The Urban Legend of Citrus Peels

I’ve received some funny emails recently regarding the pH of compost and whether or not citrus peels can be thrown in there.

Simply put, there’s nothing wrong with putting any amount of citrus fruit in your compost.  In fact, as you just saw in the last week my compost tumbler nearly doubled its temperature after I added a huge bucket of citrus fruit waste…nothing wrong with that!

I think that this perception comes from vermicomposting more than anything, as it helps to keep citrus waste to a minimum for the worms.  Even still, you can add it in small amounts.

Does anyone have a different view on this?  I’m tending to think it’s all hearsay, and anyone that actually tries to compost citrus peels will see that it’s just fine.

My Experience With Vermicomposting (article)

I found this story, which explains one guy’s solution to living in an apartment and wanting to compost.  There wasn’t really an option to set up anything large or create something unique, so he went with the worm bin.  I really think worm bins are going to catch on in the future and be more or less well known as something to do.

Why should you care?  Well, you shouldn’t.  I can’t tell you what to do, and frankly I don’t want to.  But I can assure you it’s fun to compost and that you should give it a shot.  Don’t you miss trying out science experiments?  I hated school, but I always loved trying new things…and this is the perfect candidate and it’s pretty darn foolproof when you know the basics.

Let’s read what C.B. has to say:

After reading about Vermicomposting (the process of using worms as a way to recycle discarded food scraps and make compost) online I was so intrigued by the idea that I just had to give it a go. I had been researching conventional composting practices because I wanted a way to cut down on the amount of garbage that I was throwing away, but was having trouble figuring out how I could do it.

For one thing, I live in an apartment so short of my balcony there’s really nowhere else I could start a compost heap. It’s not advised to have one so close to your house because they generally do produce something of an odor, but I was still willing to do so if it was the only way. Besides that though, all the yard maintenance of the complex was contracted out and conducted very efficiently. It would be hard to come up with the necessary refuse to supply the “brown” material for a compost pile.

Enter Vermicomposting
While I was browsing around I kept noticing mention of “Vermicomposting” or “composting with worms” and kept putting off reading about it. Something in the back of my head just kind of assumed “there’s no way I’m doing that.” Most people probably have a similar bias towards worms; sad but true. Finally I did read a few articles about it, and was intrigued by people saying how easy, mess-free and (most importantly) odorless it was. Worm bins are commonly kept indoors and produce no discernible odor whatsoever. This is what really got me interested, because my deck is often in full sunlight and thus not ideal for regular compost or Vermicomposting. If I could keep them inside, then that made it a viable option.

When I remembered that I’d seen the specific kind of worm used in Vermicomposting, “red wigglers” at the local PetsMart before, that pretty much sealed the deal. If you can’t get worms locally then you have to have them shipped, which was somewhat off-putting. But since I could, that meant I could literally start Vermicomposting that day. Perfect!

My Vermicomposting Setup
It turns out that PetsMart was out of stock of red worms that day, but doing a quick search online I was able to find a store that sold live bait situated on a nearby river – voila. I drove out and purchased a single small plastic tub of worms (the woman who sold them to me said there was about forty in it, but I’m not so sure about that.) I figured one tub would be fine since I produce very little waste (one heaping handful of scraps or less daily, on average) and I compensated by buying a much smaller bin than most sites recommend, about 18″ x 10″. I accidentally goofed and bought a clear bin (worms don’t like light), but I solved that by wrapping it in duct tape; after stealing some free classified newspapers from outside a local grocery I was ready to go.

The whole “micro-Vermicomposting” setup cost me under $10, including my new worm friends, and took about an hour to get everything assembled nicely. I introduced scraps I’d been saving immediately and did my best to resist the urge to go and look at them and check their progress. The morning after I set up the bin I was a little alarmed to see three renegade worms dried out on the carpet (only one survived) that had ventured out during the night – this typically means that conditions in the bin were unfavorable. It was apparently a one-time thing though, and I’ve had no additional problems in any way with my worms. I will be buying several more tubs to add in and speed up their consumption rate, but otherwise the entire system is beautifully self-contained.

I am a thoroughly convinced convert to the practice of Vermicomposting and intend to inform everyone in my family about it and hopefully get them started. I hope this article has helped clarify some of the mystery surrounding it for you and allows you to overcome any inherent aversion to the idea you might be harboring.           -CB Michaels

How to Take Great Photos of Your Vegetable Garden (article)

Nothing says success as a gardener more than when the first vegetables start sprouting. All of that hard work, from cultivating the soil, adding in compost, and growing your seeds indoors has all finally come to a positive climax.

