Scrappy Eaters

Worms Turn Trash into Compost

By Virginia Hayes

As pets, they aren’t exactly the warm and cuddly type of critter, but for usefulness, your own colony of worms can’t be beat. Just one pound of wriggling red worms (Lumbricus rubellus) can eat about one-half pound of kitchen scraps per day. If you have a big family or eat more than the usual amount of vegetables and fruit, you may need more worms, but they don’t take up much space and they’re definitely not going to wake you up at 3 a.m. with their caterwauling.

Keeping worms is simple. A plywood box with a lid and lots of ventilation holes drilled in all sides and bottom is the basic unit. A large plastic storage bin that you add ventilation to is another do-it-yourself option, but if you aren’t handy with tools, there are custom-made plastic ones from which to choose.

These will come with a coupon to send in for your starter worms. Or check with your local nursery for a supplier. The size will depend on how much kitchen waste you have to deal with. A six-cubic-foot box will be enough for six pounds of scraps — about what a small family of four to six people produce per week. To get the worms started, add some shredded newspaper and a shovelful of topsoil along with your bag of lettuce leaves and carrot peels. To keep the process going smoothly, bury the scraps under a layer of bedding material and rotate the spot around the box. Imagine something like a tic-tac-toe grid and you will have nine days’ worth of spaces to fill before you get back to your starting point. Burying the scraps will keep fruit flies to a minimum and keeping the cover on the box should keep out any other vermin.

Moisten the bedding material when you add it as worms require a very humid environment. You should be able to squeeze a drop of moisture out of a handful of bedding, but no more. Soggy bedding will invite fungus and other unhealthy conditions. Once your system is up and running, you can bury all your scraps in one side of the bin for a while and after the worms have all migrated to the new food, finished worm compost will be available for your garden from the other side.

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