Friday, April 3, 2009

Worm Bin

I've been contemplating how to compost my food scraps for awhile. This is partly because compost is awesome for plants, smells good, and makes me feel like I'm got an army of microbes at my command. Mostly, though, it's because I feel intensely guilty tossing food into the landfill. My city, like most US cities, doesn't separate and compost food scraps. For homeowners, the choices are pretty broad - you can have a compost heap, a compost bin, a turner, worms, windrows, bury your stuff in the ground, chickens, pigs, a goat, etc.

Unfortunately, budget and apartment dwelling limit things considerably. For example, I'm pretty sure the electric lines run straight through the narrow grass alleyway that is all the great outdoors I can lay claim to. Also, the ground would require a pick-axe to cleave it. So burying is out. So is heaping, as the landlords dutifully sweep through every few weeks to mow and remove extraneous crap.

Worms are the logical choice, of course. E. foetida, red wrigglers (or wigglers), are commonly used to compost food scraps. I've been wary, because I'm not usually very good with maintenance activities, and if the worms aren't happy, they can run. This sounds terrifying, as if 1,000 worms might take up arms and march through my apartment. I'm not creeped out by crawlies, but 1,000 worms trying to get out, chased by my cats, might try my patience. Also, worms are pricey - at ~$35/lb., they're not quite a bit more expensive than heaping stuff together and letting the microbes do all the work. And the warnings about keeping the right moisture levels and acidity make me nervous, because I have no idea what 60% moisture feels like. (Do you?) So like all things new, it's intimidating.

But I have a cunning plan. I rescued an old plastic organization system from the street last year. You know the type - it usually goes in your garage, and has a few shallow drawers, and a couple deep ones. It's probably 4 feet tall. My plan is to turn this into my worm tower over the summer, and if I love it, move it inside over the winter. I'm not sure how this will work out - the sides of the bins are clear, for one thing, and the shelves aren't tight together, so getting the worms to move between levels might be a challenge. But it's worth a try, especially since I have a load of cardboard boxes that are no longer good for holding things together. Those will serve well as bedding. And thanks to Geico and the local cable company, I have colorless computer paper. And thanks to my worthless union, I have newsprint! So having all that, how could I not order some worms, cross my fingers, and give it a go?

Of course, I have fantasies about using the worm castings to feed my seedlings, which will grow big and strong and feed me and the worms all over again. But even if I never use the castings, I'll feel much better having recycled some of my waste close to home.

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