DO you want a good Christmas gift for an environmentally conscious person in your family? How about some worms?
For the last two years, we have composted approximately three bags of garbage per month using earthworms. All of our coffee grounds, banana peels, junk mail, vacuum and clothes dryer lint, among other things, end up in our worm bin. The must from my winemaking now ends up there as well.
In return, the worms provide us with about 4000 cubic inches of castings, or compost, per month. The plants definitely appreciate it. Our tropical fish also enjoy an occasional helping of earthworms as well.
You can make a bin from scratch, or choose from the numerous bins on the market. We decided to buy the Expandable Worm Tower from composters.com. Right now we are using it in a three tray configuration.
I started it out with one tray and used a base of coir (waste residue from the coconut industry, basically a substitute for peat moss), adding paper, coffee grounds, etc; as the worms began to devour the waste (and multiply prolifically), I placed the second bin on top of the first, added coir, and began putting waste in it. As the worms finished eating all of the waste in the original bin, they migrated up to the top. I then removed the original, rescued as many worms as I felt like, then dumped the compost around my tomato plants.
Eventually I worked up to a third bin, and have enough worms (and aerobic bacteria, no doubt) to render a tray of compost in ten days or so. I no longer use coir as a base in the tray; I simply grind up the numerous dead oak leaves in my yard by hand, mix in some vacuum and dryer lint, and then dampen it. We throw in some kitchen scraps, and we’re ready for business.
The photo above shows my bin yesterday, after I added the wine must from my pumpkin wine; little bits of pumpkin can be seen on top of the dead leaves. I always provide newspaper or leaves as a topcover over the rest of the food scraps, the worms seem to appreciate it. The middle bin (which was the top bin until I replaced it with the above bin yesterday) of the tower is still extremely active, as the worms, mould, and bacteria work to break down waste into compost.
In another ten days or so there will be nothing left but compost, or castings, in this bin, and thew worms will have moved to the top tray to start working there. Once they are done, the finished tray will resemble this one, full of rich castings:
So who does all of this hard work in the bin? The worms are the species known as eisenia foetida, red or compost worms. I started out with one pound of them, also purchased at composters.com. They are highly prolific, and multiply rapidly if they are happy in the bin. Bacteria and mould assist with breaking down the waste into nutrients as well. Although the process is by no means pretty (unless you are slightly “off” like me, and totally dig this stuff!), the bin emits no odors, attracts no insects or pests, and is largely ignored by everyone unless we are throwing food into it.
This system is being used as a beta test for us; it is too small to support composting a significant amount of waste in our family of six; however, it’s saving about 40 bags of trash a year from the landfill, so it’s better than nothing. Eventually, when we move to our “final” house, we will use a larger system to compost virtually all of household waste that we cannot recycle.
The Capitol building in Raleigh North Carolina currently composts about 100 pounds per day of its waste using vermiculture. UMASS at Lowell is starting a venture to produce commercial quantities of worm castings as a substitute for fertilizer. It can be done.
So check online this Christmas, order a worm bin, and let the players start reducing your landfill output and increase your compost production. Worms are great, require no serious maintenance, and taste like chicken, too. Just kidding!