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Hot Composting: Get Down & Dirty

August 16th, 2017

The love affair, between you and the compost, always start with being love struck by the new novelty of the method. The relationship very quickly becomes one sided, and you end up shouting “you stink.” Then starts the argument of what is that best way to make the compost- either fast and hot, or slowly, patiently, and with less effort?

Well, why don’t you and I, have this kind of penetrating man-to-man conversation. If you want to compost in a hurry; a hot, active, or fast compost pile that is working extra hard on decomposing the raw material, is the one that suits your style. The word ‘compost’ conjures up a vague picture of leaves, sticks, and soil, sitting there, doing something.

Let’s find out. . .

Where to get hot

You can compost in a compost bin-hot, sleek and sexy, or a compost tumbler (rolling around in the hay!), compost piles, compost pits, or just about anywhere it’ll fit. Natural processes take over with or without your interference. I’m here to encourage you to get off your butt and start taking an active role in making your compost smokin’ hot.

How to get hot

The finer point of the process is the addition of the ‘greens’ (nitrogen rich) and ‘browns’ (carbon rich) materials in an equal amount. You can start with a thin layer of carbon-rich leaves such as corn stalks so that the air can reach the bum of the pile.

Like foreplay, some active humus and some good soil are a must-add, pretty much like source of heat generating bacteria, which kick-starts the decomposition. Then, slowly and gently, insert the green ingredient like the kitchen scraps in alternation with brown materials.

Hot + wet = 😉

The heat generating bacteria needs some moisture and warmth and some air to perform correctly, like, well, you know. So, you should keep your pile moist, but not soaking wet, and turn it to aerate. Prodding the huge pile will move the cooler materials on the edges to the center, where they can heat up.

Remember: hot, wet, and moving.

Keep it moving

Do not forget to “poke-turn-poke-and-turn” with a stiff rod…

Need a thermometer? Nope. You’ll know when it’s hot enough, steamy and humid as a thong on South Beach.

The smell at the beginning may be unpleasant, but as decomposition continues, you’ll find the odor to become stale and musty. Call it an acquired taste if you must. Presences of a faint sulfurous smell show a lot of anaerobic activity, and so it may need aeration.

When things cool off

For the experienced composter, it never takes long for the pile to reach the required temperature-hot enough to kill most of the weed seed and organisms. With time the temperature reduces, just as expected — after every high, there is a low. Time to cuddle and whisper. When the pile no longer gets hot at the center, let it cure for a few days, and your clean and new compost ready for use.

Sure, it’s a little melancholy to move on after you’ve spent so much time together. Life, however, is motion – action – and you must move on. Other compost piles require your attention. Believe me, regardless of where your path leads, memories of your first hot compost pile will last long after the warmth fades.

Now you know – ready to get busy?

Charcoal briquettes made from human poop

August 14th, 2017

“Reduce, recycle, reuse.” We’ve heard it a zillion times. Interestingly, repurposing sewage as fuel ticks all three of these boxes!

Today from Quartz:

A Kenyan company is taking the excess fecal waste from residents in Nakuru and transforming it into a usable fuel source for cooking and heating.

Human waste contains, on average, about 30% combustible solids. Here’s how it works: solid waste is dried in vats, then baked in a kiln at extreme temperatures to eliminate potentially harmful volatile compounds, and carbonize the remaining material. Those potentially harmful volatiles? They’re what makes poop stink – so after this step, poop is indistinguishable from charcoal.

The next step grinds the waste into a fine powder and blends it with molasses as a binding agent. (We had NO IDEA molasses was used to make charcoal briquettes, so we had to look it up…  Seems like molasses makes a better binder than some toxic alternatives, like tar. Why not use it as food instead?) The finished product looks like round fist-sized lumps of coal and sell for $.50 per kilo.

How do they work? Quartz reports, “Customers say that the fuel burns longer and with less smoke than charcoal and firewood.”

Using human waste as a fuel source isn’t a new idea (see phys.org’s discussion of waste gas recovery and the vast energy value of human waste). We can transmute poop into charcoal, as described above – AND collect the biogas (mostly methane) produced during the bacterial decomposition of poop and other organic matter in an anaerobic system.

Here’s why this matters: about 2.5 billion people, about 1/3 of the world’s population, don’t have access to bathrooms and modern sanitation facilities. One billion people don’t have toilets at all. Lack of sanitation contributes to diseases like cholera (this is what can happen when you don’t use proper sanitation), typhoid fever, and parasites like hookworms or roundworms. That’s one of the reasons the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has spent so much time working on recycling sewage.

We applaud the initiative of the Kenyan company in repurposing what might otherwise become a source of sickness in their community. Check out the video below to see the process at work.

(There’s no green gadget here today – just what we hope is an inspiring and hopeful story!)

