Home Vermicomposting 101
Like many a landlord, the owner of the house we rent in the Ball Square area of Somerville did not take kindly to our grand schemes of uprooting his patch of grass and replacing it with unruly, delicious plants. We envisioned a lush urban oasis of edibles; he saw lawsuits and vermin. His explicit yet absolutely reasonable rules broke our neophyte city gardener hearts: No Gardening, No Planting, No Pruning, No Compost. And so, we loaded our south facing windows with kindly houseplants, thanked the benevolent gods of Renting in Somerville for our washer and dryer, and said goodbye to our dreams of urban homesteading.
Until we got worms.
A worm bin with Eisenia fetida, that is. More commonly known as red wigglers, these worms allow us to compost the copious amounts of food scraps generated by two plant-based adults. We started with 20 worms, composting 2 quarts of scraps a week. Not pounds, not even ounces, just 20 little red worms that reproduce prolifically. We purchased them from GroundWork Somerville during last year’s ArtBeat Festival in Davis Square. From our interest in local food and sustainability we had vaguely heard of vermicomposting, but did not give it serious thought until we stumbled upon the GroundWork table at the festival. We biked home to grab cash for the worms, starter soil, and informational booklet, still in disbelief that all we needed was about $10 worth of materials that we fortuitously already had. Ever since, we have been vermicomposting and sharing our knowledge, worms, and compost with others in the community via Craiglist and word of mouth. And devouring information about vermicomposting only slightly faster than our worms munch away at our kale stems and toilet paper rolls (actually, they are interested in the microorganisms that break down the stems and rolls, but that’s for vermicomposting 201).
Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to turn your food scraps and benign paper waste into dense, dark, rich compost. The process is quicker than traditional composting because the worms do all of the work, and the worm castings (poop/compost) they generate outperform typical compost in nutrient content, bioavailability to plants, and microorganism content. We keep a “worm bin” in our home, filled with worms and paper waste. Once or twice a week, we dump food scraps into the bin. Within a few months, the worms generate beautiful, heady compost that we feed to our houseplants and 5-gallon bucket garden (yes, we got around the No Gardening rules).
At this point, you may be thinking of The Top Five Reasons Misconceptions About Why I Can’t Vermicompost.
1. I can’t afford the worm bin.
On the contrary, all you need is that old blue recycling bin that the city replaced with giant garbage cans, or a 10-ish gallon Rubbermaid, plus an old cookie sheet, some wood blocks or bricks, and access to a drill. No need for the multi-tiered, pricey composting systems. Buying new materials should cost you less than $10, or you can improvise as we did.
2. It smells.
One of our favorite party tricks is having guests sniff out the worm bin… just kidding. It’s odorless! A worm bin should be virtually smell-free, as long as you are taking care of it properly. Proper care means checking on it about once a week, mixing things around if you notice a slight earthy odor, and feeding the worms the right amount and type of food scraps.
3. It attracts pests.
The worm bin is a living ecosystem, and as such there is a lot happening inside. But it should not attract pests if it is taken care of properly. Rather than attract bugs, you might end up with a few fruit flies that hatched from eggs that were already on the produce you threw into the bin. They are easy to get rid of – open your bin next to an open window and they fly right out, or set up a fruit fly trap with wine, beer, juice, or banana peel. As long as the bin does not smell, you will not attract pests.
4. I don’t have anywhere to put it.
Our bin sits in our office under a window that we can open when we want to get rid of a few fruit flies. We have friends that keep a bin in their basement. You can keep it in a closet, in the kitchen, anywhere that has some airflow and stays between 40-80 degrees. Our worm bin looks just like any other storage container, and no one notices it until we point it out.
5. My wife/husband/roommate/housemate/other would never go for it.
Share the above with them! Because the bin does not attract pests or smell under the extremely-easy-to-achieve-right-conditions, it should not be a problem with a landlord, either. But we wouldn’t necessarily mention it…
Aside from reducing the amount of our waste that ends up in a landfill while providing nutrient-rich fertilizer for our houseplants and container garden, our worm bin has allowed us to donate worms to local schools for classroom composting and hands-on activities to further children’s understanding of climate change, sustainability, and ecological awareness. We have given a talk about vermicomposting to Boston University’s Organic Gardening Club, have sold worms and compost to fellow composters and gardeners, and have met inspiring members of the community. Vermicomposting has furthered our connection with food, with the magical, invisible world of bugs and bacteria, and with our community.
Our worms have also connected us with My City Gardens, and we hope to bring vermicomposting to more urban gardeners throughout Somerville, Cambridge, and the Greater Boston area. For more information, complete instructions on building a $10 worm bin, worms, trades, barters, fermentation cultures, or conversation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit us at our website, somervilleworms.com (still in the works, stay tuned).
Carlyn Friedberg and Aaron Darrell