- Associated Press - Thursday, November 5, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Worm castings - worm poop, actually - are known in some gardening circles as the original Miracle Grow. Many enthusiasts in Eldorado swear the red wigglers can turn your barren backyard into a green paradise.

And now they are offering to set up a worm bin, or vermicomposter, for you - for free - if you live in the Eldorado subdivision or along N.M. 285. You only pay for the insulating straw bales, which are $8 each. Eldorado 285 Recycles supplies the labor, a bucket of the group’s own lovingly cultivated worms and delivery, along with advice on getting started.

Using worms to compost your kitchen scraps is cheap and easy, the group says. It allows you to divert organic materials from the landfill, where they produce methane and add to global warming. At the same time, you can nourish the dry, sandy soil around your house with vermicast. And, done right, the bins don’t have an odor.

According to the folks at Eldorado 285 Recycles, food scraps from the kitchen, by weight, make up 20 percent of the solid waste shipped to landfills.

Marcía Spears-Cihon, a master gardener and California transplant, is helping to spearhead the project. “Eldorado 285 Recycles is a group of volunteers very interested in helping our Earth,” she said, and “one of the ways to do that is to cut green waste and put it into our own backyard.”

Since 2014, volunteers have set up just short of 80 worm bins in the Eldorado area. They figure they’ve diverted more than 10 tons of waste from the landfill.

To let people know, they’ve distributed fliers but, this being the 21st century, another way they got the word out is on Nextdoor Eldorado at Santa Fe, the neighborhood’s free, private social network. Spears-Cihon said she received replies from a dozen people interested in worm bins after the offer was posted recently on Nextdoor.

Setting up the worm bin takes about one hour and needs seven straw bales - six arranged in a rectangle and one for bedding. Then an “inoculum,” or starter bucket of worms, is added. The group’s volunteers donate the red wigglers from their own stash. They even cover the bed with straw and water it, and they will answer questions if you get stumped.

To feed the worms, you simply pull aside the straw cover, dig a small hole in the wet layer and dump in your kitchen scraps. Just keep the bed covered and moist.

The worms need only air, water and food. They churn the pile themselves.

This low-temperature vermicomposting method was promoted in Santa Fe by Sam McCarthy of Payne’s Organic Soil Yard, and many of the worms are descendants of his originals. He is currently composting kitchen waste from Santa Fe school cafeterias, Whole Foods, local restaurants at the yard and is getting ready to expand. He also sells worms at the Santa Fe Farmers Market.

Many people have had success with worm composting.

Robin Hale, who moved here from Washington state, was determined to produce lush gardens here. And she did. In two years, she had an English garden with sky-high flowers and rapidly growing shade trees, she said. But she couldn’t do it without the worms.

“Look at the Santa Fe soil,” she said. “It’s like sand. It’s a waste of time trying to garden without worms.”

Joan and Jeff Babcok had their worm bin set up last month. Joan Babcok said they had wanted to do worm composting for a long time but procrastinated. “Then we saw the great service Eldorado 285 Recycles provides. . That was too good an opportunity to pass up,” she said.

Greg McMillan said he decided on a worm bin when he became aware of how much methane is created by putting kitchen waste in the trash and burying it in the landfill. He recently had a worm bin installed at his home in Eldorado.

Joe Eigner, one of the founders of Eldorado 285 Recycles, was in the waste management field in Missouri before moving to Eldorado. In 2011, he and his wife, Janet, decided to track how much waste their household produced in one year. They found they dumped 606 pounds of food scraps, sawdust, kitty litter, wood ash and shredded paper in their backyard compost pile, and they had recycled 829 pounds of paper, cardboard, plastics, metal and glass at the transfer station along U.S. 285. Over 1,700 pounds of trash and yard trimmings went to the Caja del Rio Landfill.

Eigner believed worm composting could really cut the trash that he and his neighbors toss, but some are held back due to concerns about rodents nesting in the worm bins’ straw.

Eigner agreed that mice are endemic in the area, but he said keeping a worm bin moist would deter them. Mice, he said, like warm, dry places, just like people.

Hale recommends keeping a couple of cats round.

Eldorado 285 Recycles is also helping residents of the area recycle items that aren’t accepted at the local transfer station.

It has set up bins at La Tienda in Eldorado to collect items like old toothbrushes, dental floss containers and non-aerosol deodorant bottles, which are manufactured into new products through the Tom’s of Maine recycling program.

Other items the group collects include No. 5 plastics and wine bottle corks, which they take to Whole Foods; pens and markers, which they take to the Eldorado Area Water and Sanitation District; rubber bands, which are reused by newspaper carriers; athletic shoes, which are donated to local charities; and printer ink cartridges, computers and other electronics.

The recycling rate throughout the Santa Fe area is only about 8 percent, Eigner said, but “it’s the wave of the future out here.”

___

Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, https://www.sfnewmexican.com


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