Yolk Solar Paper Portable Solar Charger Review

August 10th, 2017

Yolk’s Solar Paper portable charger raised over $1 million on Kickstarter and is now available to everyone. The Solar Paper gained a massive amount of attention as the world’s thinnest and lightest solar charger suitable for phones and backup batteries. The latest-generation panels output the most wattage per surface area of any other product currently available. This technology isn’t yet suitable for large scale applications (like rooftop projects) due to its complexity and price. We expect pricing to continue to decline as global economies continue to shift toward renewable energy sources.

The Solar Paper is very beautifully constructed – you can tell talented industrial designers were involved in its development!

solar paper charger

Only 0.15-inch thin and 4 oz in weight!

The Solar Paper has an incredibly tight form factor when collapsed. The connections between panels are robust, magnetically connected, and stand up to months of regular use. The plugs aren’t fragile either. On a sunny day, charge a smartphone to full in 2.5-3 hours. Unlike many similar yet high-maintenance devices, the Solar Paper does not require resetting every time a cloud passes overhead – instead, it just resets itself and keeps humming right along.

Compatible with ANY device that charges via USB cable: phone, tablet, flashlight, e-cigarette, camera, etc.

yolk solar charger front view

The Solar Paper’s panels are a little bit finicky. They really need to be in direct sunlight to produce power. Brightly lit rooms indoors, or overcast days, simply won’t cut it. Fortunately there’s a small LCD display that shows available voltage. According to the manufacturers, a value of 6.4+ indicates good sun. Maybe you live in Seattle, or Vancouver, and want to go solar anyway? No worries – the Solar Paper’s panels re easily expandable. Just click additional magnetic panels into place. Each panel adds approximately 2.5W maximum charging capacity.

Most phones only require 2 panels (as pictured above) to charge. Two panels output 5V, 1A. However, an iPhone 6s+ or tablet will require FOUR panels (a 10-watt setup) minimum to charge. If you aren’t sure how many panels you need, check this quick reference guide.

 

 

All things considered, we’re super-excited about the advancements in solar energy generally, and the Solar Paper in particular. Every green gadget that brings latest-generation tech to end users like us helps to advance the entire renewable energy industry.

Yolk Solar Paper on Amazon

Yolk Solar Paper video guide

 

Images source YOLK USA Inc.

Getting Started with Worm Composting / Vermiculture

August 8th, 2017

Vermiculture (also known as vermicomposting, worm composting, or Worms Eat My Garbage!) is easy, good for the Earth, good for your plants, and fun – especially for kids. Vermiculture allows you to responsibly dispose of your vegetable food scraps while creating nutrient-rich worm castings you can use on your indoor or outdoor plants. Worm castings are not only 100% organic and all-natural, they’re one of the best soil additives you can use. You’ll grow blue-ribbon tomatoes and mind-blowing flowers.

This article will give you an overview of the key concepts of vermiculture.

Overview of vermiculture / vermicomposting

Vermiculture is a form of composting in which you feed your fruit and vegetable scraps to a specific type of earthworm known as red wigglers (scientific name Eisenia fetida).Vermicompost (woorm poop) is better for plants than almost any other type of compost. Scientifically-proven benefits of using worm castings in your garden include:

  • stronger root systems
  • improved soil aeration
  • over 60 micronutrients and trace minerals for improved plant health
  • help to buffer pH in the soil

The composting worms have three jobs: eat, poop, and make baby worms. Your job is to manage them in a way that maximizes all three.

Getting started

You’ll need three things to get started:

  • an appropriate container
  • bedding
  • red wiggler worms

Worm composting container

Almost any container (purchased or built) can be used to contain worms as long as you can vent it somehow, or drill holes in it. Worms breathe air through their skins, so air holes are very important. The simplest bin to use when getting started in vermiculture is a plastic storage tote or tub. The 14 to 20-gallon sizes work well.

You will need to drill holes in the sides so that the worms can get air. Don’t worry about the holes being so big that the worms will get out. The composting worms won’t squirm through the holes because they don’t want to leave the nice cozy home you’ve made for them. Also, if they break out, they’ll die without the ideal environment you’re preparing for them.

You can buy a special worm composter like this one, or you can make your own from a pair of plastic tubs. Make sure the tubs nest nicely, and you’ll need a lid for one of them. Choose opaque bins rather than transparent ones – like goth kids, worms hate light.

worm composting bin

Worm composting bin

plastic storage tub

You can easily modify plastic storage tubs like this one into a cozy home for your worms.

 

 

Your composting worms

Eisenia fetida are the most widely used composting worms. These worms are preferred because they eat A LOT (up to half their own body weight every day!), tolerate being dug through, and and are easy to keep contained indoors or out. Red wigglers can be purchased online and mailed to you (in weather that is not too hot or too cold), or you can try to find a local provider. Redworms, another name for red wigglers, can be found in nature in many climates, but gathering your own to start your worm castings bin is very difficult. I strongly recommend purchasing your first pound of worms online from a well-reviewed and experienced worm wrangler. You’ll need a minimum of 500-1000 worms to get started.

