Vermicomposting; or, the wonderful world of worms

Tucking in the Worms

Setting up the “Worm Factory.” Photo by ellenmac11 (Ellen Macdonald) via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A couple days ago Slate ran a nice piece from Catherine Price on small-scale, in-home composting. Having moved to a city that (unlike her former municipality) didn’t collect kitchen and yard waste curbside as part of regular trash pick up, she decided to try composting herself. As she describes,

They arrived early on a Tuesday morning in a cardboard box. “1000 Red Worms,” read the label in large letters printed beneath the USPS tracking number. Return address: Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. My mailman handed the package to me with no emotion, but I was excited. Inside were the catalysts for my latest experiment: vermicomposting. Or, to be less Latinate about it, composting with worms….

Whereas traditional composting relies solely on microorganisms like bacteria and fungi to break down food particles into new soil (and requires active maintenance so it doesn’t stagnate), in vermiculture, worms speed up the process for you. Once microbes have taken care of some of the predigestion (worms don’t have teeth or many digestive fluids), the worms suck the food through their mouths. Inside their bodies, strong muscles and particles of sand and grit grind the food into even smaller pieces; microbes in their intestines then finish the digestion, converting the food into nutrient-rich castings—a fancy word for worm poop. Vermiculture is like normal composting, turbocharged.

Price is a worrier and details how overly obsessed she became with her kitchen-scrap–digesting red wigglers. It’s an entertaining article, and it includes some nice info and links, so check out the full piece here.

For more, learn all about vermiculture as Wisconsin Public Radio’s Judith Siers-Poisson interviews Joe Van Rossum, Recycling Specialist and Director of the Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center at University of Wisconsin Extension. Finally, head to TreeHugger’s post on “Vermicomposting and Vermiculture: Worms, Bins and How To Get Started” for more details and links.

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