Tuesday, April 26, 2011


You know how every once in a while you will find yourself with an empty can or bottle in your hand, and NO appropriate place to put it?  It is increasingly rare, but of course there are still buildings, events, and places in the world without recycling bins.

When this happens to me I feel bewildered.  If the only place to put my empty bottle is a general garbage can, that option makes about as much sense to me as carefully sticking my spent gum to the wall, or pooping under my desk.  Happy little member of society that I am, I have dutifully assimilated the prevailing norms that govern cans and bottles: recyclables go in the recycling.  Not in the lake, not in the toilet, not in the garbage.  Duhhhhhhh.

Lately I've realized I now feel the same way about banana peels, carrot tops, and apple cores.

About 2 years ago I saw something new at the nature center: a worm composting bin.  It was a cold winter day, but the bin smelled like a forest after the rain.  In a fluffy bedding of shredded newspaper, small red worms were breaking down vegetable peels and broccoli bits, and according to the informative sign nearby, they were producing high quality fertilizer as a byproduct.

Shortly thereafter I was drilling air holes in the top of a Rubbermaid tub.
This is not me, but since vermicomposting is so exciting I was soon helping my friends set up their own bins.
Vermicomposting is great for a few reason:

1-The name is very funny, and in fact reminds me of an Ole and Lena joke.  I won't repeat the whole thing here, but the punchline is "You have to keep the verms varm!"  Haha!  ha.

2- Your kitchen garbage will fill up much more slowly, and be much less stinky as you will almost never put food in it.

3- You will feel all puffed up and proud of your shrinking carbon footprint.

4-  In the bleak cold days of January, you can crack open your bin and catch a whiff of fresh spring dirt.

5- You will in fact get high quality fertilizer as a byproduct; if you just have a couple houseplants, you will make them very happy.  If you have a yard or garden, all the better!  I read somewhere that vermifertilized plants grew 187%  bigger than non vermifertilized counterparts.  (Please note: Vermifertilized is not a real word, I just made it up.  Vermicomposting is real though.)
If this picture doesn't convince you to try it then I don't know what else I can say...
Here are some things I find particularly interesting about vermicomposting:

-the reason the bin does not smell bad is that the worms actually DON'T feed on the food scraps you put in.  They eat the bacteria that break down the food, and small bits of the bacteria-rotted food.  Ordinarily bacteria would break down the food and cause a smelly rotten mess.  The worms are all over this situation like ...worms on rotten stuff.  After a therapeutic trip through a worm's belly, it now smells like good clean mud.

-The "compost" that you get from a worm bin is very different than the compost you get from a back yard compost pile.   "Regular" compost is just broken down plant matter, and of course it is great stuff.  But worm compost is really straight up manure.  Like cow manure and other strong fertilizers it could actually "burn" your plants if you apply too much all at once.  (I have not experienced any problems, just don't mistake the rich black "compost" for potting soil!) 

-Worms just looove avocado shells and seeds.  Isn't that interesting?  The clump of worms pictured above was probably just plucked out of an avocado shell, where they can usually be found in an ecstatic worm cuddle pile.

-Vermicomposting is so low maintenance, I sometimes go several weeks without opening the bin.  I just keep a crock on my counter where I put veggie scraps, and just dump it in when it's full!  The worms are fine.
This is a worm egg!  It's just a little bigger than a mustard seed, and in three weeks 5+ baby worms will emerge.
When you decide to set up a worm bin, you can easily find internet resources with detailed instructions and FAQs, so I won't repeat it all here.  I'll just show you my incredibly easy setup:

You will be tempted to buy a fancy scientific worm composting habitat for $100.  If you are rich, then I say go for it.  Otherwise, get 2 nesting rubber tubs.  That way you can drill a couple drainage holes in the inner tub, and excess liquid will drain into the outer tub.  Drill lots of air holes in the lid. 

The worms need some kind of bedding.  Damp newspaper will do the trick.
The VERY FIRST DAY you set up the bin, put it on a hard floor or on newspaper or something.  When you first add the worms they might try to escape!  When I set up my bin and left it near the top of my stairs, I came home to find a parade of panicked worms marching downstairs.  I don't know why, but I have read that this is actually quite common in the first day before the worms settle in!  The good news is, after the first day or two you will truly never have to worry about this again.  The worms will have no inclination to leave and will stay happily down in their garbage, even if you leave the lid off.

Here is a batch of worms dumped into a new bin....  you can see how they are a little ill at ease right now.
Add a handful of dirt; worms need grit for their gizzards!
Worms are wonderful pets.
One of the first times I looked through my compost; you can see a few worms here and TONS of eggs!

There is more to know about it, but the main thing I wanted to show you is that vermicomposting is really easy!  And it is like having a recycling center in your house, where you get to witness how the easy step of of putting some waste in a different bin easily transforms it into a new useful product.  The only downside might be the new uneasiness you will feel when you eat an apple out in public and find there is no neatly labeled bin for worm food!
how awesome would it be if you saw this little guy on bin in the lineup of waste receptacles!  :-D


  1. Man my worms are CUTE! :) So today Wyatt was dumping batteries out of the package, and I said, "Hey, let's listen to mama and stop doing that so we can do something fun instead. Would you like to do something fun? "Yeah" What do you want to do? He stops...thinks..."See worms. Hold worms." All thanks to Steph! :)

  2. Hi there fellow wormer! I actually use pure worn castings as potting soil. No burn :-)