Worms: organic waste eaters!

Leila Knetsch
23 January 2012

Image© Lisa Fletcher, istockphoto

Although Earth Day only officially comes once a year, the environment needs our help every day. One way to help is to reduce the waste we send to the landfill. Home vermicomposting can help us divert kitchen waste from the garbage dump by turning it into compost for our gardens.

Worms. The very word evokes the spectrum of emotion between curiosity for some, squeamishness for many and outright fear for a few. Yet the idea of using these creatures to compost at home is gaining in popularity. Worms eat their way through our garbage and produce nutrient-rich castings (a fancy name for worm poop) that can be mixed with soil and used to fertilize your plants and garden. Worm composting is a fun, easy, way to divert organic waste from landfills.

Fast fact: The average household produces one tonne of organic waste per year.

Imagine the waste diversion possible if everyone in Toronto (population 2.48 million) handled their own organic waste right in their own kitchen, rather than trucking it to the composting station or across the border in Michigan!

Fast fact: One pound of worms contains 800-1,000 wigglers!

Sounds fantastic ... so how do you start? Worm composting is fairly easy to do and only requires five items. Generally, you need a box with a lid (a plastic bin with holes drilled on the top and bottom works best). On the bottom you would place vegetable scraps (no meat or dairy) with the worms. Red wigglers (Eisenia foetida) are the best because they are surface dwellers and therefore content to stay in a shallow bin. Red Wigglers also put a lot of energy into reproduction so that means that there will be more worms to break down the organics. Sprinkled over this is a handful or two of dirt from outside. Moistened, shredded newspaper is placed on top. This covers the food so that it is harder for fruit flies to hatch. Generally, for a family of four you would start off with half a pound to one pound of worms.

Fast fact: Each Red Wiggler worm eats half its weight each day!

Harvest time! Red Wigglers are easy to take care of but when their environment becomes full of castings, it’s time to harvest! Who would want to live with their own waste? Yuck! The quick and dirty way is the “dump and sort”. You take a strong piece of plastic, lay it down and dump the bin. Then you shine a strong light on piles of the castings and you shine a strong light on the matter. The photophobic worms burrow to the bottom. You take off the top (the castings) and then you return the worms to the bin with fresh bedding. What to do with the castings? You can sell them (they sell as “worm poop” at the hardware store) or you can use them for fertilizer to make your tomatoes that much tastier!

Learn More!

Mary Appelhof, “The worms ate my garbage” Flowerfield Enterprises, LLC, Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

Toronto Star article: Learning to Love the Magic of Worms

Metroworks - composting with worms

Cathy's crawly composters

The Daily Green: Creating a Worm Bin

Article first published on April 21, 2010.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia commons

Leila Knetsch

I am a Biology/Chemistry teacher from Toronto District School Board (Scarborough).  I am  passionate about waste diversion, especially worm composting!  Currently I have 4 composters in my own classroom and there are 5 more in other areas of our school. Our environmental club recently did "worm workshops" at the nearby elementary school to get kids into worm composting and they have two worm composters there, too!  Each composter can divert 50-150 lbs of organic waste per year!


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