Saturday, January 26, 2008

worms, worms, worms

Tracy took a short class offered by a colleague about vermiculture last week, and we decided to give it a try. (The No Impact Man has had a big impact on us around here.) We're going to try to use worms to compost our vegetable matter garbage (and since we eat mostly vegan, we have plenty). It'll create some powerful compost for use in our community garden plot this spring. The cool thing about this is that we can do it in our house (since we don't have a yard).

Here's the steps we've taken.

  1. We started saving vegetable matter for feeding the worms (the recommended worms are called "red wigglers" or just "red worms"). That didn't take very long. We're only doing one bin for now, but our household probably generates enough to supply four bins.

  2. We bought a 14-gallon plastic bin for less than $10. It needs to be opaque, since the worms don't like light. And it shouldn't be too deep.

  3. Then we drilled a bunch of holes in the bin, from the top halfway down and in the lid, so they get plenty of ventilation. This is also supposed to help the moisture content stay about right and keep it from getting smelly.

  4. We ripped up a bunch of newspapers for the bedding into 1/2 inch strips. We needed enough to fill the bin 3/4 full with damp newspaper, so it needed to be full to the brim with dry strips. You're not supposed to use newspaper that print in color, unless you know the ink is soy-based. Tracy e-mailed the Boston Globe, and they responded that yes, the ink should be safe for the worms.

  5. Then we went to the Arlington Bait Shop (after calling first, to make sure they had what we needed, since this is winter time) and bought 8 cans of worms (24 each) for $21 (192 worms). We're told that in six months, each worm can have 96 offspring, which would give us 18,432 worms. Our bin can probably only support about 1,000 or so, but the population is self-limiting--they won't produce more than their food will allow. We can use our worms to seed new colonies, or we can put them directly into our garden (or go fishing). The guy at the bait shop was really nice--we weren't the first ones looking for worms for compost. He says he also sells them in the winter to people who use them to feed their turtles, shrews (I've never heard of a pet shrew), and birds. A pack of 1,000 worms is $65. (Maybe I'll talk the kids into going into business...)

  6. Once home with our worms, we prepared the bedding by getting it wet in the bathtub and wringing it out, so that it was thoroughly damp but not dripping, like a damp sponge. Messy work.

  7. Once the bin was loaded with damp bedding, we buried a cup or so of food in five spots. Tracy's instructor recommended laying out a grid on the lid, and alternating where you bury the food, so it's easier to keep track of what they like (worms don't like all kinds of vegetables, and you can't feed them citrus). So today, we buried in the odd grid spots. The trick is to feed them just the right amount, so there isn't a bunch of rotting food in there. We also need to watch the moisture levels a bit, and use a turkey baster to drain off the "compost tea" once a week or so (which we can dilute to feed our house plants).
  1. Next we dumped in the worms and set them free in their new home. For now, we'll keep the bin in a corner of our kitchen (they need to be between 40-80 degrees F), so we don't forget about them.
For the first few months, we probably can't feed them a lot, but once they're active and breeding, we can feed them more.

I'll report back on how it's going. With any luck we'll have some rich compost by spring, and send a lot less pounds of green matter to the landfill.

If you're interested in more info, the instructor recommended this book: Worms Eat My Garbage

Here are some sites that offer more about composting with worms:

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