Bedding for your worm compost bin

Your red wiggler worms need bedding to live in. Think of the worm bedding as their furniture. Any carbon source can be used as worm bin bedding. For example, leaves, shredded office paper, shredded cardboard, and shredded newsprint (not glossy paper) all work well. Y?u can also purchase coir bricks which are a natural fiber made from coconut. The bedding must be moist at all times. After preparing your bedding, spray it with water until it feels damp like a sponge that you’ve squeezed in your fist. Damp, rather than wet, or soaked. When you squeeze a handful of bedding, no water should drip out.

You should never have standing water in the bottom of your bin. If you do have standing water, either add some dry bedding or drain some of the moisture off. The drained liquid, called “worm tea,” is every plant’s favorite cocktail. Pour it directly onto the soil and your plants will LOVE you.

The ideal home for worms is:

  • cool
  • dark
  • damp

How to feed your composting worms

What can you feed your worms? You can feed them any vegetable or fruit scraps, eggshells, and coffee grounds (if you use a paper coffee filter, throw that in, too!) You can also feed your worms lint from your clothes dryer and paper towels (use only paper towels that were used to clean up drink spills and don’t have cleansers on them). Worms are vegetarian, they don’t eat meat.

Don’t feed them meat, eggs, butter, or oil. They also don’t do well with bread or cheese. Composting worms can handle a small amount of bread and cheese, but I’d discourage putting them in your worm bin until you’ve had some practice caring for them.
Be careful not to overfeed your worms as this can attract fruit flies and other pests – because the worms won’t be able to eat the scraps fast enough. You’ll know you’re overfeeding if you see gnats or flies.

I recommend placing your vegetable scraps in alternating corners of your bin, under a layer of bedding. This encourages the worms to explore their home thoroughly (and also helps ensure you don’t pile their new meal on top of an old, half-eaten meal). If you see food rotting before it’s eaten, you’re overfeeding.

Harvesting your worm compost

 

When should you harvest the worm castings (worm poop)? You won’t harvest for the first time until 5-6 months have passed. After the first time, though, you can harvest more frequently (2-4 months). When it’s time to harvest, you have several options. You can simply dig down to the bottom of the worm bin and pull out a handful of worm castings. They’re dark browm, moist, and the consistency of fertile soil. This can be added directly to your soil with worms included, or you can pick out the worms and put them back in your bin. Another option is to wait until most of the bin is full of worm castings (because they’ll eat their bedding, too) and then dump the whole bin out on a tarp on a sunny day. Form a couple of small pyramids of worm castings and the worms will burrow into the pyramid because they don’t like the light. Then, carefully brush worm castings off of the outside of the pyramid and set them aside. The worms will burrow deeper. Repeat until most of the worm castings are harvested and you’re left with a ball of worms. Refill your bin with fresh moist bedding and return your worms to the bin.

… and that’s everything! When you’re all set up, your worms will produce a harvestable amount of castings every 2-4 months. Healthy worm bins don’t smell and don’t attract any pests.

I hope this article encourages you to at least try to start your own worm farm! Kids really love to have their own worm farms and can be a great help in virtually every step of the process.

American households now use less electricity than 5 years ago

August 7th, 2017

Great news for the planet – according to the Energy Institute at Haas, Americans are using less electricity. Our demand on the power grid dropped in 2012, and hasn’t rebounded despite the subsequent economic recovery. The news gets better – 48 out of 50 states use less electricity than in 2012.

Here’s why this is surprising: from 1950-2010, electricity consumption grew at an average rate of 4% per year. In the 1990s and 2000s, our home requirements grew 11% and 12% across the board.

So what’s going on? Well, the Energy Institute has some theories…

Energy-efficient lighting. With 450 million LEDs installed (almost 10x more than in 2009), 70% of Americans have purchased at least one LED bulb. Energy-efficient lighting makes up 80% of ALL lighting sales in the US. (We’ve spoken previously about the rapid adoption of LED lighting.)

More efficient appliances. Although more of us are purchasing increasingly efficient appliances (think washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, etc.), these appliances have 10+ year lifetimes. Although every little bit helps, it’s unlikely that increasing efficiency in our kitchen gadgets has a lot to do with this reversal.

Computers and processing power. The folks who study this sort of thing use the sorta-cute unit of measure called FLOPS (floating point operations per second) per watt as a measurement of efficiency. Take a look at this graph to get an idea of the increase in efficiency:

computer-power-efficiency

Note the steady increase in computer efficiency since 2008

That means EVERY computer, from your laptop to your iPhone, runs software more efficiently. This may not make a huge difference in your home. Consider the vast server farms tech giants like Google and Apple maintain, and think about how many megawatt-hours they’re saving every day.

This is GOOD NEWS. We all need to keep reducing our electricity consumption for this trend to continue!

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