For years I’ve wanted a worm composter, but I never got organized enough to put one together, and then there was the problem of where to buy the worms (by mail order, they’re fairly pricey, plus you really need to be home when the box arrives so the worms don’t freeze–or fry–on the doorstep). Several times I’ve gone so far as to scan the Yellow Pages for bait shops, but there never were any near my house and besides, I don’t know an Eisenia foetida from a hole in the ground; a baitmeister could sell me anything. So…I put it off, and then it would finally be not-winter and our outdoor compost pile was defrosted again and I didn’t have to think about it until November again.
No more! A few weeks ago I was cleaning up after a church meeting and mentioned to one of the folks on the committee that it was a shame we didn’t have a worm composter in the church kitchen for all the food scraps. It turns out she had an unused worm bin at home that she’d never gotten around to populating because she realized that, um, she’s not a worm sort of person.
Well, I’m squeamish about some things but worms I can handle, so now I have a super-deluxe, expandable-to-four-story Worm Factory in our basement.
And because things happen when they are supposed to, I found a worm supplier just a few blocks from my house via FindWorms.com, which was suggested in the booklet that came with the Worm Factory. My worm connection is a young mom who’d only been in business for a month when I called her. Is vermiculture the new Tupperware for SAHMs?
I’ve been conservative in feeding this first month, giving them about two cups worth of chopped veggie scraps every fourth day for the first week or so, then every third day. Following a hint I picked up somewhere along the line, I pre-treat the material by freezing it first in margarine tubs and ice cream containers. This week I’m going to every other day for the first time.
They’ll process almost anything, including tea and tea bags (I remove the staples and string, and tear the bags into smaller pieces). You’re not supposed to use meat and dairy products, but I’m not clear whether this is because of the smell, because it might attract flies and rodents, or because they’re bad for the worms. Citrus rinds aren’t supposed to be used, either, and I’ve read that onions and cabbage-y foods like broccoli can produce a strong smell, but I’ve been adding onions and leek tops and broccoli stems in moderation and haven’t noticed a problem. The only smell of any kind so far is rain-damp earth.
Some people in the family–I mention no names–worried that the worms would escape and crawl up the basement stairs and then to the second floor and up the bed to attack him in his sleep. So far this has not happened. The thing about red wigglers is: they don’t like the light. It was even tricky trying to get a photo of them–as soon as I’d take off the lid and peel back the damp newspaper, they’d would slide beneath their bedding. I finally had to turn over a corner of bedding before I found enough to photograph.
The population is self-limiting; they reproduce in proportion to the available food and available space. It probably will be next autumn before I have to add another tray to the bin, especially since I’ll be putting some of my overflow into our outdoor compost bin.
There’s plenty of information about worm composting online. The place I learned the most was the Red Worm Composting blog, and today I discovered that my worm dealer also has started a blog: see Gardens, not Garbage.
 The title of this post is a riff on Tim Eisele’s really cool The Backyard Arthropod Project.  I couldn’t resist.
 Compost led me to Tim’s blog in the first place. I let our backyard pile dry out too much in 2009 and yellow jackets moved in. Last spring I found a big, beautiful creature on the fence that looked exactly what I thought a yellow jacket queen would look like, so I came indoors and went looking online for a photo of a yellow jacket queen. Somehow Tim’s blog came up in the Google results; because it was filled with fascinating and occasionally completely disgusting photos of insects, I’ve been caught in his web ever since.
© 2011 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go