshells: free
-worms: $61.02
Total cost with tax: $84.14

To me, this is worth it. Not only is this a neat hobby for me but it makes me feel great knowing I am keeping food waste out of the garbage while producing my own rich plant fertilizer. Also, it was fun designing and building the bin.

To come: Feeding the worms for the first time and documenting the vermicomposting process!