Vermicomposting University Food Waste, Grand Junction, CO
In 2013 Soil Stewardship was contacted by John Heideman who was part of a group of students at Colorado Mesa University and Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction, CO. The students wanted to start a composting facility on campus using pre-consumer food waste from the school cafeteria. They had done some research but realized that it would be best to bring in a professional to help. Soil Stewardship was contacted, who then designed, set up, and helped put the dual composting/vermicomposting site into operation. We continue to support the students, and we love going there to see the amazing work they are doing.
Kathy patiently reviewed and gave unvarnished practical advice to tame down the grandiose plans of enthusiastic idealistic students. She walked us through and had us experience every step of the vermicomposting process first at Soil Stewardship’s farm in Fort Collins. Her advice about bin design, the greenhouse panel roof for the vermicompost bins, and the caterpillar hoop house for keeping leaves dry was spot on. She also helped us deal with recycling the first year’s soggy partially decomposed leaves, delivered during a driving rainstorm, by designing an experimental hay bale vermicomposting bin.
Kathy was a tremendous asset on site visits after we finished building our bins. She helped us get the hot composting facet of our operation right. We had a huge learning curve since our main compost ingredient is food waste which contains 90% water and can become a fermenting slimy mess as it decomposes. Kathy had us use more leaves in the initial mix than we thought were necessary to add pore space and dry out our food waste rather than add water which is done in most composting situations with dry compost foodstuffs.
Kathy’s advice regarding worm husbandry was also invaluable. We started vermicomposting in late September, knowing that we were adding a significant risk to success by starting so late in the year. Our worms fed ravenously and multiplied until that extremely long cold first winter of 2013-14 in Grand Junction set in with a vengeance. Our worms were living in shallow beds. Kathy advised us to put bags of leaves on top of their carpet coverings to help insulate them from the cold. That advice proved prescient, and we used the leaf bag “comforters” again this winter.
The WCCC Culinary Department is using compost, vermicompost, and vermicompost tea in their raised bed gardens which provide fresh vegetables and herbs, harvested the morning they are used, in the teaching labs, cooking competitions, and the student Chez Lena restaurant. We also provide compost, vermicompost, and vermicompost tea to the CMU and WCCC grounds department for lawn and perennial bed use. We are working with two orchards putting in new blocks of trees to test vermicompost and vermicompost tea to develop ideal planting and early growth protocols.
We are also working with oil and gas producers to see if vermicompost and vermicompost tea can improve re-vegetation success on well pads.”
WCCC student and project coordinator