Thursday, December 29, 2011

Kitchen Composting

I have a confession to make: I have pet worms that live under my kitchen table.

They are not just any kind of worms. They are a specific kind of "red wriggler," or composting worms. Depending on the temperature and their living conditions, they eat up to their weight in food a day, mostly shredded paper and kitchen scraps. Their worm-castings (a nice way of saying "worm poop") is an organic fertilizer and soil amendment that is absolutely the best of anything available for your garden.  I've read that worm castings are up to eleven times more potent in their effect on plants and soil than any other type of compost.

And any excess moisture that drains from the bin can be watered down into "compost tea" that not only fertilizes your garden but protects plants against diseases, too, as a foliar spray. Since I try to garden organically, it makes sense for me to keep these quiet, easy-to-keep pets around. Why buy expensive organic fertilizers when the worms are so happy to convert your kitchen scraps for you?

I did make mistakes with them when I first brought them home. First of all, I made the mistake of buying "red wrigglers" at a local bait shop to get started. I later learned that this may have been a mistake. There are thousands of species of worms, and if you don't get just the right kind, Eisenia foetida, you can have problems.

What kind of problems? Well, the "right" kind of red wrigglers hate light, which helps keep them at home in their cozy little worm bin. Instead, I initially brought to my kitchen "Lewis and Clark" worms that were bent (pun intended) on exploring the brave, new world of my kitchen at all times of the day and night. I'd wake up in the morning to find them all over my floors, exploring my cabinets, you name it. And the only thing worse than stepping on a worm when you're blundering around bare-foot is finding your pet worms dead and drying up all over your floors, etc. After all, I like the little guys, and I feel responsible for them.

Perhaps they didn't like their initial housing arrangement. Since my wonderful fiance, Don, bought me a vermiculture bin with detailed instructions on how to get started, including advice not to buy worms at a bait store, my worms have stayed happily at home. Perhaps it's the new bin, perhaps it's changes to the bedding, perhaps my "Lewis and Clark" worms have removed themselves from the gene pool, leaving the stay-at-home types behind, or perhaps  a mix of the above. Now that they've settled in, I couldn't be happier with them. They are making some wonderful looking soil that I can't wait to add to my plantings in the spring.

For more information on vermiculture, try this Eek! website, this website from the University of Illinois, or this link I found through "Mother Earth News," which is the publication that got me into vermicomposting (worm-farming) in the first place. The composter Don bought me is called a Worm Factory. It looks just like this one:

Update for January, 2013. Our original worms went to a backyard compost pile. We had overfed them, and not fed them carefully enough, and we got vinegar flies that began to invade our whole kitchen. I wish I had remembered to try DE in the compost bin! That probably would have taken care of the problem without hurting the worms.

Don and I missed our worms, though, so I bought more a few ago from an online company that sells them. This batch of worms is doing GREAT! Whenever Don feeds them, he chops up their food into very tiny bits, and then either microwaves or freezes it first, or both. Either process kill any fly larvae that may be present in the food, thus preventing the vinegar flies. So far it's worked great, and the worms are thriving.

Don even bought a dedicated little food processor just for chopping up worm food. People tell me that my husband and I are two peas in a pod. They don't know the half of it!

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