We interrupt this program for an important message: Worms are nifty, cool, highly adaptable critters that can eat YOUR garbage! All you need is a plastic bin (with holes drilled in it), some shredded newspaper and/or compost, and a bunch of red worms. It’s that simple.
Wha….? you ask? Where the heck out of left field did THAT come from?
Well, Mike and I were at the nursery this afternoon, buying seeds, herbs, and some planting mix/compost, and we noticed that they had earthworms (aka red worms, or red wrigglers). We had been kicking around the idea of a worm composting bin for awhile, and decided spontaneously to create one. (I’d had one before and loved the results.) So I spent part of this afternoon creating a worm composting bin.
Once upon a time, an enterprising young tigress (that would be me) got tired of tossing out huge amounts of food waste. As a then-vegetarian, I generated a lot of vegetable waste: potato and carrot peelings, pea-pods, beet greens, you name it! – and as a budding young farmer, I couldn’t just watch it all go to waste (not to mention landfill). I had an 1800 square foot garden (actually closer to a mini farm) in a friend’s backyard, growing 83 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, eight kinds of garlic, four kinds of potatoes, ten kinds of beans, ….you get the idea. I was donating over 100 lbs of produce a week to the local food bank. So the idea of throwing out all that food waste without using it for SOMETHING just didn’t go over well.
However, I was also living in a 1-bedroom apartment, with a tiny patio, and no chance of a home compost bin. I also was NOT going to haul all my food scraps 15 miles to compost it on my “farm” – that would have been silly. So what to do? Why, worm composting, of course!
I don’t remember how I got hold of the idea of worm composting. I was on a garden kick at that point, of course – reading everything I could find about organic farming, poring over gardening catalogs and hunting down obscure vegetable breeders, starting hundreds of tomato plants under giant banks of fluorescent lights, and so on. I was kind of nuts about gardening.
(To give you a rough scope of the insanity, during the first week that I was starting my garden, I was introduced to the hapless people who had offered to let me garden in their backyard. (I think they were thinking of a small, decorative garden, with a few beans, some flowers, and a tomato plant or two.) I explained the mini farm I had in mind, they blanched slightly but nodded, and I went out back and discovered that the soil was heavy clay. As in, I could pick up a chunk and fashion a small coil pot out of it. Real clay.
Nothing daunted, I took my pickup truck to the local wholesale nursery and bought a cubic yard of compost, which filled the bed up about 3/4 of the way. I carted it to my friends’ house and spread it on part of the 30’x60′ plot I had decided to farm. Then I looked at the small pile of compost, and the giant back yard, and realized that sterner measures were required. I called up the nursery and asked for 5 cubic yards, which arrived in a small dump truck. I shoveled it out of the driveway and moved it, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful, to the back yard. Still not enough. I realized that I had to get serious. I called the nursery and ordered 10 cubic yards, which arrived in a truck too big to get into the driveway – the driver had to drop it right in the front of the driveway to avoid tearing down power lines. Since this left my friends unable to use their driveway, I spent the next day moving the whole giant dump truck’s worth of compost into the backyard, one wheelbarrowful at a time. (Yes, I had seriously sore muscles afterwards. But nothing a hot bath couldn’t fix.) That was almost sufficient – the next weekend I ordered another 5 cubic yards of compost, shoveled it in, and that finally did it. The week after that I started setting out my 83 varieties of tomatoes and all the other obscure-yet-interesting veggies I’d decided to grow.)
At any rate, a woman who rototills under 22 cubic yards of compost and plants 83 varieties of tomatoes just to find out what they taste like is not going to be stopped by a mere inability to have a patio compost heap. Somewhere in my mounds of gardening catalogs I saw an entry for a book titled Worms Eat my Garbage! – and, since I was then contemplating all sorts of oddities (chicken tractor, anyone?), I ordered a copy.
And it turned out to be really neat! The basic idea is simple: you take a pound or two of redworms (Eisenia foetida), put them into a shallow plastic bin with holes drilled into it, fill with shredded newspaper or compost, and then add food scraps. Redworms naturally live in decaying leaf litter, so they LOVE decaying vegetable matter – all you have to do is rotate where you put the veggie stuff, and the worms will follow and eat it. Every few months, you add fresh newspaper and take out some of the worm castings. You now have great fertilizer for your garden (or 1/1000th of the garden if you were me), and you’ve saved pounds and pounds of food scraps from going into landfill. If you bury the food two inches or more into the bedding, you don’t get fruit flies; and for obvious reasons you don’t want to put in meat products, but it works great for vegetable scraps.
I used a 2-foot by 2-foot worm composting bin, and it converted all my vegetable scraps to worm compost. Best of all, I could do it in a tiny space on my patio without disturbing the neighbors.
Anyway, if you are interested in making your own, check out this website. It’s really very simple. (I am personally amazed that the owner/maintainer is that in love with worms, but, um, considering my proclivities (83 varieties of tomatoes? 133 lbs of chocolates?), I probably shouldn’t throw stones.)
So Mike and I bought about 200 worms for $13, drilled holes in an old plastic tub, added in some compost and some paper from the paper shredder (ha! Fraudsters, just try reconstructing my credit card info after the worms have been at it!), and we have a worm compost bin. We should really have more worms in it if we want it to take all our garbage, but as the worm population doubles about every month under good breeding conditions, it shouldn’t take long for the worms to catch up. Although, I may be impatient and buy some more worms next weekend, after the food we put in has a chance to decay a bit – I looked on Craigslist and there’s a guy in San Jose who’s a professional worm breeder. (Hey, everyone’s got to have a hobby…or a profession…!)
So that was my afternoon. I’ve also managed to get about 2/3 of the way through the basting, and expect to finish up sometime tomorrow. At that point I can go back to waxing neurotic over interfacing.
We now return you to your regular blog. 🙂