Here at the Armstrong House Educational Center, I am doing just that. I am practicing the old saying of 'you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours' with nature. I have entered into a partnership with some interesting critters and they have (in a way) agreed to take out my garbage. No, I haven't trained a troop of chimpanzees to clean my house; I am talking about red wiggler worms. In something called vermiculture or vermicomposting, I use worms to turn my food scraps into compost. In fact, they eat more than just household food scraps – these little suckers can take down my coffee grounds, the New York Times, shredded pizza boxes, plant trimmings, kleenex, egg cartons, orange peels and old bread. It is through this partnership, and others like it, that we can reduce our use of resources and Live Lighter on the Land.
Did Tate say 'worms'?
Yes, worms. For those of us who don't have outdoor space for compost, using worms is a great indoor alternative. Did Tate say 'indoors'? Yes, indoor composting. If managed properly (and believe me, it is easy) these worms don't produce any foul smells or attract flies. Vermicomposting is very simple – all you need is a worm bin (see below), some organic waste and some red wriggler worms. The worms eat the organic material and poop out 'castings', which can be directly used as compost. Simple.
|A red wiggler worm working its way through a pile of organic debris. They consume food scraps and leave behind castings – a very nutritious growing medium for plants.|
If we think of our organic debris as valuable material and not just 'waste', it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to throw it in the garbage. Once we throw it out, it is wasted – buried in a landfill or burned in an incinerator. This organic debris is filled with energy, nutrients and minerals that can be recycled and used again in our gardens. Also, by recycling our used organic material we don't have to spend money and fossil fuels to transport it. Check out what the United States Environmental Protection Agency says about food waste. According to them, in 2010, food waste accounted for almost 14% of the municipal solid waste stream! Now that's putting the waste in 'food waste'.
Where does Tate keep his red wrigglers?
My worms live happily in the corner of my kitchen in a simple plastic container called a 'Wormcycler'. The Wormcycler is a closed container comprised of a stack of square, mesh bottomed trays. The mechanics are simple – worms and organic debris are placed in the lowest tray. The worms slowly eat the organic debris and once their food supply is exhausted, they naturally migrate upwards to a fresh tray.
|My plastic 'Wormcycler' bin. This product was generously donated to the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy by worm composting company Nature's Footprint. You can see that the Wormcycler sits neatly in the corner of my kitchen.|
Where did Tate get his Wormcycler, and can I get one?
My Wormcycler was generously donated by Nature's Footprint, a company specializing in vermiculture and home gardening equipment. You can get your very own Wormcycler at a discounted price through Nature's Footprint's Create Compost Direct Delivery Program. Ordering is easy, just see the instructions on the poster below.
|A promotional poster. You can buy a 'Wormcycler' at a discounted price if you use the PRLC's special code. See instructions on the poster.|
Where can I get my own red wiggler worms?
There are many places you can buy red wiggler worms online. You can even get them from Nature's Footprint when you get your Wormcycler. Another fun website is Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.
How do I care for my worms?
It's actually pretty easy to keep red wigglers alive. The worms like a slightly moist environment (not dripping wet, but moist to the touch). It is easy to regulate the level of moisture by adding more wet or dry material. These are indoor critters – they like an environment between 50-80 degrees F. If you need specific care information, check the Internet; a quick on-line search will yield dozens of vermiculture websites. To make it even simpler, the Wormcycler comes with its very own easy-to-understand instruction manual that outlines the Do's and Don'ts of worm husbandry.
Won't the Wormcycler attract flies and turn stinky?
Your Wormcycler will be fly and odor-free if you follow these two key rules:
- Only feed the worms what they are going to eat. Over feeding attracts unwanted critters
- Make sure you have the right level of moisture – not too dry, not too wet.
What does the inside of a Wormcycler look like?
When you first add your organic material (50% food, 50% bedding), individual food items will be recognizable. Over time, as the worms start to eat the material, the contents of your Wormcycler will become indistinguishable and black. Once all the food is eaten and the worms migrate upwards to another tray, you can harvest your compost. In these pictures, you can see how my food scraps broke down in just one month.
|Day 1 of my Wormcycler. I added bits of food, old leaves from houseplants, shredded newspaper and coffee grounds.|
Wait, Tate said that this was a 'partnership'. What do the worms get out of it?
In addition to their world-class fame and popularity, red wiggler worms used in vermiculture are provided with an ideal living environment. They are well fed, well cared for and safe. It is in our best human interest to rear large populations of red wiggler worms and keep them as a tool in our waste reduction/ waste recycling. By producing less waste we can literally Live Lighter on the Land.