Friday, February 17, 2012

Got worms?

As part of our general commitment to not be harder on the planet than necessary, we're big fans of composting kitchen scraps.  If we had a yard, we'd be fans of composting yard waste as well.  But we don't have a yard which means that it's kind of hard to have an outdoor compost pile back in some out-of-the-way corner.  

Fortunately, urbanites such as ourselves or, really, anyone, can take advantage of a worm bin for composting.  This method is known as "vermicomposting."  

We had a worm bin when we lived in Minnesota and it was great.  After several months there we had a bin full of really nice-looking compost.  Unfortunately we never got to use it since we moved across the country in early summer.  The contents of our worm bin were added to the large outdoor compost pile at Eric's mom's house and I'm sure descendants of our original worms are living quite happily there to this day.

We tried a worm bin again when we first moved to New Jersey but it didn't go quite as well that time and, again, we moved in early summer and never got around to gardening.  Life was too busy to maintain it properly and we gave up.

This spring and summer we have big garden plans for our little patio and we want to produce as much of our own compost as possible.  Today was the big day--our worms arrived in the mail!  We've ordered every time from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  They sell through Amazon and get mixed reviews there.  We have always ordered directly from the company which gets us slightly lower prices and we have always been happy with the worms.

I'll illustrate the general idea but we get all of our information for vermicomposting from the book Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Apelhof.  If you are interested in vermicomposting I strongly recommend purchasing the book.

We use a 10-gallon Rubbermaid storage bin.  You want an opaque container because worms don't like light.  You also want high surface area for the volume.  Since the container needs to breathe we've drilled holes all over the bottom and all around the top as well.

Then you need to create bedding.  There are several different kinds of materials.  We're using half shredded newspaper and half coconut coir.  But the coconut coir was hard to find locally and hasn't arrived in the mail yet so we started with just newspaper. 

Once you have a good amount of bedding you want to get it wet.  Worms are about 75% water, just like us, and their bedding should be about the same.  I used a spray bottle to make the newspaper wet and just kept tossing it until it was all evenly wet without it being completely saturated.  You can see that the bedding reduces  quite a bit once it is wet.  And a concern with a 100% newspaper bedding is that it can become too matted for the worms to thrive.  The cocount coir should help with that once it arrives.  Also, this really isn't enough bedding but it was a lot of work shredding the newspaper (you want it fairly fine to keep it loose enough) so this was more of a "keep the worms alive for a couple of days" approach until the coconut coir arrives. 

We bulked things up a bit and gave the worms some "grit" to aid with digestion by tossing in several handfuls of dirt and old garden clippings.

And then Margaret added the few kitchen scraps we've collected since yesterday.  We keep a quart-size container on the counter and just empty it every day or so.  Worms can eat about half their weight in scraps each day.  Last time we had a bin we produced more scraps than they could handle so we're actually setting up two bins this time around.

Here's our small pile of scraps so far:  a banana peel, some grape stems, a crushed egg shell, and some garlic peels.  Worms can eat most kitchen scraps.  Too much meat or citrus is a problem as are bones.  Bones won't hurt the worms, they just don't really get eaten and then you've got bones in your garden down the road.

Then it was time to open the box.  They ship Priority Mail through the USPS with a big, yellow "Live Shipment" sticker on the top.  I wonder what the mailman thinks . . .

The worm farm sends them out on Mondays only so they don't languish over the weekend.  The little guys are packed in peat moss and then tied up tightly in a breathable bag.  They are somewhat thin and lethargic when they arrive but perk up with food and water. We ordered 2000 worms in order to set up two bins.

The worms are dumped in one big pile in the center of the prepared bedding and then we move more wet bedding on top of them.  They disperse on their own over the course of a couple of days.

The kids really love having a worm bin going and Joseph has read quite a bit of the worm book which includes a good bit of science about worm anatomy, the ecosystem of a worm bin, worm reproduction, and other critters.  We don't have to try to hard to get science education in around here.

We popped the lid back on once we'd all gotten our fill of watching the worms.  William patted the lid and said, "Good night worms!" and visited them again just before bedtime.

We don't expect to have compost ready to harvest until July so we'll need to buy compost for our initial planting this spring but we'll have our own good stuff, if all goes well, by the time we're getting our fall harvest ready.

Oh, and the bins will live in our basement while the weather is cold.  Once temperatures are consistently above freezing we'll move the bins out to the patio.  The bins don't stink at all but they do develop fruit flies once in awhile and the kids like to dump the scraps in and check on the worms so having them on the patio will keep them more accessible for everyone.  We place each closed bin on a spare plastic lid from a bigger bin.  Plastic worm bins tend to collect excess water.  This can drain out of the holes on the bottom and the lid/tray underneath will keep it contained.  This water is great for watering plants.


Robyn said...

LOVED this! So cool!

Emily said...

awesome!! Ok so maybe you can help me with our compost bin in the back yard....we just throw stuff in anything happening you think?? Should I buy worms?