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I Blame Starbucks For My Composting Addiction

Addiction – Part II

Coffee groundsIt all began one winter day back in 1996.  I remember it all so vividly.  You never forget your first time, do you?  You can read about my first time [read here] if you really want…  From that day forward, I’ve been downing mochas on a regular basis.  The byproduct of making coffee is of course coffee grounds, and being the naturally inquisitive person that I am, I started reading about how coffee grounds could be used as compost in the garden for acidic plants.  I’m never one to just dabble, because when the addiction hits, it hits hard.

This post isn’t a white paper about the 1001 things you can do with used coffee grounds.  I’m sure you can come up with your own uses by scouring the world wide web, just as I did.  Instead, this is step one of my 12 step program on composting addiction.  I am admitting that I am addicted to recycling and composting. But first, I have to share how I got to this point.

It started with simply tossing my coffee grounds out the window into my yard.  Whether its because I was trying to minimize my garbage bill or some other altruistic reason, I will never be sure.  But shortly after my coffee grounds began fraternizing with the soil, I noticed a slight improvement in the few plants that shared space with the weeds in my yard.  Fueled by this excitement, I realized that Starbucks gave away their coffee grounds for free (I know this was their way of minimizing their garbage bill!), and started visiting several stores throughout the day to pick up their spent grounds.  It got to a point where my ex-girlfriend and I would time our visits just after the first coffee rush of the morning to maximize the booty. Lisa, if you are reading this post, I’m spilling my guts to the world…

My yard began transforming from a weed infested lot into one which looked like a lush wonderland (ok, I’m really exaggerating here).  I helped the transition along by transplanting over 100 native ferns from a my friend, Tina’s yard since she was about to bulldoze them anyway to make way for her new home.  I lovingly mixed in the coffee grounds with the ferns and watched them grow as fast as the mold on the cheese in my refrigerator (darn fast!).

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

Mouse_CookieLike the book by author, Laura Numeroff, I couldn’t stop myself.  I had to keep going. I noticed that my newly enriched soil had tons of redworms, and I wondered if their presence was a result of the coffee grounds.  I researched and discovered that worms do indeed like coffee grounds.  But, they also like other compostable foods as well.  So I found a website on vermicomposting and began to follow the exploits of Bentley on his redworm composting site [read here].  I purchased a worm bin condo, and began composting old fruits and vegetables from the refrigerator.  Soon, I had another bin to house a second batch of worms.  Then another.  Pretty soon, I had lots of worm poop that I could add to my garden.  I began making compost tea before the gardening stores started selling it.

You would think that I had a garden that Martha Stewart herself would be proud of, but in truth, I hate gardening.  I’m more fascinated by the experiments than the plants that benefit from the compost. I found myself scouring the web for videos from successful vermicomposters, just to see what new tricks I could learn from them.  Here is a sample video from Bentley’s website.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRAq2chA7HA[/youtube]

Rotting Food Attracts Flies

It is a known fact that rotting food attracts flies just as quick as a dead possum attracts Jethro Clampett (Jethro Bodine actually).  Maybe faster…  And in truth, my worms couldn’t keep pace with the spoilage in my refrigerator.  I either had to get more worms or find a better decomposition method for my garbage.  And wouldn’t you know it, the flies were indeed the answer.  After more research, I discovered that there was a particular type of fly that loved rotting food, but (and here’s the most interesting fact) didn’t carry diseases NOR liked human contact.

It Takes An Army To Win The War On Waste

There is an African Proverb that goes like this: “Ora na azu nwa”.  The translation is “It takes a village to raise a child”.  The premise is that you can’t do it alone.  The same goes for composting as well… It would take forever for one worm to break down a piece of food.  If you’ve ever seen a decomposing animal, you know that there are thousands (if not millions) of maggots doing the work (sans crow intervention).

In my ever growing compulsion, I found a website dedicated to composting with flies.  More accurately, maggots. There is some cutting-edge research that has been going on in the efforts to safely recycle waste in third-world countries such as Vietnam. Black Soldier Fly Larvae [read here] are the parties responsible for breaking down human and food waste.  So, in my quest to solve my own composting problem, I purchased a BSFL (Black Soldier Fly Larvae) composting unit.  Now, I had several worm bins AND a BSFL unit to process my food waste.  After watching the video below, who wouldn’t want to start their own BSFL composting unit in their own yard?

[youtube]http://youtube.com/watch?v=eex3bvJBCDA[/youtube]

All Is Good, Right?

Seattle is the perfect place to be in the summer.  The temperature is moderate and the sun shines nearly once a week.  Worms and flies love warm weather.  Not so much when it’s cold.  I found this out the hard way.  Frozen, dead worms and larvae do a terrible job of composting waste.  In fact, they don’t do it at all.  Each spring I found myself starting from square one to build up my worm and BSFL colonies.  Worms are pretty easy.  BSFL a bit more difficult, since they need at least 75 degree temperatures to mate and reproduce.  Enter Bokashi!

Everything Is Better Fermented

BokashiBokashi is a Japanese term and is said to mean “fermented organic matter”.  Like some of my friends who are always more enjoyable to be around when they have “fermented”, this process works to decompose organic matter through the use of micro-organisms in an anaerobic environment.  So, when the weather outside got too cold for my outdoor buddies to work their magic on my food waste, I had to turn to the fermented friends for help.  You might think that a bucket full of rotting waste would have a terrible smell, but with the Bokashi, it is actually quite sweet because of the molasses.

Which Is Best?

I’m not sure if there is only one “right” way to compost food waste.  In truth, it really depends on the environment, the composter’s tolerance for the “yuck” factor, and a few other variables.  By next year, I may have found the next best process, but for now, I’ll continue with my worms, maggots, and microbes.  I’m happy to answer questions about any of the methods I’ve tried.  I like to think that I’m doing my part to reduce my carbon footprint, but it will take more than just my efforts to make any significant difference.  If you have had any success with composting, I’d be interested in getting some feedback from you.  Leave a comment below and share your stories…

When REALiTY BiTES, Bite Back!

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  1. Scott Olsen

    And not just for the urban. My composting addiction is on the farm. I started hot composting, then added vermicomposting, but once I discovered bokashi, I dropped the hot composting altogether. I recently added Black Soldier Fly composting and I am looking forward to it complementing both bokashi and vermicomposting. I recycle several tons of food scraps a month from local cafes and hot composting required importing too much carbon material and too much effort, but fermentation microbes, fly larva, and worms are able to handle it all with less effort and energy. Not all addictions are bad.

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