We’ve got worms. This amusing admission isn’t a joke, it’s actually part of our waste reduction strategy (they’re also the best special guests for preschool visits!). Our worms live in a condo in the back of our office. They like it dark and moist and they really love mango pits. We haven’t named them but that certainly doesn’t diminish the importance they play in keeping our total office garbage to 1-2 grocery bags a week.
Vermiculture, or worm composting, is an easy way to reduce the amount of organic waste we send to landfill each week. Organic kitchen waste – veggie peels, cores, used tea, coffee, etc. – makes up anywhere between 30 and 45% of our weekly household garbage. Many of us compost yard waste during the summer, but once the snow flies, that short trip to the compost pile seems to expand to 5 kilometers and we start throwing our organics back in the garbage. A worm bin can be an easy bridge for those of us whose best intentions are crushed by snow boots and -20 temperatures.
To compost with worms you will need some specific friends, Red Wigglers, to be exact. These eisenia fetida are different from our common earth worms in some important ways. Red wigglers love to eat organics and rotting food specifically while earth worms eat dirt (handy in a garden but not in a compost pile). Wigglers are native to Europe although are found throughout the world and they become smelly if they are handled roughly, so remember to be gentle. Like all worms, wigglers are hermaphrodites. They will produce a band with several cocoons containing eggs once they have mated, which they shed before moving on.
We need to contain our wee wigglers as they will not survive a Peace Region winter outside. They like to be relatively warm (16-18C) and in the dark. After millenia of evolution, they are now quite happy to live and work in a Rubbermaid tote. Like all animals, wigglers will produce a solid waste and a liquid waste. The solid is relatively benign but we have to monitor the liquid. Worms breathe through their skin which needs to be moist but not wet; a swimming worm is a dead worm.
To compost successfully with worms here are a few tips:
- Bedding – this is material that you add to a worm bin to control the moisture and provide them with a pleasing environment. Carbon sources like shredded paper, hamster shavings, shredded boxboard, straw, etc. make great bedding as they will help absorb excess moisture, keep pH levels in check, and are also edible.
- Dark – wigglers like the dark so a lid on the bin is great. Remember to punch holes in the bin so they get enough oxygen and moisture doesn’t build up inside.
- Flies – everyone that vermicomposts will deal with fruit flies. These eggs will come in on fruit and veggies and are a pain in the butt to get rid of. Freezing or microwaving your food scraps before putting them in can help reduce fruit flies, especially in the summer. Take your time with this step, you’ll be glad you did.
- Other critters – there are often tiny white bugs that appear within your bin. If they aren’t jumpy they are likely be white mites. Regardless, springtails and white mites are not problems per se. They will appear when conditions in your bin (pH or moisture) are ideal for them. Work on correcting this and they will move along. Ultimately, you are creating an ecosystem within a bin that will compost efficiently. As long as there isn’t an infestation, populations of white mites and fruit flies will come and go and that’s not a bad thing. If you’ve got more questions about different bugs you find in your bin, visit Bentley at Red Worm Composting, he’s got tonnes of great info there.
- Meat & Dairy – meat and diary products can pose some challenges to your worm bin. If anything attracts pests to your bin, it’ll be this. Skip all meat and dairy especially if your bin is outside over the summer.
- Acid – Although worms aren’t picky eaters, be aware of how many high acid foods you’re putting in your bin. Grapefruit, oranges, lemons, pineapple and kiwi are all fairly acidic and can throw off the balance in your bin if you don’t have enough bedding to keep it in check.
If you aren’t yet convinced that vermicomposting is a great, planet saving idea, take a tour through our worm bin and see how easy it is for yourself: