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Can Worms Save My Relationship with Composting?

After a few too many brushes with anerobic decay in my kitchen compost pail, my passion for composting is cooling. I'm quite sure that my carbon footprint for toting a small pail of fresh compost a couple of miles to the Fink Farm compost bin more than exceeds any benefit to be gained from returning green waste to the ground.

An alternative currently has me firmly in its grip: kitchen vermiculture. To describe this in simple terms, you take a set of stacked, ventilated trays and add 1,000 red worms (Eisenia foetida), bedding materials, a little water and up to five pounds of food waste a week. The worms digest the waste, creating casting that are rich in nitrogen, phosphates, potash, calcium and magnesium. The castings can be put in the garden. As the worms finish the waste, they crawl up into the next level of the bin.  The lower tray can then be emptied into the garden.

The worms can process fruits, vegetables, stale bread, old rice or pasta, coffee grounds and dryer lint.  You just have to avoid meat and dairy products, processed foods or greasy or oily waste products. The bedding materials include strips of newspaper, shredded cardboard and coconut coir (peat). Burying the food in a different spot in the bin at each feeding discourages molds and fruit flies.


If the food waste doesn't disappear in a few days, you need to either get more worms or give them less garbage.

If you farm the worms correctly there are no odors.  It's a silent process and the bins can even be kept in the kitchen. (Worms can get their favorite dark, moist environment inside the bin, but you have to protect them from extremes in temperature, water levels and acidity/alkalinity.)

When Karen and I first explored composting, we attended a workshop run by the City of LA in Griffith Park.  The presenter was hilarious and informative.  He said he'd kept a plastic box of worms under his desk for a long time.  He only got rid of it when he realized that a colleague in a neighboring cubicle would have gone hysterical if she'd known that she was working so close to damp, squiggly, red garbage eating creatures.

I'd read a description by Amy Stewart in passing of a worm bin in her book, The Earth Moved. I instantly recognized them when I passed the Urban Worms booth at the Studio City farmers market. 

If it hadn't been for the
$149 price tag, I would be crooning lullabies to my red worms now.  For the moment, I'm checking out Mary Appelhof's book Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System, and Loreen Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor's The Worm Book: The Complete Guide to Gardening and Composting with Worms.

Urban worms can be found at the Saturday Pasadena Farmers Market at Pasadena High School or the Sunday Studio City Farmers Market at Laurel Canyon and Ventura Place as well as a number of Central Valley farmers markets.

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