However, it doesn’t have to end there. With the many blogs, message boards and groups on vegetable gardening, why not share your results with other gardeners with some photos. With today’s digital cameras and photo editing software, you can have wonderful pictures uploaded and online in no time. Here are some tips to make sure your shots make your veggies look pristine rather than dumpy.

Take a Close Up
Even though you might have the latest and greatest super zoom camera, I have found that my best photos have come when I move in closer to the vegetable or vegetable plant I am trying to take a picture of. Make sure the plant you are photographing takes up as much space on the view lens as possible.

Sunny Day
One of the best photo opportunities is when the sun is shining and first thing in the morning. When you see the sun glistening off the morning dew that is on your vegetables, it makes for a great photograph. Next time you take a photo use this shot and you will be happy with it as well.

Level Up
Don’t be afraid to get down on the same level as the vegetable you are trying to photograph. When you take a picture on the same level it makes it look so much better than when you are higher.

Organize the Photo
Nothing looks worse then when I take a photo of something and when I see the picture on my computer it looks terrible because it looks very disorganized. In other words, besides those juicy red tomatoes I was trying to capture, I also got the dog in there, some of the fence, some of my planting pots, and of course that is when my two year old decided he was going to run by. It is best to retake this photo and get it organized so that it will look better.

Photo Editing
I took the plunge and invested in Adobe Photoshop. It is a great tool for many things I do, and one of those things is editing photos I take. On occasion I will need to remove what I call background noise (unmovable objects, bugs etc) that take away from the beauty of the vegetable I am trying to photograph. There are many photo editing pieces of software on the market and they range in price from as little as $30 all the way up to $500. Buy based on how much you are going to use it.

You work hard on your vegetable garden and there is nothing wrong with sharing your hard work with others through photographs. So go ahead and take some good shots of your vegetables and upload them online so others can get inspired by your work.              -Bruce A. Tucker

I was looking around on ezinearticles, and I came across this goofy article.  Do you know what I’m slightly hinting at?

Take pictures of your compost and email them to me!!!!

Interview with Dr. Michael Mulvaney

In response to my video, “You Just Composted WHAT?”, I decided to look for a soil scientist to hear their thoughts on some controversial “compostable” items that are often written about: waxed cardboard, condoms, eggs contaminated with salmonella, etc.

Who stood out most to me was Dr. Michael Mulvaney.  His blog, named “The Dirt Dude”, has lots of excellent material about soil and agriculture, and I could tell he would be able to provide some great feedback for my wonderful readers.  So here we go:

TW: When did you decide you were so interested in soil and pursue a career?  Was it an early childhood fascination for you?  Tell me a bit about how you got to where you are now.  What are your goals as an agronomist, and what would you like to see change in today’s agricultural practices?

MM: I used to help my mother garden when I was a child, but never realized that I could make a career out of it until I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Bolivia.  It was then that I realized that the majority of the world’s population lives and dies by subsistence agriculture.  Unfortunately, colonial histories have made them forget how to farm sustainably, and now face serious land degradation issues.  There are several simple things that they could be doing to sustain their resources, such as crop rotation, or plowing on the contour, but they just don’t have the education to implement them.  My goal as an agronomist is to improve the livelihood of subsistence farmers around the world.

TW: What are some of the main “critters” in a compost pile on a microbial level that do the dirty work?  Are they always present in soil, and if not how do they “find” your pile?

MM: The microorganisms (MO’s) in compost are divided into categories based on their ability to withstand heat.  A fresh compost pile will activate mesophilic MO’s, which thrive at moderate temperatures.  They remain active for a few days and “eat” (metabolize) the easy stuff: soluble compounds, sugars, starches, etc.

Then the compost really starts to heat up (due to MO biological activity), and the thermophilic MO’s take over.  This is the critical temp at which pathogens are destroyed (thermal kill).  That’s why organic producers must take the temp of their compost and make sure that the temp is >55C for several days.  Keep in mind that compost is defined as having manure in it, otherwise it’s called mulch.  You want the temp to remain between 55-65C.  Above 65C, the microbes themselves can become limited, so aerate (mix) your compost to keep it below this temp.  This phase breaks down more complicated molecules: proteins, fats, complex carbohydrates, etc.

