by David Goldstein

The University of California’s Master Gardener Program in Ventura County is offering a free workshop titled “The Basics of Composting and Vermicomposting,” to be repeated in three locations next month.  

Even if your refuse hauler provides your home with separate collection service to recycle your yard clippings, there are many good reasons to instead maintain a backyard compost pile for at least a portion of those discards. The compost you produce can supply your garden with slow-releasing nutrients, texture-enhancing tilth, and moisture-retaining structure, reducing the need for commercial fertilizers and mulches. When managed properly, backyard composting produces this valuable soil amendment without generating odors or attracting flies and makes your garden healthier and more resilient to pests and heat.

Next year, some local programs for collection of curbside yard clippings are likely expand to allow bagged food scraps in yard waste carts. Bags will be separated and broken open by sorters and mechanical systems,  and the food will be transferred to compost facilities. At least initially, until a local compost site can obtain a permit to compost food scraps, food will be trucked to distant sites, mainly in Kern County, for composting. 

Instead, proper backyard composting “closes the recycling loop” right in your own backyard by facilitating and managing the natural process of decomposition. Handling yard clippings and food scraps in your backyard instead of placing them in your curbside yard waste collection program reduces the energy consumption and pollution generation from trucking materials to compost facilities, processing the material at those locations, and then distributing the finished compost to users. 

Master Gardener volunteers will present various methods of composting, as well as vermicomposting. Rather than using a compost bin, vermicomposting involves cultivating worms, typically of the Eisenia fetida variety, known commonly as “red worms.” Under ideal conditions, a pound of worms can eat half a pound of food scraps each day, and in a well-managed worm box, worms reproduce to a level sufficient to handle the amount they are fed. These worms reproduce quickly because they are hermaphrodites — each worm is both male and female — and they reach sexual maturity within 60 days. Just 30 days after mating, they can produce fertilized egg capsules with up to seven baby worms, according to Alexa Hendricks, Master Gardener program coordinator with the UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County.

A worm box is the only viable solution for recycling the food scraps of apartment dwellers and others who have no space for a compost bin. With a drain pan under the box, vermicomposting is viable on a balcony or, with precautions, even indoors. Vermicomposting is also a good solution for composting food scraps because using a box, rather than a bin, minimizes the potential for flies and other pests. 

Up to 30 participants will be allowed per presentation. Past workshops typically attracted 15-20 guests, but it has been at least three years since the last composting workshop offered by Master Gardeners, so use the following links to register. 

All events are outdoors, but masks and social distancing are recommended. All sites have bathrooms, but bring your own water: 

Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021 10-11:30 a.m.
Oxnard Farm Park, 1251 Gottfried Place, Oxnard
surveys.ucanr.edu/survey.cfm?surveynumber=35678

Wednesday, October 20, 2021, 10-11:30 a.m.
Hansen Agricultural Research and Extension Center, 287 S. Briggs Road, Santa Paula (Enter the gate and park to the left. Follow signs to the event.)
surveys.ucanr.edu/survey.cfm?surveynumber=35715

Thursday, October 28, 2021, 11 a.m.-12 p.m.
True Colors Garden and Learning Center at the Goebel Adult Community Center, 1385 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks
surveys.ucanr.edu/survey.cfm?surveynumber=35679

David Goldstein, Ventura County Public Works Environmental Analyst, may be reached at 805-658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.