Feed the Worms

I am going to be honest with my readers–which at this point is probably just my mom and my sisters–and admit that I have only become “enlightened” recently. Rather than “enlightened”, my readers–again, see above–might say smug (I do drive a Prius), self-righteous, and odd (I think only my mom thinks that), but I really do feel that I was so wasteful–and still am–and that it is my individual responsibility to do better. Worm composting was one of my first efforts. I had heard about this concept of having worms inside your house and thought that it was a bit too icky. Not that I am squeamish about worms. I love to get my hands in the dirt and worms are like little gold nuggets when you like to garden–grubs are another story … vile, disgusting things. Anyhow, a friend that works in horticulture mentioned a book called, “The Worms Eat My Garbage'”. Apparently you can have these little red worms in your house (or more realistically, your basement or garage) and they will consume your veggie scraps, paper, coffee grounds, tea leaves, card board, leaves, dryer lint, etc. They would leave behind thick, rich compost. I thought this was amazing but what I was skeptical of was the smell. But I did the research and decided that enough seemingly legitimate persons assured me that it would not smell like garbage.

I took the plunge and ordered a kit. I saw a lot of make your own options but I knew myself…I needed the process to be as simple as possible or I would never “harvest” any compost. The one I bought was from Hayneedle and I not only highly recommend the product but also this company. Phenomenal customer service. I had to purchase the worms separately since they are special. You can neither just dig them up from your backyard nor release them into the wild. At least not in Illinois.

I had also done quite a bit of research on what to feed them and fretted a lot about this. In the end, I did not buy anything special for them to start with, but just made a bed of moist, shredded paper and dumped the worms in. The worms came with some dirt, which was recommended as an additive in a small dose. From then on, I added my scraps, coffee grinds, tea leaves, some cardboard from dry good boxes, grass clippings, leaves, egg shells, dryer lint and some yard waste.

Initially I was pretty concerned about the size of the “food” and would spend a lot of time cutting it up. I had also read that some people microwaved the scraps to make them mushy. The latter always sounded kind of gross and the former soon got old. Overall, here are some things I have learned about my worm farm:

1) they do not really eat eggshells. They may really like them as I have read, but unless you are wiling to pulverize them, then pass them up. They do not consume the hand-crushed variety and when you harvest your compost there will be pieces of egg shells throughout.
2) you really should keep a scrap container by your sink or prep area to encourage collection of scraps. Otherwise you will not feed them and it seems that the more you feed them, the more compost you get. I have read that they can handle up to a pound a day. I have no idea if this is true, but I don’t really exceed this, if averaged out. It is pretty obvious, though, that the worms cannot handle every ounce of compostable material that comes out of my house. If I want to get rid if every cardboard box, every bit of junk mail and shredded document, not to mention raked leaves, garden refuse and grass clippings, I have to commit to outdoor composting.
3) Worm composting is a compliment to outdoor composting because even if they could handle all the volume, they can’t handle anything even remotely woody or tough, like carrot and zucchini tops.
4) The worms survive just fine in my garage through the winter. It is attached to the house, and partially insulated, but it does get down to the 20’s in there. Also, it is sweltering in the summer. They do just fine.
5) Always avoid milk products and meat. They will spoil and stink, and, I hear, attract unwanted bugs. Nonetheless, you will get bugs in there. Probably little fly type things. Not a big deal.
6) Avoid throwing seeds in there or they will sprout. Unless you want them to sprout, then throw seeds in there.
7) keep a couple of gallon jugs around for easy access to worm tea. My worm factory has a spigot on the front, but honestly, nothing has ever come out of it. I think worms clog it up. Or my husband’s car tapped it one too many times. But a couple scoops of compost and the rest filled with tap water makes an excellent, nutritious drink for houseplants.
8) Kids love worms. And it is such a neat way to teach them some basic biology and science. Get a worm composted and you may be able to avoid getting a dog.


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