After the thermophiles have done the heavy lifting, the mesophiles take over again.  This is the finishing of the compost, and can take several months.  You’ll see the temp slowly decline during this period.

Specific MO’s that are involved in the process include bacteria (about 85% of the total MOs present), actinomycetes (which are bacteria but grow like fungi, and give that familiar earthy smell), fungi, and to a lesser extent rotifers and protozoa.  Soil microbiologists often say, “Everything is everywhere, and nature selects.”  That is, all MOs are everywhere, and it’s the microclimate that selects for them.  That’s why I think activators are bunk, and also why I believe there’s life on Europa!

TW: I’m going to name a number of different products that are frequently asked about with regards to their compostability.  For your replies, assume the composting efforts are performed at home, but if you feel there’s a different answer if the material is sent to an industrial-sized composting facility (forced air currents, high heat, constant monitoring), please respond accordingly.

Paper and cardboard constantly come up with contention as they use a variety of ingredients such as chlorine, ammonia, chloroforms, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid in their creation.  Do you find any of these to be dangerous for your compost?

MM: Those compounds are in such small quantities that I certainly don’t worry about them for home composting.  Besides, the MOs will take care of them in time.  In fact, ammonia is good for MOs: they use it for building proteins within their cellular structure.  Although it’s not good if your compost smells like ammonia: that’s indicative of anaerobic activity.  If that’s the case, aerate and mix, and add more carbon (sawdust).

TW: Composting laundry lint is a handy thing to do… is there any risk from traces of detergent?

MM: No, not from detergent.  Again, it’s present in such small quantities that MOs can handle it easily.  One thing about lint, though: if it contains non-natural fibers (nylon, polyester, etc.), those won’t break down.  But again, it’ll be such a small amount that some people might not worry about it.  Of course, it’s nice to keep all plastics out of the environment, so unless you use only natural fibers, consider just throwing your lint in the garbage.

TW: I began my experiment involving latex condoms, as I’ve read several articles promoting them as compostable items.  Would spermicide cause a problem, and wouldn’t latex take quite some time to break down?

MM: I don’t know how latex will act in a compost.  Let me know your results!  I’m not concerned about nonoxynol-9.  It has a long chain of ethers, which I think can be easily munched on by MOs at high temps.  The benzene ring is probably more stable, but will degrade in time as well.  The amount present is so small, that I think the MOs can handle it pretty easily.  You’d have to be one busy dude to build up the nonoxynol-9 levels to toxic quantities!

TW:  HA! There’s been a lot of salmonella outbreaks over the years, and everyone loves to compost their egg shells.  Would you consider this to be a contamination risk?

MM: Thermal kill.  Get your temp above 55C for a couple days, and you’re good to go.  Don’t add more pathogens after that time, though.

TW: What contaminants would you rank highest to be concerned about in your compost pile?  Feel free to scare me.

MM: Things that break down VERY slowly, although they’re not contaminants by any means: citrus peels, egg shells, leather, hair.  Contaminants: plastics (like those little stickers you find on fruit these days), glass, metal, etc.  Those last two are terrible because as you lovingly stick your hand in your newly finished compost, you can slash yourself on that bit of glass in there.  Most chemicals in minor to moderate quantities are easily metabolized by MOs.  Even oil is metabolized by MOs!  It’s a great way to negate the negative impact that those chemicals might otherwise have.  We call it “bio-remediation”, and we use it all the time.

TW: I would like to thank Mike for his excellent input, and hope that he will write for the page in the future.  One thing I forgot to ask him about was the crappy Sun Chips bag.  I have a feeling that falls into the “breaks down very slowly” category.  We’ll see!

Click here to see what Mike’s all about these days.

Compost Tea!

In just over two weeks, I have collected nearly a gallon of compost leachate from my compost tumbler.  Pretty awesome, just look at my excitement.  Some people have been asking me what compost tea is… well, don’t drink it!

Simply put, it’s the best organic and natural fertilizer you could use on your garden.  You can take care of an entire acre with only 5 gallons of the stuff, which is great.  To dilute it, I recommend 10 parts water to one part compost tea.  If it smells really bad, chances are it’s past its prime and not the best for use.  If you leave it outside in a bucket, you can hope to make aerobic, but ultimately you will need a small air pump to infuse air into the stuff and make it properly potent.

If you’d like to see an in-depth video for this, I always recommend the Dirt Doctor, Howard Garrett:

Have fun with it, and let me know how it goes…send me pictures!

