by Tricia Dameron
I was first exposed to worm composting during my stint working at the Hike Inn in the mountains of north Georgia. The lodge had an extensive setup to accommodate the kitchen and paper waste of about 150 guests per week. The worms feasted on all that waste, and we used the castings (poo) to fertilize our garden. On the guided facility tour, guests were enthralled with the story of the disappearing khakis—after being in the worm bin for about a month, all that remained was the zipper and button!
When I came down from the mountain, I scaled back the worm setup I learned at the Hike Inn to accommodate my city apartment. My own operation consisted of a plastic bin with holes drilled in the sides for air circulation. I educated my friends and family on what was and was not "worm friendly." For example, coffee grounds: worm friendly. Old pesto: not worm friendly (Red wiggler worms breathe through their skin and oil coats them, hindering respiration.). Of course, you can experiment on your own. Some items are deemed unfriendly not because the worms object, but because of the other critters you will attract or the smells that will ensue.
Vermicomposting provides for some "learning opportunities," like the time my worm bin was invaded by soldier flies. A friend and I spent an afternoon picking out the larvae and tossing them over the balcony, only to find out later that the flies pose no threat to worm health. The bin was stored outside, so it made no matter when the flies started stumbling out of the bin to take flight. Then, in the winter of 2006, my worms all decided to escape and would dry up and die in their dash for freedom. I felt like such a bad mom. (My maternal shortfalls aren’t limited to worms. Until recently, I raised an avocado tree that sprouted from a pit I tossed in the worm bin. It died, too… My green thumb is having a prolonged germination.)
If you manage to keep your worms alive over winter, there’s a place to take the waste when the heap is frozen. Besides the practical purposes, a worm bin is an educational tool showing how to turn “waste” into green energy for the garden. Peeking around inside is sure to amaze little kids and adults, alike!
If you are interested in worm composting, let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll email you a vermicompost primer I created in grad school. If you are interested in more in-depth instructions, check out Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof, the late Worm Woman.
Some helpful links: