Denise is a devoted organic gardener who challenges herself to live as sustainably as possible in her home in southeastern Pennsylvania. She is a professor in the Department of Communication and Media at West Chester University with a Ph.D. from Kent State University. Her teaching and research areas consist of sustainability, close interpersonal relationships, integrating work and family, and conflict resolution.
The average American generates about a pound of food waste/day. Have you ever heard of vermicomposting, also known as worm composting? Even as a little girl, I was fascinated with worms – don’t ask me why. However, I did try to save worms I found on the driveway after it rained.
Although I started a compost pile right away in Deeden, my exploration of vermicomposting happened by accident. I attended a volunteer event at work, and when I walked home (I am fortunate enough to live about one mile from work, so I walked), I discovered I’d locked myself out of Deeden. It was raining, and I needed a bathroom. Luckily, the public library is nearby, so I went there. While there, I picked up a magazine and read an article about a person in Manhattan who had installed a worm bin under his kitchen sink. I was hooked. Indoor composting? Who knew?!
Mind you, these are not earthworms. They typically are red wigglers (Eisenia foetida), also known as composting worms. They are amazing and certainly underappreciated! Worms have no eyes, ears, lungs, and they have no teeth to chew. They have voracious appetites and can eat about three times their body weight per week. Microorganisms that live with the worms in the worm bin help break down the food scraps.
The idea of worms under the kitchen sink got a big veto from my partner at the time. However, I was able to sell the idea of a basement worm bin. It is a really simple set up –two large plastic bins with holes drilled in it, one slightly smaller that can fit in the bottom bin. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends an 18 gallon tub about 15x25x15 inches. Holes near the top of the tub and sides allow air in for the worms. Holes near the bottom of the tub allow excess liquid to drain out of the box so the worms don’t drown. Drill 8-12 holes up to ¼ inch diameter for the bottom and 7-10 holes on each side and the lid. Add some shredded paper as bedding — newspaper or your shredded tax returns and other personal documents — and a little water to make the paper moist but not soggy, a couple handfuls of soil, food scraps, and the worms, of course. Good to go. You’ll add moist paper periodically, especially to cover food scraps from fruit flies. Worms can easily be purchased via the internet. About 500-1000 worms will eat about 1 cup of food every day or two. They love veggie/fruit scraps and coffee grounds, but stay away from meat/bones, dairy, and oil products, and they really don’t like citrus rinds either. They will self-regulate, meaning if you stop feeding them for a bit, they will slow down reproduction. The smaller you can chop up the food the better. You’ll know if it is too much or too moist because it will start to have an off smell.
A couple times a year I encourage the worms to migrate by creating a second system using the same type of bin, then setting the old bin directly over top of it without a lid – the worms move down through the drainage holes in the bottom.
Worm castings – you guessed it – their poop — are an excellent plant food. And they can be stored in a tightly covered container until ready to use. It is super easy to take a few spoonfuls of the castings and dilute them in a gallon of water for an effective natural way to feed your plants. I use this “compost tea” about once a month with my houseplants and outdoor planters, but have found that if I try to place spoonfuls of the castings directly into my plant pots, they just harden over time. It can also be effectively used with bedded plants. My plants thank me!
Denise’s blogs will go live on the 1st Monday of every month for the next year, so be sure to mark it in your diary and hear her stories from the Garden of Deeden.