How to Build a Worm Bin In Under 15 Minutes (video)

How To Build A Worm Composting Bin In Under 15 Minutes

Woohoo!  I just made a new worm bin. I’m going to go ahead and call it a “Bentley Bin”, which I named after Bentley Christie of . He’s the true master of vermicomposting, and I highly recommend checking him out to learn everything there is to know about worms.

Hit the Like button for the video and leave a comment for me!

I’ll be posting updates once I get my worms, which should be in about a week.

Juicer waste update

I checked out the tumbler today, WOW.  Just shy of 100 degrees, full of bugs and smells delicious.  I might make a follow-up video tomorrow.

Today my mom was in town, so we were talking about composting and fixing up my yard a bit.  She hauled away a bunch of the brush you can see in the background of all my videos, and was surprised that I gifted her a kitchen compost crock. It ends up that she’s helping coordinate a gardening event in the spring, and so we strategized about how to collect all the event’s compostable material and market the effort to the group.  It rules being able to talk trash with my mom.

Speaking of talking trash, I filmed a video today about what to do with scrap plastic that can’t be recycled, like shrink wrap, plastic bags, packaging.  I decided to sew it up into a pillow…yep!  Click HERE to check it out…

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, and send me pictures of your compost!

How to Turn Compost with The Compost Tumbler (video)

Turning Compost with the Compost Tumbler

I like this guy.  I’m glad he shows the tumbler with a lot of material in it, and how it isn’t super easy to spin no matter how you do it.  But it sure beats using a pitchfork to aerate the stuff.

This appears to be the old model without the extra ventilation slots and the additional cut-outs where you can add your compost thermometer.  If you were going to get this one, I would look for the newer version.

Either way, go Dave.  Nice work on the video!

my belated birthday present…

Today, I woke up in the morning and peeked out in the backyard… there was a big yellow kitty litter bucket.  I don’t have cats, so this could only mean one thing… juicer waste!  My compost tumbler was pretty dead at the moment as I don’t have much in the way of food scraps…but this should fire it right up.  I took the temperature before I put in the scraps: 70 degrees.

Let’s see what happens!

Sun Chips Bag to Lose Its Crunch (article)


Frito-Lay, the snack giant owned by PepsiCo Inc., says it is pulling most of the biodegradable packaging it uses for its Sun Chips snacks, following an outcry from consumers who complained the new bags were too noisy.

Touted by Frito-Lay as 100% compostable, the packaging, made from biodegradable plant material, began hitting store shelves in January. Sales of the multigrain snack have since tumbled.

PepsiCo has been working on trying to find a quieter version of the packaging since it first introduced the new bags.

Frito-Lay is returning to its old, nondegradable packaging, for five of the six Sun Chips flavors. It will continue to use the noisy packaging for its Sun Chips Original brand. It has been working on trying to find a quieter version of the packaging since it first introduced the new bags. A process that is continuing.

“We chose to respond to the consumer feedback but still want to show that we are committed” to compostable packaging, says Chris Kuechenmeister, a spokesman for Frito-Lay.

Consumers have posted videos on the Web poking fun at the new bags and lodged fierce complaints on social-networking sites. Since January, year-on-year sales of Sun Chips have decreased each month, according to SymphonyIRI, a Chicago market-research firm that tracks sales at retailers. SymphonyIRI data exclude Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PepsiCo doesn’t break out sales figures for Sun Chips.

The uproar about the new packaging was the subject of a Page One story in The Wall Street Journal in August.

This isn’t the first time PepsiCo has had an issue with its packaging. Last year, the company dumped new packaging for its Tropicana orange juice after consumers complained they didn’t like the new look.

Frito-Lay declined to disclose how much it spent to create the biodegradable packaging but it has been working on finding and testing degradable material for several years.

Just after I spend all that time to find one of these bags and put it to the test in my compost tumbler, they go ahead and pull it off the shelf.  Are people really upset with the bag being louder?  Let’s be honest, their drop in sales is because their chips taste like crap.  Who actually eats Sun Chips?

It’s really unfortunate that a company loses millions of dollars by trying to be innovative with their packaging.  They should try doing an advertisement where everyone in the commercial can’t hear each other because the bag is too loud, or have kids in a classroom make noise with the bag whenever the teacher tries to talk.

Well, let’s hope for a quieter future with compostable plastics for a louder composting revolution.

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