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Composting > Vermicomposting

Vermicomposting

It was 1952 and Mr. Campbell had a worm bin. This shallow box, about two feet wide by four feet long, resided under a worktable in the tiny storeroom/greenhouse adjacent to our grade school science class. It was full of what looked like black, crumbly soil and zillions of small, red wiggly worms, not at all like the huge nightcrawlers I used to snatch from the lawn after dark to take fishing the next morning. Mr. Campbell's worms were fed used coffee grounds; the worms in turn were fed to salamanders, to Mr. Campbell's favorite fish, a fourteen-inch long smallmouth bass named Carl, to various snakes, and to turtles living in aquariums around the classroom. From time to time the "soil" in the box was fed to his lush potted plants.

Mr. Campbell was vermicomposting. This being before the age of ecology and recycling, he probably just thought of it as raising live food to sustain his educational menagerie. Though I never had reason to raise worms before, preparing to write this book perked my interest in every possible method of composting. Not comfortable writing about something I had not done, I built a small worm box, obtained a pound or so of brandling worms, made bedding, added worms, and began feeding the contents of my kitchen compost bucket to the box.

To my secret surprise, vermicomposting works just as Mary Appelhof's book Worms Eat My Garbage said it would. Worm composting is amazingly easy, although I admit there was a short learning curve and a few brief spells of sour odors that went away as soon as I stopped overfeeding the worms. I also discovered that my slapdash homemade box had to have a drip catching pan beneath it. A friend of mine, who has run her own in-the-house worm box for years, tells me that diluting these occasional, insignificant and almost odorless dark-colored liquid emissions with several parts water makes them into excellent fertilizer for house plants or garden.

It quickly became clear to me that composting with worms conveniently solves several recycling glitches. How does a northern homeowner process kitchen garbage in the winter when the ground and compost pile are frozen and there is no other vegetation to mix in? And can an apartment dweller without any other kind of organic waste except garbage and perhaps newspaper recycle these at home? The solution to both situations is vermicomposting.

Worm castings, the end product of vermicomposting, are truly the finest compost you could make or buy. Compared to the volume of kitchen waste that will go into a worm box, the amount of castings you end up with will be small, though potent. Apartment dwellers could use worm castings to raise magnificent house plants or scatter surplus casts under the ornamentals or atop the lawn around their buildings or in the local park.

In this chapter, I encourage you to at least try worm composting. I also answer the questions that people ask the most about using worms to recycle kitchen garbage. As the ever-enthusiastic Mary Applehof said:

"I hope it convinces you that you, too, can vermicompost, and that this simple process with the funny name is a lot easier to do than you thought. After all, if worms eat my garbage, they will eat yours, too."

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