Adventures in Vermicomposting

By Lynda Sturgeoff

We got rid of our old, plastic compost bins last year. They had been slowly falling apart in the garden and we didn’t love the fact that they were made of plastic. We especially didn’t love that the raccoons were able to open them, seemingly with ease, and rummage through the contents looking for choice bits. Never mind that the manufacturers claimed they were vermin-proof. Two of the bins stood quite high off the ground. I imagined one raccoon standing on the shoulders of another, the teamwork allowing them to reach and open the compost covers. It was definitely time for them to go.

Our town collects green bin scraps and yard waste. They have lovely compost piles at the site of the town dump. We can go and dig up compost twice a year in exchange for a donation to the food bank. But the digging is hard work and then we have to store the compost somewhere until we’re ready to use it.

I’ve known about indoor composting with worms – red wrigglers – for years. A talk at this year’s Halton Garden Week re-inspired me. I know that it is – or should be – odourless and safe. There is a company in Ottawa that makes quite lovely-looking wooden boxes for vermicomposting. I ordered a unit from The Box of Life in Ottawa, my son picked it up for me and delivered it to us. 

It was quite a modest-sized carton, with shredded corrugate for packing material. Everything was flat-packed. Putting the three boxes together was fairly short work for my handyman husband. It’s nice enough to sit on the floor in our dining room. We’ll only use the bottom box for now. Once it’s full we’ll add the second box on top, and then the third box. By that time the third box is full, the bottom box will be ready to harvest. Since there are only two of us left at home, that will take quite a while.

But we still needed the worms. The lovely folks at Halton Environmental Network (HEN) were there to help. Amongst Andrea’s various responsibilities with HEN, she runs education workshops with school children on vermicomposting. She dropped by with her box of worms.

Now taking care of worms isn’t quite like taking care of other household animals. The worms need bedding and a blanket – shredded paper, cardboard or leaves. The bedding is damp like a wrung-out sponge. The blanket is more of the same. And surprise – Andrea brought more than just worms. There also were sow bugs in her bin. We added a few scoops of critters with their compost to one corner of our box and left them to settle into their new home for a couple of days before feeding them. A spray bottle of water allowed us to keep their bedding nicely damp.

Meanwhile, we started collecting our food scraps – fruit and vegetable peels, eggshells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. No meat or dairy – those will still go to the town’s compost where the high temperatures can decompose any microorganisms. We put the food scraps in the blender and then kept them in the freezer until ready to feed the worms. 

On day two we were ready to give them their first feeding – nicely chopped up vegetable scraps added to one quadrant of the box. We covered the scraps with more bedding and left them to it for about a week. The spray bottle was kept nearby. We checked on our little pets daily and made sure their bedding stayed moist. How’s it going? Well, it’s early days, but so far our worms seem happy. They’re not cuddly like other pets, but it’s good to see them happily eating through their bedding. Once a week we will give them a couple of cups of food scraps, together with additional bedding.

Four weeks later – Every week or so we added two more cups of chopped food scraps to the bin – working around the four quadrants of the box, one quadrant per week. As we put food scraps into a new quadrant the worms move in. They’re definitely eating away. We’ve had to top up the bedding from time to time. Now, four weeks later, they’re occupying the whole space. The smell? Well there is no smell when the cover is on. When we take the cover off, the smell is quite lovely, like damp earth after a spring rain.

So, it’s still early days, but so far I can definitely recommend vermi-composting. No raccoons! And a great way to create our own compost for our garden and indoor plants.

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