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Lining up for worms

Herb Mathisen
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, April 23, 2008

YELLOWKNIFE - Groups of adults lined up eagerly for worms last Saturday.

More than 50 interested residents packed into the Northern United Place auditorium for a backyard worm and composting workshop, put on by Ecology North as part of their Earth Week series of events.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Leah Thomson, 6, works a worm off her finger into the hand of Shannon Ripley, project co-ordinator for Ecology North, at a backyard and worm composting workshop Saturday. - Herb Mathisen/NNSL photo

Shannon Ripley, a program co-ordinator with Ecology North, led the group through the basics of composting. To get started, she said, all one really needs is a handful or two of backyard soil. Apparently, there is enough living in that small hunk of earth to begin decomposing organic waste. She said to start out small and as the compost heap grows so can waste contributions.

The conditions needed for a good compost are simple.

"The micro-organisms and ourselves are not much different," said Ripley, adding that all they need to survive are a good dose of water and waste, warmth and air.

She said you can start compost in just about anything by either buying a composter or poking some holes in a container, or starting a heap.

Once underway, Ripley said you can be creative with your compost. She said a variety of carbon-rich "browns," such as dried leaves and wood chips, and nitrogen-rich "greens," such as fruit scraps and grass clippings, should be layered in the compost to keep a neutral balance.

Newspapers too can be composted.

Organic waste is reduced in size by one half once composted, said Ripley, and the product is usable soil, full of nutrients. The environmental benefits are that the organic waste can be reused, instead of sitting idly in a landfill.

At the end of the presentation, worms were handed out to attendees.

Barb McDonald was anxious to get her hands on some worms.

"This is my first time with worms," she said. "I want to use them for winter production."

The winter puts a pause to outdoor composting, as the organisms freeze solid and are unable to decompose organic waste. By worm composting indoors with a Rubbermaid container, Yellowknifers can compost year-round.

Throughout the workshop, residents asked questions and shared tips.

Apparently, if an abundance of annoying fruit flies comes out of worm composting, a glass of red wine can solve the problem. The flies are drawn to the drink and drown in it.

Also, attendees learned about "compost tea." No, it is not some kind of secret super-organic elixir consumed by only the most eco-sensitive environmentalists, but rather a substance-rich water used to feed house plants. Compost is placed in water and nutrients are steeped out, to be shared back with plants when watering them.

Ripley said in the near future, the city may adopt a large centralized compost out at the city landfill, where restaurants and businesses, as well as residents, could bring their organic waste. This could provide a source for soil for a city that depends largely upon imports from down south.

In large composts, temperatures within them get high, allowing for more potent decomposition. Pet waste and even meat can be broken down when the core temperature of the compost reaches 55 C, said Ripley.